Bad neighbors

It’s rare—and disturbing—to be in the position of defending sex offenders. But a bill working its way through the state Senate goes so far that we have no choice.

Among myriad other measures aimed toward harsher rules for registered sex offenders, SB 588 and AB 231 would prohibit them from living within 2,000 feet–about one-third of a mile—of a school or park. If they’re already living within that range, as are several of those registered in Chico, they would have to move. Another component of the bill is to require the offenders to wear GPS tracking devices for the rest of their lives.

The bill, backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other Republicans, is patterned after others in various stages across the United States and is being called “Jessica’s Law,” in reference to 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who in February 2005 was taken from her bedroom and murdered by a registered sex offender living in her Florida neighborhood.

From a practical standpoint, we worry that laws like these could provide a false sense of security. Not all sex offenders register as required, for example, and those that do can surely walk, bike or drive to another neighborhood to seek out victims. Who is going to monitor all these people, and how much will it cost? (Democrats say $500 million a year.)

And there’s always the exception: Not all offenders choose children as their targets. Some were convicted decades ago, never again to cross the law. Furthermore, the chances are much greater that a child will be molested by a relative or friend of the family than by a stranger.

Thanks to Megan’s Law, which made sex offender information available online, all responsible schools are already on the lookout for ex-cons in their neighborhoods. It’s possible to be vigilant without harassing criminals who have already served their time.

It’s a tough choice. The chances of a sexual predator re-offending are statistically great. But Jessica’s Law is not the answer.