Three-quarters of paroled sex offenders in California who were previously banned from living near parks, schools and other places where children congregate now face no housing restrictions after the state changed its policy in response to a court ruling, according to data compiled at the request of The Associated Press.
The rate is far higher than officials predicted. The state initially expected half of the 5,900 parolees would have restrictions lifted on where they can live or sleep when the corrections department changed its policy in response to the ruling that said the prohibition cannot be broadly applied to all offenders.
Instead, data shows that 76 percent of offenders are no longer subject to the voter-approved restrictions.
Corrections officials said last spring that about half of the convicted sex offenders are considered child molesters who would still be subject to the housing ban.
But even some whose offense involved a child no longer face the 2,000-foot residency restriction, officials disclosed in explaining the higher number. That’s because the department’s new policy requires a direct connection between where a parolee lives and the offender’s crime or potential to reoffend. Only rarely is the assailant a stranger to the victim, the type of offender whose behavior might be affected by where he lives.
“A parole agent cannot simply prevent a parolee from living near a school or park because the offender committed a crime against a child,” Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said in a statement. He said the department reverted to a policy it used before Jessica’s Law was passed, which requires that parole restrictions be related to the crime committed.
The decision largely reverses a blanket housing ban imposed by California voters nine years ago. Many states impose a variety of residency restrictions on sex offenders, though states including Iowa, Georgia and Oklahoma rescinded or changed their residency restrictions and some now also tailor restrictions to individual sex offenders.
As a result of California’s policy change, more than 4,200 of the state’s 5,900 offenders no longer qualify for the residency restrictions, according to data compiled by the corrections department at the AP’s request. However, their whereabouts still are monitored with tracking devices and they must tell local law enforcement agencies where they live.
One in five sex offenders who used to be transient have been able to find permanent housing because they are no longer subject to the rule, the department said.
“These numbers are absolutely astounding,” said state Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, who co-authored the original ballot initiative. “Kids in kindergarten living across the street from a sex offender is not what the people voted for in Jessica’s Law. Seventy percent of the people voted to keep them away from schools and parks.”