By MARC GARDNER
In 1993 JM turned around, dropped his trousers and told his sister-in-law to “kiss my black ass!” The younger sisters laughed, compounding the indignity. To make JM pay for this rude affront, the sister-in-law called the cops. He did three days in the county jail and pled out to misdemeanor indecent exposure and credit for time served.
Sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? Three day and nights for mooning your sister in law?
Fast forward to 1998 when the voters of California passed “Megan’s Law” (PC 290) requiring those convicted of certain sex offences to register with the local police for the rest of their lives. Indecent Exposure (PC 314) is listed under PC 290 and is applied retroactively. Required to register under penalty of felony, combined with a taste for illicit substances, JM picked up a new state prison term.
California’s Proposition 83, voted and enacted in 2006, prohibits registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance of a school or a park. Most urban areas have no places to live within the required distance. The new law has been determined by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to apply retroactively once a parolee violates parole after the election of 2006, no matter when the 290 offenses took place and even if, as with JM, it wasn’t a felony requiring state prison and parole. Until recently the parole officers have been looking the other way to a certain extent, given the impossibility of actually complying with the law, which explicitly forbids a parolee from spending a night in a non-compliant place.
JM was paroled to a Bay Area city where there are no compliant places. A brand new rule laid down by the CDCR is that one cannot be in the same non-compliant place for two hours. This is very recent, as we’ve been seeing these two-hour-rule violations for about the past week or two. JM is fortunate enough to have a trailer and a truck, so he and his wife have been moving his home around the clock. This is probably not a healthy environment for someone with substance abuse issues.
This is the current state of paroled sex offenders: to stay out of prison they have to drift from place to place within two hours, twenty four hours a day. I wish I were making this up. Most of these people have no evidence in their history to show they are a threat to children, and many don’t have a record of putting their hands on anyone else.
Things have gone beyond irrational into the realm of insanity. During JM’s parole revocation hearing one of the Corrections Officers said that a “college streaker” had recently been at a hearing subject to this madness.
Granted, there are people who have done horrible things and JM’s benign example is being used to show the breadth of the dragnet, but these laws are counterproductive in every way and from any angle given how difficult they make it to supervise the parolees and provide treatment, housing and employment opportunities, in addition to public safety issues arising from the unendurable stress that they’re put through.
If the voters of California don’t want child molesters living near schools or playgrounds then Section 290 of the California Penal Code has to be drastically overhauled so that it actually applies to convicted child molesters, although it is difficult to imagine any efficacy to a law which foments homelessness and helplessness.
Marc Gardner is a defense lawyer in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org