Jessica's Law hits enforcement roadblocks

Interpreting residence rules, finding financing difficult

The realities of Jessica's Law have hit home for a Gonzales man convicted of sexual battery against his ex-girlfriend at Hartnell College. The case demonstrates some of the difficult issues confronting local authorities over application of the law. Passed by 70 percent of voters in November 2006, Jessica's Law requires lifetime electronic monitoring of sex offenders paroled from prison and prohibits all registered sex offenders — even those never sent to prison — from living within 2,000 feet of a "school or park where children regularly gather."

For an increasing number of sex offenders in the state, that means registering with law enforcement as a "transient" because there is no place for them to live legally, especially in urban areas.

For 22-year-old Samuel Almanzar, it means leaving the Gonzales home where he was raised and which his family has owned since 1953. His single mother, recently diagnosed with a serious heart ailment, must decide whether to sell her parents' home or send her son away.

"I would be hard pushed to think of (a location within city limits that complies) under these restrictions," said Marcia Parsons, deputy chief probation officer for Monterey County. "There are a lot of issues with Jessica's Law that really, really need to be ironed out."

Money needed for monitoring

Powers said, local law enforcement and probation departments were "extremely alarmed" that once offenders complete terms of release and are no longer supervised by state parole officers, "by default, 'We're going to have to go and supervise for life all registered sex offenders.'"

Local authorities wanted to know where the funds would come from to cover the costs of equipment and personnel.

Sen. George Runner said Almanzar's biggest problem isn't going to be finding a home. "The biggest challenge for him is people can look up his name and address on any computer and see he's a registered sex offender," the senator said.

Public notoriety is low on the list of worries for an increasing number of sex offenders who have been forced to register as transients and take to the streets when they are unable to find compliant housing.

The Oakland Tribune profiled an East Bay man with a wife and three children who lived in the family's apartment during the day but wandered the streets and slept on bus-stop benches at night to comply with residency requirements.

Defense lawyer Bengston questioned the logic of forcing sex offenders into rural areas or homelessness, where it's more difficult to watch them. And statistically, she added, "The residency requirement really doesn't seem to have anything to do with keeping children safer. There is no nexus between living near a park or school and molesting a child."

Ed Freeman, district administrator of the state parole department's Central Coast division, agreed.
"There's a perception that most of the child molesters are this individual who cruises the street and snatches a kid out of a bus stop, and that's just not the case," he said. "Most are coaches, teachers, uncles, stepfathers for sure, that know the child. The number of predatory individuals is probably less than 5 percent.

"When you pass a law like that and drum up the fear of the public, you're only getting half-truths out there," he added. "People go out to the polls and pull their ballot form and they're not well informed."
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