Proposition 83, if passed and signed into law, would put into effect several measures to increase penalties against and restrictions on the estimated 85,000 convicted "habitual" sexual offenders and child molesters who live in the state. Most controversially, these measures would include a prohibition on sexual offenders living within 2000 feet of any school or public park. The law would also require lifetime Global Positioning System tracking of sexual offenders; increase criminal penalties for sexual offenders; and require sexual offenders to submit to an indeterminate period of "civil commitment" before being released from incarceration into the general public.
According to the most recently available Department of Justice statistics, there were approximately 234,000 offenders convicted of rape or sexual assault under the control of corrections agencies in 1994, with about 60% of those under "conditional care," that is, released from institutionalization into the community at large. According to a July 2000 Department of Justice report, only 7% of sexual offenses against juvenile victims were committed by strangers (with over a third of sex crimes against juveniles committed by a member of the victim's immediate family), despite the widespread perception stoked by media coverage that portrays the overwhelming totality of sex offenses as the handiwork of lurking, plotting strangers.
There are roughly 85,000 registered sex offenders in the state of California, approximately 7500 of whom are on parole. Sex offenders in California have been required by law since 1947 to register with local law enforcement authorities. Megan's Law (AB 1562), passed in September 1996, required an existing 900-toll-line telephone service giving information about the identities of individuals convicted of sexual offenses against children to be expanded to include individuals convicted of sexual offenses against adults. Megan's Law also required the state Department of Justice to produce and make available at local police stations a CD-ROM with the identities and the last registered addresses of sex offenders. In August 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 488 into law, which requires this information (along with other identifying information as available, including photographs) to be placed on a statewide database that is accessible via the Internet.
The informal name of Proposition 83 derives from Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and killed in February 2005 in Citrus County, Florida, by John Couey, a registered sex offender with a 30-year criminal record, including a history of burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, larceny, and at least one other episode of a sexual offense against a minor. As of September 2006, Couey had still not been put on trial for the crime, primarily because of defense concerns that an impartial jury could not be found anywhere in the state of Florida. The most recent effort to impanel a jury was taking place in Miami/Dade County, with jury selection scheduled for February 2007.
Proposition 83 would:The Florida Legislature passed and Governor Jeb Bush signed into law a bill almost identical to Proposition 83 in May 2005. Legislators were forced to amend Jessica's Law in late 2005 because in the language of the statute as it stood, anybody with a record of "moral turpitude" was included in the ban on proximity to public schools. Under Florida law, "moral turpitude" is defined as "an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which, according to the accepted standards of the time, a man owes to his or her fellow man or to society in general," and can include anything from drunk driving to bounced checks. Concerns were raised that employees, vendors, or contractors with legitimate business on school campuses could be excluded because of the broad language of the statute.
- Prohibit registered sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school, park or other location selected by local government.
- Require lifetime satellite monitoring of felony sex offenders.
- Impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years to life for rapists of children.
- Extend parole from three to 10 years for those convicted of serious sex crimes.
- Boost penalties for possession of child pornography and Internet luring.
- Allow an offender to be classified as a sexually violent predator after assault on one victim, instead of two.
- Permit confinement of released sexually violent predators in state mental hospitals for an indeterminate term, rather than two years.
The proposition is sponsored by State Senator George Runner and Assemblywoman Sharon Runner (District 36 — Lancaster). The legislation is co-sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger, who has made strong public comments in favor of legislation that controls the movements of sex offenders, most notably in August 2005, when he said on a radio talk show, "What kind of a society do we create here when you cannot even let the children go out on the playground, and you always have to worry about them getting abducted and sexually molested and all those things? ... We have seen with sexual offenders and with sexual predators that they commit those crimes over and over. So how many more times should we give them the chance?"
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides announced on 17 July 2006 that he was also in favor of Proposition 83.
The measure qualified for the ballot with over 700,000 signatures on 18 April 2006.
The residency prohibitions in the law are identical to those in a law passed in Iowa in 2002. Iowa prosecutors and other officials have complained that the law in that state has resulted in an increase in sex offenders who go missing or fail to register. The law has also resulted in a surge in the number of offenders who live in areas not covered by the restrictions. Some Central Valley legislators have argued that the law will turn their portions of the state into a sex-offender dumping ground. This assertion seems to be borne out by evidence. A January 2006 Stanford Criminal Justice Center Sentencing and Corrections Policy Project report indicated that if the 2000-foot limit in Proposition 83 were enacted, the entire city of San Francisco, except for a minuscule portion of land around Lake Merced and another on Treasure Island, would be off limits to residency for sex offenders covered by the law.
At least 18 other states have laws that place restrictions on where sex offenders may live. Public support for such restrictions is almost always high and unwavering. Polls taken to gauge support for Proposition 83 have consistently shown that likely voters are in favor of the measure by nearly a 7-to-1 margin (a Field Poll in August 2006 showed support for the measure at 76-11%).
Sex offenders are a major staple of local television news broadcasts and local newspaper crime coverage, with the most lurid and repulsive crimes grabbing the most attention (although anti-sex-offender laws generally treat misdemeanor offenders with the same degree of harshness as felony offenders). In addition, with the high profile brought to sex offenders nationally with such sensationalistic network programming as NBC's "To Catch a Predator," which features "Dateline" television personality Chris Hansen baiting and entrapping sex offenders and capturing the episodes on camera, the inexorably rising sentiment against sex offenders appears to leave little room in voters' minds for any law that would seem to promise leniency for persons convicted of sex crimes, even if they have already served their sentences and received treatment and rehabilitation for their mental disorders. The rise in promotions for so-called "sex-offender-free subdivisions" in certain parts of the country is another indicator of the dread that the public feels about people, almost always men, convicted of sex offenses, whether they have been penalized for their crimes or not.
The residency restrictions in Proposition 83 would add to prohibitions already in place limiting the roughly 900 "high-risk" sex offenders in the state from living within a half-mile of any public or private school for the duration of their parole. This law, AB 113, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn (District 24 — Saratoga), was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in October 2005. Under the law, individual communities are permitted to make prohibitions on sex offender residency more restrictive than the provisions of state law.
According to the state Legislative Analyst's Office, the cost of enforcing Proposition 83 if it becomes law will exceed $200 million a year within a decade (mostly due to the cost of satellite tracking and the police resources necessary to keep up with the whereabouts of sex offenders).
Arguments For and Against
Proponents of Proposition 83 argue that the law would give law enforcement authorities the tools that they require to track the state's sex offenders, reduce sex offender recidivism, and enable a greater number of sex offenders to be permanently tracked. George Runner, one of the measure's chief sponsors, was quoted in a September 16 Los Angeles Times article as saying, "When a child walks to school, he or she shouldn't have to walk by a molester's home to get there."
Opponents argue that Proposition 83 would divert money and law enforcement resources from tracking the state's most dangerous sex offenders and would apply its most restrictive provisions not to "high-risk" offenders, but to misdemeanor and non-violent sex offenders. Opponents cite Iowa's experience with its law to argue that the unintended consequences of such a law outweigh its benefits. In addition, a number of newspaper editorial boards and state legislators from areas that would be most heavily affected by the measure have come out against Proposition 87. For instance, one Democratic state senator from the Central Valley town of Shafter, Dean Florez, has said that the measure would institutionalize what he terms "predator dumping" in rural areas such as his district.
Official Voter Information
Sex Offenders. Sexually Violent Predators. Punishment, Residence Restrictions and Monitoring
Analysis by California Legislative Analyst, 2006.
Key Websites and Links
Podcast: Forum with Michael Kransey ( KQED)
Big early leads for Prop. 86 (cigarette taxes), Prop. 87 (alternative energy/oil tax) and especially Prop. 83 (sex offenders).
Field Poll, Release 2208, Aug. 8, 2006.
Reports and Studies
Controlling Ses Offender Reentry: Jessica’s Law Measures in California / by Jason Peckenpaugh
California Prison Reform
January 27, 2006