The flaw in Jessica’s Law


Before parents shudder at the thought of sex offenders now being allowed to live within 2,000 feet of schools and parks, they should remember the utter lack of evidence that the restriction ever kept a child from being molested. Sexual predators don’t stick to a half-mile radius when it comes to finding victims. And making them homeless, as Jessica’s Law sometimes did, is more dangerous to the public. That’s why Thursday’s Superior Court ruling that found sections of the law unconstitutional isn’t just good news for ex-convicts trying to find a place in society; it’s better for society too.

“It’s harder to protect the public when he is homeless,” a Ventura County prosecutor told The Times three years ago, when a molester there was unable to find housing. “Were he in a condo or an apartment, we could supervise him more effectively.”

The law also places a burden on residents of rural counties, where the distance between housing and schools makes it easier for ex-cons to live in compliance with the law, and on those who live near the few urban spots where offenders can congregate. In Orange County, for example, more than a third of registered offenders are homeless. Many of them set up camp in an industrial zone in Anaheim, which was hardly reassuring to nearby residents.


Voters could hardly be blamed, when 70% of them approved Proposition 83 in 2006, for trying to protect children from dangerous predators. It almost, sort of, makes sense to say that sexual offenders shouldn’t live near places where children can be found without direct parental supervision — if, that is, you don’t know much about how such offenders operate, or that most molestations are committed not by strangers but by relatives, family friends or acquaintances. Another problem with the law is that it treats a person convicted of statutory rape for having sex with an underage girlfriend the same way it treats a repeat child molester.

The law has had profound negative effects on ex-cons trying to rebuild their lives, while doing almost nothing to keep them from re-offending. As it happens, no one yet knows the most effective ways to stop sexual predators, short of keeping children within eyeshot every moment. It is a subject that begs for serious and comprehensive study. Once we have better answers, we can engage in a serious discussion of which restrictions on parolees are justified in the name of preventing horrendous crimes.

“I am the most dangerous type of sexual predator,” John Albert Gardner III told CBS news in an interview six months after being sentenced to life in prison for the rapes and deaths of two teenage girls in San Diego County, Amber Dubois and Chelsea King. The first was walking to school; the latter going for a jog at a lakeside park. Neither was saved by Jessica’s Law.