California’s sex offender list is so harsh it’s useless, lawmakers say as debate ramps up

By Scott Kaufman
Monday, May 26, 2014 18:26 EDT
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The California Sex Offender Management Board, which oversees the state’s sex offender registry, is recommending that lawmakers in Sacramento overhaul registration laws so that some offenders can be removed from the list after 10 or 20 years.

The list — which currently includes almost 100,000 registered offenders — is too large to be useful to law enforcement or the general public. Under current laws, all sex offenders must register for life regardless of the offense they committed. California is one of only four states that require lifetime registration for sex offenders.

According to the California Sex Offender Management Board, it includes many offenders “who do not necessarily pose a risk to the community,” including almost 900 who have not committed a sex-crime in more than half a century. Moreover, the assumptions on which the list were created have turned out to be incorrect, the Board argued in its report.

Ninety-five percent of sex-crimes are committed by individuals who are not on the registry, and the existence of the registry has not worked as a deterrent, as the number of sex-crimes committed in the state has not significantly decreased.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, chairwoman of the state Sex Offender Management Board, told SFGate that “what we are proposing won’t jeopardize public safety or unleash sex offenders who are dangerous in the community. If done correctly and if done in a way that isn’t so broad that no one is held accountable, then the public doesn’t have to fear about their safety or their children’s safety.”

The board wants to institute a system similar to those already in place in the other 46 states, in which the nature of the offense, the risk of re-offending, and the amount of time already spent on the registry determine how long a particular offender remains on it.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said that “there is no need to continue to monitor some low-level offenders and waste those resources. We have to prioritize.”

Lawmakers, not surprisingly, are wary of seeming soft on sex offenders. “I think all sex offenders are dangerous, period,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen (pictured above) told SFGate. “I’m willing to work in a responsible way on legislation that builds in the highest level of protections for the public. This proposal concerns me enormously. I think the risks are too great to try to intellectualize this stuff.”

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who supports the Board’s proposed changes, acknowledged the difficulties ahead. “It’s a radioactive issue to a lot of people,” he said. “But, this can’t be ignored.”

[Screen capture of state Senator Jim Nielsen via YouTube]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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