Sex-offender ballot measure costly — and futile

By Erin O'Brien and Keri Procunier McLain

Who doesn't want sex offenders tracked and kept away from children? As the only providers of services for survivors of sexual assault in Santa Clara and San Benito counties, Community Solutions and the YWCA of Silicon Valley are committed to our communities' safety and victims' rights. However, as such, we recognize that Proposition 83, dubbed Jessica's Law, will not protect our community from sexual predators.

Though well-intentioned, Proposition 83's strategies would cause unintended consequences that would place the public further at risk. Our greatest concerns include the proposed residency restriction, which will prohibit sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park, and its lifetime global positioning system monitoring.

As service providers, we know that the residency restriction will not protect the vast majority of child victims. Sexual assaults against children are most often committed in the child's home or another familiar location. According to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 90 percent of child victims knew their assailant.

Consequently, residency restrictions will force offenders to relocate from urban areas to rural regions where law enforcement has fewer resources and where there are fewer viable housing and employment options. Such factors do not foster the stable environment that research has shown reduces the risk of re-offense.

Furthermore, high-risk offenders may be less likely to comply and instead stop reporting to authorities, as occurred when similar legislation was passed in Iowa. As the law does not adequately discern offenders based on the type of offense committed, non-violent offenders would also be forced to relocate, potentially having to pull their families away from community ties and jobs.

The proposed lifelong GPS monitoring will not be limited to high-risk violent predators. Law enforcement will be overburdened with non-essential monitoring duties and data that would make the real risks harder to recognize and track. According to the Coalition Against Sexual Assault, GPS monitoring would be used for 50 times more offenders than is recommended by experts.

The cost of this countereffective monitoring and relocation could be staggering. Opponents have estimated that it may cost $500 million, with the total expense for local governments still under speculation. If we are going to allocate this much funding to prevent future sexual assaults, it should be designated to programs that will offer real preventive benefits.

To protect our children, law enforcement needs to focus time and effort on offenders who present a real risk, and know where they are. Extensive convict relocation and monitoring of non-violent criminals will only make the dangerous offenders harder to track.

Proposition 83 appears even less fruitful when we consider the six bills that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Sept. 20. The new legislation already offers many of the beneficial aspects of Proposition 83. It includes SB 1178, which requires GPS tracking of high-risk offenders who are on parole or probation, and SB 1128, which enhances penalties for many child-related or violent sexual crimes. SB 1128 also uses the more effective tactic of focusing on restricting offenders' access to locations where children are commonly found rather than focusing on offenders' residences.

As rape crisis service providers for 25 and 33 years respectively, Community Solutions and the YWCA of Silicon Valley want our communities' residents to be safe. We recognize the general population's desire to seize any opportunity to protect our children. However, Proposition 83's implementation strategies are so problematic that it will not provide the security that it suggests.

This initiative proposes 399 statutory changes, and each would require additional legislation to revoke as mistakes are discovered. But the false sense of security that Proposition 83 evokes may be even more costly.

Please join Community Solutions, the YWCA of Silicon Valley, and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault in voting “no'' on Proposition 83.

is CEO of the YWCA of Silicon Valley. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.

ERIN O'BRIEN is president and CEO of Community Solutions. KERI PROCUNIER MCLAIN