Jessica's Law, first passed in Florida in 2005 as a way to protect children from sex offenders, actually puts kids more at risk. Since Jessica's Law (Proposition 83) was passed in California in late 2006, for example, the number of homeless sex offenders skyrocketed from 88 to 2,300, all in the name of increased safety, especially for our children. This is because Jessica's Law restricts sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a park. In cramped urban areas, however, finding housing outside of these parameters is nearly impossible, so where are they supposed to live?
The silliest part is that Jessica's Law doesn't restrict sex offenders from hanging out in parks and near schools all day long. They just can't sleep nearby. Shouldn't folks be more concerned with what a sex offender does while awake than asleep? California lawmakers are catching on, pushing Chelsea's Law, which would regulate where sex offenders can and cannot go during the day.
A person's living situation does inform where he commits crime, but in a different way than Jessica's Law assumes. Sex offenders are at increased risk for committing another sex offense if they are homeless. As we all know by now, the instability of homelessness and associated turmoil can exacerbate mental health conditions or trigger new ones. It's no different for sex offenders released from prison and sent to the streets with nothing to help focus their energy into positive behavioral change.
Some argue, however, that sex offenders really don't change. So, how do we deal with this issue? Suggestion and practice has varied from castration to more consistent supervision to mental health treatment, but really, the verdict is still out (although, castration seems a bit inhumane and extreme if you ask me). It's important to remember, however, that not all sex offenders are the same and that cases should be considered individually. We need to pause and think more clearly about the issue instead of letting fear drag us down a blinding rabbit hole that actually makes the problem worse.
This reminds me of the outraged and irrational Venice Beach residents who bully their homeless, disgusted by their existence, fearful that the homeless will hurt them and their children. Granted, parents have every right to want to protect their children from sexual assault, but it seems that our culture of fear, reactivity and a lack of thinking things through informs our laws — laws that don't work and put our children, our elders, and the rest of us, at greater risk.
Nationwide, Jessica's Laws exist to offer us a sense of safety, instead of true safety. This delusion offers us a false sense of control over our lives. Consider the facade of "national security," and even more relevant, the shooing away of the homeless to give the illusion of solving the homelessness problem.
Homeless sex offenders are faced with even more meager housing options than other people experiencing homelessness. Few want to hire them or willingly live among them. For their well being and the community's, sex offenders need to be housed. Tell your representatives to review your state's current sex offender laws to make them more humane and effective, instead of making Jessica's Law stricter. Remember, sex offenders are people too, and if that's not something that necessarily grips you, be warned that Jessica's Law causes homelessness, which puts sex offenders, perhaps even the best intentioned ones, at increased risk of relapse. We should all care what happens to homeless sex offenders, one way or the other.