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Offending the law

October 02, 2006

CALIFORNIA ALREADY HAS some of the toughest sex-offender laws in the country. Late last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a batch of new ones, including measures increasing prison terms for most convicted offenders and barring them from loitering near schools and parks once they're released. Now comes Proposition 83, known as Jessica's Law, which would duplicate many of those measures while adding several costly and questionable features that would do little to reduce crime. Californians should resist letting fear and emotion trump reason and vote no.

The new state laws strengthen all sentences for child rape to 25-years-to-life, elevate possession of child pornography from a misdemeanor to a felony and extend parole for violent sex felons to 10 years.

Proposition 83 includes nearly identical provisions but goes a few disturbing steps further. It would require registered sex offenders to wear electronic monitoring devices for life, regardless of the offense or the likelihood of recidivism. The proposition would also prohibit ex-offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and other locations chosen by local governments.

These may sound like effective crime prevention tools, but they wouldn't be. Most evidence shows satellite tracking devices don't reduce sex crimes. The program could cost tens of millions of dollars a year when fully implemented, possibly more. The housing restrictions would make it effectively impossible for parolees to find homes in most California cities, pushing them into rural areas or underground.

The proposition also fails to define just who it would cover. Backers say it would apply only to newly released offenders, but the writing is vague enough that it could retroactively apply to all of California's 90,000 registered sex offenders, increasing the costs of administering the program. Proponents say: Don't worry, the Legislature can clarify the law with a two-thirds vote. But that's an excellent argument for having lawmakers deal with the issue in the first place.

Sex offenders prey on the most innocent and vulnerable among us, and they have rightly been the target of much tough-on-crime legislation. They pose some of the most difficult challenges to an open society. But Proposition 83 isn't the answer.

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