Slate: California’s Sane New Approach to Sex Offenders
Slate has an interview with Emily Horowitz, a researcher and criminologist with a new book coming out about the inefficacy of sex offender legislation. With the recent changes to residency restrictions in California, Horowitz explains why this evolution is a step in the right direction and a win for logic and reason, despite the challenges that lie ahead.
Last week, California officials announced that the state would allow some sex offenders to live within 2,000 feet of schools and parks for the first time since 2006, making it easier for them to find housing. High-risk sex offenders and those whose crimes involved children under the age of 14 will still be subject to the residency restrictions, which were introduced as part of a voter-initiative known as as Jessica’s Law—but all others will be granted exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
The new policy, passed by California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, will help combat a growing problem of homelessness among sex offenders out on parole, who have had a difficult time finding places to live because Jessica’s Law has made so much of the state off-limits to them. According to the Orange County Register, the number of paroled sex offenders living on the street jumped from 88, when the residency restrictions were passed, to almost 2,000 five years later.
The new rule, which comes on the heels of a decision from the California Supreme Court that found the Jessica’s Law residency restrictions unconstitutional as applied in San Diego County, stands out as one of the only policy changes in memory that makes life for sex offenders in the United States easier rather than harder. To put the move in perspective, I called Emily Horowitz, a criminologist at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and the author of the new book, Protecting Our Kids?: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us.
How often does it happen that states become more lenient toward sex offenders rather than more punitive?
Never, that I can think of. This is really significant. I just wrote this book on it, and I can’t think of any other example—except for small little triumphs, like in Orange, California, where they defeated a proposed law where registered sex offenders would have had to put a sign on their front doors that said “Sex offender at this residence, no candy or treats allowed.” That ordinance was successfully fought back.
Why is it significant?
They said they’re going to look at sex offenders individually, and see who actually would pose a threat to children. And that’s what anybody who advocates for sex offenders has always said makes sense. So it seems pretty radical. Obviously, everyone wants to protect children, and no one wants dangerous sex offenders who are at high risk to reoffend to be in communities near children. But there are very, very few of those people. (continued at source)