Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Reforming Sex Offender Laws

California's Chelsea's Law rethinks the way the state manages sex offenders who will return to society.

After the rape and murder of Chelsea King, a San Diego County teenager, California legislators decided they had to do something. Amid the emotions of the tragedy, they passed a rational, thoughtful law.

That was an unexpected outcome, because many of the approaches that states take to prevent sex crimes are based more on fears than hard evidence. That’s as true in California as any other place. There, with the support of most of the state’s key politicians, voters approved a 2006 ballot initiative, known as Jessica’s Law, that barred sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, day-care centers, parks or churches.

Researchers and law enforcement groups overwhelmingly say that residency restrictions don’t prevent sexual assaults and, in fact, are counterproductive because they drive sex offenders underground, making them more difficult to track. In 2006, though, that message didn’t get through. “[Jessica’s Law] was a knee-jerk reaction that went against almost everything we know that is effective in dealing with sex offenders,” says Robert Coombs, a victims’ rights advocate and former chair of California’s Sex Offender Management Board.

This year the response was different. Chelsea’s Law began as a bill focused on tougher sentences, and its final version still takes that approach, including a provision that will mandate life sentences without the possibility of parole for sex offenders who violently attack children. But thanks to a collaboration between Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a San Diego County Republican, and Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, it also includes a broad rethinking of the way the state manages sex offenders who will return to society.

The law adopts a “containment model” that researchers in the field describe as the most promising approach to reduce sex offender recidivism. The approach couples mandatory treatment with intensive monitoring and regular lie-detector tests. While state policies often treat all offenders the same regardless of the nature of their crimes, the containment model is different. Parole officers and therapists place restrictions on offenders and pursue a treatment strategy based on their individual situations.

Leno says Chelsea’s Law is just a first step. He and Fletcher have discussed teaming up next year to try to mend some of the flaws of Jessica’s Law. Does that mean sex offender policy in California is finally headed in a more rational direction? “I could answer that question with more authority,” Leno says, “a year from now.”

Andy Kim is a former GOVERNING staff writer.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.