Residence restrictions relaxed for released sex offenders

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is taking steps to carry out a state Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory residency restrictions for some paroled sex offenders.

The restrictions barred paroled sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. The measure was enacted by California voters as part of a 2006 initiative sometimes known as Jessica’s Law.

In a March 2 ruling issued in San Francisco, the state high court unanimously said the ban is unconstitutional when automatically applied to all offenders in areas where it is virtually impossible to find housing that meets the requirement. The court said the ban did not help public safety because it increased homelessness among paroled offenders and made it more difficult for authorities to monitor, supervise and rehabilitate them.

The panel said the measure infringed on the limited liberty and privacy rights of the parolees. At the same time, the court said parole authorities retain the power to impose special conditions, including residency restrictions, on individual parolees on a case-by-case basis.

The Corrections Department began implementing the ruling in a letter sent to all parole agents, supervisors and administrators by Bobby Haase, deputy director of the department’s Division of Adult Parole Operations, on Wednesday.

The letter orders agents to cease automatically imposing the residency restrictions in cases of new parole releases or parole revocations, but says that agents can set the restrictions in cases where there is a connection between the ban and the nature of the crime committed and the criminal history of the defendant.

The restrictions barring residency within 2,000 feet of a school or park will continue to apply to defendants convicted of lewd acts on children under the age of 14, Haase wrote. The letter says that further directions about the modification of parole conditions for paroled sex offenders who have found housing will be provided at a later time.

Although the California Supreme Court ruling was made in a case concerning San Diego County, Attorney General Kamala Harris advised the department that automatic implementation of the restrictions would be found unconstitutional in every county, according to CDCR spokesman Luis Patino.

Patino said:

“We believe the changes will reduce the alarming number of homeless sex-offender paroles, reduce their risk of reoffending and increase community safety. … Californians can be assured that the monitoring of sex offenders, particularly dangerous ones, remains a top priority for CDCR.”

Patino said there are about 6,000 sex offender parolees in the state, of whom about 1,400 are transients without established housing. The co-authors of the 2006 initiative, George and Sharon Runner, said in a statement:

“We’re disappointed by the Corrections Department’s sweeping decision to stop enforcing the people’s will as expressed in Jessica’s Law.”

George Runner, now a member of the state Board of Equalization, was a Republican state senator from Antelope Valley when he co-authored the initiative. Sharon Runner, who now holds a state senate seat, was a state Assembly member at the time. The Runners said they plan to support legislation that would give local governments more flexibility to set residency requirements for sex offender parolees.