Colonization in California
A convicted sex offender wants to provide a colony for past and future offenders if Proposition 83 passes
“This is to respectfully petition for permission to form a place of refuge for those of us made homeless in event that Proposition 83 passes … without such a voluntary colony, the public safety of California could face devastating consequences.” So begins a late-September letter from registered sex offender Jake Goldenflame to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Goldenflame believes that if Proposition 83 passes, he and California’s other 90,000 registered sex offenders will have no choice but to flee California’s urban areas in order to comply with its restrictions.
This may sound like bliss to some parents and children’s advocates, but Goldenflame insists that the negative consequences could far outweigh any benefits.
Lockyer’s office would not comment on Proposition 83 because if it passes, said representative Mariam Bedrosian, there’s the “great possibility of potential litigation.” She could find no official record of Goldenflame’s letter, she added. “I don’t know if it got lost in the mail.”
Goldenflame may be California’s only celebrity sex offender. Criticized in the blogosphere for making sex offense just another topic of afternoon-television talk—he has appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show—Goldenflame has readily admitted to molesting numerous boys, and even his own daughter. He served five years in prison and, through therapy and public disclosure, says he’s stayed out of trouble for the last 16 years.
Goldenflame was a big supporter of Megan’s Law, though it obligated him to register with law enforcement, and believes in telling new friends, neighbors and anyone else who will listen about his past. Inescapable visibility is one of the things that keeps him away from temptation—looking at a boy alone on the bus, he said, he’ll decide to walk.
Though Goldenflame completely supports sex-offender-registration programs, he feels differently about Proposition 83, named Jessica’s Law after a 9-year-old Florida girl who was raped and murdered. The proposition bundles up a number of restrictions, increases prison sentences and punishments, and obligates convicted felons to wear global-positioning systems for the rest of their lives. Goldenflame says his proposed colony is one way to deal with the proposition’s plan to keep sex offenders from residing within a 2,000-foot radius around schools and parks—which would make most urban areas, including most of Sacramento, entirely off limits, according to Goldenflame.
Becky Warren, a spokesperson for the Yes on 83 campaign, says the maps produced by opponents are too broad and that the proposition only applies to parks where children congregate, leaving some urban areas available.
Child-protection organizations are great supporters of the proposition, as are many law-enforcement agencies, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, challenger Phil Angelides and others. But those who oppose it, like Goldenflame, say that the proposition is written to add new punishments for people, like himself, who have been law abiding for many years and already have served their sentences. The law’s wording, he says, obligates all registered sex offenders, past and future, to move outside buffer zones, even if they haven’t committed crimes against children. For instance, “indecent exposure” ends up on the list of crimes for which one has to register as a sex offender. Even sending “harmful matter” with “the intent of seduction” by phone or e-mail can obligate one to register.
If Proposition 83 passes, Goldenflame wonders, what will happen to young people who are guilty of sending each other provocative photos of themselves over the Internet? Will their families have to pick up and move out of their communities too?
One of the authors, state Senator George Runner, recently told the Los Angeles Times that Goldenflame’s colony was “based on a faulty assumption that everybody will have to move. We don’t think government can go in and kick someone out of his house.”
But Floyd Feeney, an initiatives expert with the UC Davis School of Law, took a look at the language and confirmed, “It’s clearly intended to be retro.” According to Feeney, “The provision quite clearly applies to both future and past persons who are required to register.”
Warren, who said Senator Runner was unavailable for comment, insists that the law only will apply to those who get out of prison after it’s enacted, but, she added, if the proposition passes, people who commit awful crimes against children will be in prison a lot longer.
Goldenflame’s not convinced that the law only applies to new crimes. “I am not asking for this merely for myself,” reads his letter to Lockyer. “Fortunately, I have the means to leave the state and reside elsewhere. Most of my fellow registrants do not, however, and since I have been the one who has urged them, often in conjunction with efforts by your office, to obey this law for ten years now, if its consequence is that we all be made homeless, it seems only right I stay with them and join them in such a colony.”
Though his proposal sounds fanciful, Goldenflame insists that he’s serious and a colony’s the only way to avoid serious backlash from past sex offenders who could choose to stop registering altogether.
“You’re going to see people going into, from a healing standpoint, a very bad place. They’re either going to go underground, or they’re going to go homeless. In both of those settings, they’re under stress,” Goldenflame explained in an interview with SN&R. “The primary trigger for a sex offender is stress. And his medication is forbidden sex. I can’t say this strongly enough. He’s become the man who has nothing left to lose.”
Goldenflame even speculates that victims will be under greater threat than they are now.
“[A sex offender] may be looking at a strike already now. When you’re talking about a man with nothing left to lose, he’s desperate. He can do anything. … He’ll kill. He’ll kill to keep from being caught.”
It’s likely, as Bedrosian suggested, that if Proposition 83 passes, the courts will decide whether or not it’s retroactive. If not, Goldenflame’s “men with nothing to lose” will have a harder time disappearing. The felons will be wearing GPS collars for life.
Similar residency restrictions were passed in 2002 in Iowa, except the 2,000-foot exclusionary zones only applied to schools and day-care centers. Calls to Iowa’s attorney general were forwarded to Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association.
“We are a prosecutors association,” said Ritchie. “We thought it was a bad law.”
After a three-year injunction, Iowa’s law was implemented in the summer of 2005. Within a year, said Ritchie, it was obvious that the law was “not effective … gave people a false sense of security” (since 80 percent to 90 percent of child victims are molested by family members, friends or acquaintances) and, Ritchie added, meant “a lot of law-enforcement time tracking down where people sleep.” He mentioned that men with families were spending their nights at truck stops to comply with the law.
Goldenflame currently lives in a studio apartment in San Francisco. Partly to amuse the media, he invited reporters in while a local moving company wandered through estimating relocation costs.
“To pack me up and store me for a few weeks and then re-deliver some place is three grand,” said Goldenflame. That assumes he could find housing. If Proposition 83 applies to all registered offenders, he won’t be the only one on the move. Where will he and California’s other registered sex offenders go? They’re likely to head into rural areas and small communities with fewer restriction zones. That could impose quite a burden on law enforcement. It has in Iowa, said Ritchie.
Goldenflame says San Francisco attorneys and offenders are ready to challenge the law the day after the election. If the proposition faces years of court challenges and eventually wins, he’ll ask for help in identifying an appropriate location for his colony.
“I’m going to ask for a National Guard facility,” said Goldenflame.