In 2006 California voters passed Prop 83 known as “Jessica’s Law.” Jessica’s Law makes it illegal for registered sex offenders to live within 2000 feet of any public or private school or park where children regularly gather. The residency requirement is designed to protect children against sexual predators. Interestingly, though, the residency requirement applies whether or not a sex offender’s crime involved children.
A recent case, People v. Taylor, shows what happens when an ill-thought-out, tough-on-crime proposition meets real life. This case involved four registered sex offenders in San Diego who were challenging the residency restrictions as conditions of their parole. One, Taylor, had a place to stay with his nephew and his nephew’s wife. But because his family’s home was within 2000 feet away from a park or school, his Parole Officer rejected his housing. Mr. Taylor ended up sleeping in the alley outside of the Parole Office. He also lived in a boarding house outside of the city, but because it was a three-hour bus ride from the medical center where he received necessary medical services, he collapsed, and was hospitalized in intensive care. Another, Briley, also ended up sleeping in the alley behind the Parole Office, unable to live with her sister, in a women’s shelter, or in sober home, because of the residency requirement. A third individual, Glynn, couldn’t live with his wife and three children and instead slept in a van. The fourth, Todd, couldn’t stay with his friend at the Plaza Hotel in downtown San Diego, and instead shacked up in the bed of the San Diego River at the suggestion of his parole officer.
Unfortunately, the experiences of Taylor, Briley, Glynn, and Todd were the norm, not the exception. Large numbers of parolees were sleeping in alleys and river beds – who never were before Jessica’s Law. That is because only 3% of multi-unit housing in San Diego is NOT within 2,000 feet of a park or school. As the court noted: “There are so few housing options in urban areas in the country that many offenders face the choice of living in rural areas or becoming homeless.”
The court held that the blanket residency requirement of Jessica’s Law violated the parolees’ constitutional rights of privacy, travel, and to establish a home. Also, disrupting families and communities and creating a brigade of roaming, landless sex offenders does nothing to fight crime.