Yesterday’s L.A. Times reports:

“SB 384 proposes thoughtful and balanced reforms that allow prosecutors and law enforcement to focus their resources on tracking sex offenders who pose a real risk to public safety, rather than burying officers in paperwork that has little public benefit,” said Ali Bay, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey sought the change because the current registry has grown to a difficult-to-manage 105,000 people, which reduces its value to law enforcement trying to solve sex crimes by checking those on the list.

Because the registry is public, it also punishes people who have not committed new crimes for decades, including some who engaged in consensual sex, bill supporters argued.

This is an excellent idea. Before you get all riled up, read the actual text:

This bill would, commencing January 1, 2021, instead establish 3 tiers of registration based on specified criteria, for periods of at least 10 years, at least 20 years, and life, respectively, for a conviction of specified sex offenses, and 5 years and 10 years for tiers one and two, respectively, for an adjudication as a ward of the juvenile court for specified sex offenses, as specified. The bill would allow the Department of Justice to place a person in a tier-to-be-determined category for a maximum period of 24 months if his or her appropriate tier designation cannot be immediately ascertained. The bill would, commencing July 1, 2021, establish procedures for termination from the sex offender registry for a registered sex offender who is a tier one or tier two offender and who completes his or her mandated minimum registration period under specified conditions. The bill would require the offender to file a petition at the expiration of his or her minimum registration period and would authorize the district attorney to request a hearing on the petition if the petitioner has not fulfilled the requirement of successful tier completion, as specified. The bill would establish procedures for a person required to register as a tier three offender based solely on his or her risk level to petition the court for termination from the registry after 20 years from release of custody, if certain criteria are met. The bill would also, commencing January 1, 2022, revise the criteria for exclusion from the Internet Web site.

In her book Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles, Chrysanthi Leon of the University of Delaware discusses the changes in our approach toward sex offenders. As she lucidly explains, we used to be able to differentiate between different types of sex offenders and find compassion and pragmatism in our approach toward their punishment and rehabilitation. But with the sex panics of the 1980s, we started blurring lines and seeing all sex offenders as just one category, identifying all of them with the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes. This was a big mistake. Sex offenders, as Tamara Lave reminds us, have a remarkably low rate of recidivism, and the effort to warn the public from them would be better spent on narrow categories of sex criminals that actually recidivate. This bill is a step forward toward more careful classification.

But there’s something else here that is important.

The impetus for the new bill is that the sex offender list has grown so long that it has become difficult to manage. Local authorities spend a lot of time processing paperwork, and time means money. Again, as I discuss in Cheap on Crime, the practicalities of punishment become so cumbersome that we’re taking a step in the right direction. Indeed, any deterrent effect the list has becomes diluted once everyone is on the list for everything, as J.J. Prescott and Jonah Rockoff remind us here.

In sight of the federal disaster that is the Trump/Sessions gratuitous, senseless cruelty enforcement mechanism, it’s nice to see California once again making a reasonable decision.

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