12 January 2010

Homeless Sex Offenders: Is there an app for that?

Sex Offenders: Identification, Risk Assessment, Treatment, and Legal IssuesWould you rather have paroled sex offenders live closer to you and your local schools and know where they live, or would you rather they be homeless, and more likely to re-offend?  Is there a neighborhood-watch app that could help us out of this dilemma? (more after the jump)

This is the fundamental question posed in a recent Merc article, which finds:

More than 2,200 paroled sex offenders were registered as transient in November, state figures show, up from 1,257 a year ago and 88 in September 2007. That was just before parole officials began enforcing a ban on sex offenders living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children "regularly gather."

In classic form, rather than fix such a broken policy, the state took up the task of finding housing for parolees to the tune of "paying more than $2,000 a month for some and putting up others in spots within the banned zones" with a cost of $21.9 million last year.  The original ban came from Prop 83:

Backed by 70 percent of voters in 2006, Proposition 83 stiffened penalties for some sex crimes, required lifetime GPS monitoring of newly released sex criminals and set the 2,000-foot "predator-free zones." Including parolees, the number of sex offenders registered as transient has grown to nearly 4,500, up from 2,300 before the state began enforcing the law.

Without viable places to live, these parolees are much more likely to re-offend:

"We're finally at a point where we just have to acknowledge this is actually a problem, and it's not one for lack of trying. It's actually a public safety issue," said Robert Coombs of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a victim-advocacy group that opposed Jessica's Law.
"I don't care if these guys have a nice lifestyle. But if you look at the research, it actually says if you reduce their stability you increase the risk of re-offense," he said. "I think we'll start to see there really is that link. The way we find that out is through more victims."

OK, so we can't keep dumping these folks on the streets.  What about those GPS-tracking ankle-bracelets that parolees have to wear?

[State corrections Undersecretary Kernan] said the state had finished strapping all sex offender parolees with GPS anklets, easing concerns some have over the pullback. Still, he called GPS "a tool, and not the whole panacea."

True, enough.  But it's a start, and it's not being exploited nearly enough.  If the government knows when and where every tracked parolee is at all times, why can't the public know that?  Wouldn't that kind of knowledge go a long way toward alleviating the fears that produced Prop 83 to begin with?

I see a bargain to be struck, here.  If parolees are willing to let their GPS data go public in real time, then we should grant them much more freedom of movement and residence.  Parolees can find decent housing, work, and stability, while maintaining real-time accountability.  Then folks can build the mobile apps we need to tell us when and where they are, when and where they frequent, and to alert us when exactly they've crossed our personal comfort zones around ourselves, our children, our homes, and our schools.

Wouldn't you prefer that your kids know when and where sex offender parolees are, rather than have them literally roaming the streets?

[Edited for clarity, jumping.]
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