Jessica’s Law works

It’s been a little more than one year since California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 83, known as “Jessica’s Law,” a measure that strengthens sex offender laws and makes our neighborhoods safer.

As one of the authors of California’s Jessica’s Law, I am confident to say the measure is working well in our legal system — although The Times has said otherwise, all but declaring Jessica’s Law a failure based on the state’s slow execution of two provisions — distancing and GPS monitoring of offenders. While the sluggish approach to put these provisions in place has frustrated me, Jessica’s Law is far from a failed law. In fact, almost every other aspect of the law is fully in place.

Here is a glimpse at what Jessica’s Law is doing:

  • California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can now evaluate incarcerated sex offenders who fit the profile of a sexually violent predator after one felony sex offense has been committed. Prior to the Jessica’s Law, the agency had to wait for a second victim.
  • District attorneys now have the ability to file new petitions every two years to demonstrate that the offender still poses a danger to society.
  • Sexually violent predators are now required to serve their full parole in the event they are released from a mental facility.
  • Sex offenders who lure minors online for sexual purposes, posses child pornography or administer date-rape drugs face increased penalties.
  • Law enforcement officers are allowed to act as decoys to engage and capture Internet predators.
  • To date, 2,000 of the 3,000 paroled sex offenders are wearing global positioning satellite ankle bracelets.

A handful of local law enforcement agencies have publicly wondered how GPS monitoring will be funded once the sex offender’s parole has expired and the state hands monitoring duties to communities. I have always said the state should pay for the expense of the tracking system regardless of the agency with the monitoring oversight. A 2008 ballot initiative that I am sponsoring would (among other things) guarantee funding for all GPS ankle bracelets in the state, whether they are worn by sex offenders or gang members.
The GPS systems should cost far less than the $90 million per year reported by a recent Times article. I have encouraged the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to engender competition among bidders and get the best prices and services. I understand the use of GPS is cutting-edge technology for many of California’s law enforcement agencies, but I believe it is time we bring our public safety tools into the 21st century to keep up with California’s growing population and savvy criminals. Monitoring parolees is not akin to monitoring air traffic as some critics have suggested. Instead, GPS allows local law enforcement to obtain daily reports on sex offenders to make sure they are not hanging around places where children gather. GPS is also a deterrence measure and will cut the recidivism rate of sex offenders.

Distancing sex offenders 2,000 feet from schools, parks and other places where children gather is another contemporary idea, and one that California voters have embraced. Parents simply don’t want sex offenders living across the street from schools and parks. Again, a few cities have cried foul, claiming that it is nearly impossible to find housing with the distancing restriction and thus homelessness among sex offenders is sure to occur in abundance. But so far, the claims have been based on guesswork, not actual incidents of homelessness. Densely populated San Francisco County may be the exception. But I have always said if there is a bona fide problem with housing, then I would support revisiting the distancing for that county — maybe adjust the distance to meet San Francisco’s needs.

In the meantime, let’s give Jessica’s Law time to work. In doing so, we will heed the will of the people who believe in this law.

Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster) is the chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus and the author of Jessica’s Law.

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