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Ex-Con Seeks a Refuge for Sex Offenders

He says Prop. 83 could force many to `go underground or go homeless.' Measure's sponsor says the intent isn't to uproot people.

September 30, 2006|Jenifer Warren | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A registered sex offender who says he would be forced to move from his San Francisco home under a November ballot initiative wants to form a colony for himself and others who may be displaced if the measure passes.

Jake Goldenflame, an author who also leads support groups for sex felons, says Proposition 83 threatens to create chaos and wandering bands of rootless men by barring ex-offenders from living near schools and parks.

In a letter mailed this week to Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and state lawmakers, he suggested creating a refuge for sex offenders, perhaps at a former military base. He also asked that the Legislature delay enforcement of the initiative -- which enjoys a strong lead in the polls -- until such a colony could be established.

"It's very likely that this measure will pass, and when it does, sex offenders will face desperation," said Goldenflame, 69, who served a five-year prison term in the 1980s for molesting his daughter. "Most of those facing banishment will either go underground or go homeless. I'm trying to offer a humane alternative."

The initiative's chief sponsor, state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), called the proposal unnecessary. Runner said it was never his intent for Proposition 83 to uproot released sex offenders living in the community, though the measure's language does not specify that.

"If someone on their own wants to build a place for sex offenders to go live ... then have at it," Runner said. "But this idea is based on a faulty assumption that everybody will have to move. We don't think government can go in and kick someone out of his house."

Proposition 83 would give California some of the nation's strictest laws governing sex offenders, by increasing prison and parole terms for many crimes. Its most controversial provision would bar released offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park and permit local governments to make other locations, such as libraries or public swimming pools, off limits.

The initiative would also require released sex offenders to wear electronic tracking devices for life, regardless of their crime or level of dangerousness.

The measure, called Jessica's Law by proponents, resembles laws adopted or under consideration in many other states. The flurry of legislation was fueled in part by the kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a sex offender in Florida in 2005.

Proponents, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, say the initiative is a necessary crackdown on a group of felons often connected with some of society's most gut-wrenching crimes. Runner says parents deserve the right to know that their children will not walk by the home of a released sex offender on the way to school.

Critics say no studies show that regulating where sex offenders live leads to a reduction in crime. They point to other states, such as Iowa, where similar restrictions have driven many sex offenders underground, making them more difficult to monitor.

Other initiative foes say a package of bills recently signed into law by Schwarzenegger makes Proposition 83 unnecessary.

Those laws lengthen prison and parole terms for many crimes, and require the electronic monitoring of sex offenders as long as they are on parole. One measure also forbids released sex offenders from loitering near schools and parks, but does not prohibit them from living in such locations.

A spokesman for Lockyer said the attorney general had not received Goldenflame's colony proposal. Spokesman Nathan Barankin said that any decision on whether to delay the enforcement of a ballot initiative would require legislative action.

Otherwise, he said, police would be required to enforce the law immediately after the election.

Barankin also said Goldenflame may be "jumping the gun" by assuming he and thousands of other released sex offenders would have to move, when in fact the initiative could be interpreted to apply only to future parolees.

Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg said the issue of which offenders would be covered by the initiative "appears to be a humongous legal ambiguity."

Weisberg also said that by raising the idea of a colony, Goldenflame has highlighted possible constitutional problems a court might have with the initiative.

"If you accept the argument that this law would uproot and banish a certain group of people, then that has an unconstitutional flavor to it," Weisberg said. "It's hard to say exactly what it is -- is it an 8th Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment claim? -- but it certainly raises questions."

Goldenflame, who holds a law degree, said he is convinced a court would interpret the initiative's language as affecting him and others who currently are required to register with local law enforcement as sex offenders.

He said he has checked San Francisco for neighborhoods in which he could legally live under the measure and found none, "except maybe at the top of the Transamerica Pyramid."

While Goldenflame said he has the means to move elsewhere, he predicted that many ex-convicts would not, leaving them a choice of defying the measure, violating laws requiring them to register, or becoming homeless.

A colony, he said, would ensure that such exiles are "treated with humanity." The refuge, he said, would have an intake staff to assess treatment needs and help the offenders find jobs. Child care would be needed, he said, because many offenders have families, and religious and medical services would be required as well.

"Since the measure goes into force in winter, extra clothing should be on hand," Goldenflame wrote in his letter, and "public safety personnel will be needed outside [the colony], to protect it from vigilantism as well as fires."

California has more than 85,000 registered sex offenders. About 4,200 are released from prison each year, corrections officials said.

jenifer.warren@latimes.com

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