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Inside the latest California Sex Offender Law

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The state of California is close to passing a law that is aimed at preventing sexual attacks, yet because of distorted reporting of the rape and murder of two young women including one whose name was incorporated into Chelsea's Law, the effect of this law will probably be just the opposite. And the same forces that has driven this law to near passage also prevents serious objections such as this from reaching the public.

My conclusion to oppose this law was triggered by obtaining a report on the sentencing, imprisonment, parole regulations and procedures surrounding this case produced by the California Sex Offenders Management Board. After carefully reading this and many other documents, and interviewing the chairman of the board of this body, along with other officials, I became convinced that passing this law as is now pending will be a continuation of the legislative mistakes that have occurred over the last six decades.

As the CASOMB report concluded:

California has not effectively prioritized when making policy decisions about the management of convicted sex offenders. Many decisions seem to have been made for political reasons or what feels good at the time. As a result, money and time have been wasted on policies and programs that are politically popular but do not make our communities safer.

When these crimes occurred, The San Diego Union Tribune, the sole remaining metropolitan area newspaper, had recently been sold to a venture capital group. Their business model is to turn around the paper by increasing circulation for a quick profitable sale. As the case progressed, after many hundreds of editorials, articles and letters focusing on the heinous details of the crime and of the criminal, they ran a front page editorial described as "a call to action."

Civic responsibility and increasing circulation are not always compatible, so there was a tendency to ratchet up the rage while minimizing reporting the actual complexity of this particular type of crime, rooted as it is in the dysfunction of our most primitive drive, sexuality.

Since this single metropolitan newspaper still controlled the dialog, they were able to do what was necessary to conflate the early crime, which was relatively minor, with the ultimate murders and rapes by the post prison John Albert Gardner. With no articles, or editorials or even letters printed to challenge them, the perfect poster boy of evil was created, as details could be ignored or reshaped as needed. The law that was forming to prevent crimes such as his could be as loosely constructed as was his biography. Then a phone call by Gardner to the local CBS affiliate complicated things.

In this hour long conversation, Gardner made certain assertions; that his first conviction was an act of rage, a blowup with a friend that turned violent without sexual motivation, and that he accepted a plea out of fear of an even longer sentence. He described his adjustment to life under parole after his release in 2005, which for the first year was without any infractions, something confirmed by the CASOMB report.

He then described what is the most crucial point relating to passage of the current law, how it was only when the residence restrictions of Jessica's Law were implemented that he was forced from his apartment, with no alternate housing available, causing him to live out of his car and lose his steady job, making it impossible to continue child support and the relationship with the mother of his two children.

He requested and recieved a commitment from the interviewer that his statements be validated, not accepted on face value, but investigated. Not only were they never verified or refuted, the substance of this interview has never been reported. And although the full interview is available on their website, the second part of the news report on it was canceled.

Based on my recent conversation with the Chief of staff of Nathan Fletcher who sponsored Chelsea's Law, while his office acknowledges that residence restrictions are problematic, they have no intention of redressing it. Not at this time, not when they are so close to passing this law, not when there is unanimous approval from those in both parties, not when this will be met by accolades from the Union Tribune that may never again mention the "grotesque" effect of forced homelessness due to excessive residence restrictions.

So with the passage of Chelsea's Law, those convicted of early sex crimes against children will spend their lives in containment, some inside prisons, others sequestered by constantly monitored GPS bracelets paid for by imaginary funds from a bankrupt state. And as the Union Tribune admitted, "has the likely practical effect of turning some relatively minor sex offenders into far worse and of spurring paroled violent sex offenders into acting again on their dark impulses."

Democratic state Senator Mark Leno who heads the criminal code committee and Republican Nathan Fletcher have agreed to put off discussion of Jessica Law residence restrictions until next year, although Fletcher has now publicly stated his opposition. The reality is that only at this moment of heightened public emotion could such correction occur, as it is too easily construed as the politically toxic accusation of being "soft on crime."

We must not allow politicized public outrage to continue to produce laws that actually increase these crimes. We must not continue to ignore a painful reality, that It was the tragic flaw of Jessica's Law that may have derailed the rehabilitation that set in motion the chain of events that resulted in the death of two innocent young women. It would be the darkest of ironies if a law named to commemorate the life of one of these young women left this provision that may have contributed to her death unchanged.
---------------- has further details and links to sources mentioned in this article.

(c) Al Rodbell, 2010
Mr Rodbell's essays can be found at
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Retired Commercial Printing Executive, developer of I.T. systems for the industry. Advanced degrees in Social Psychology, now living in Southern California
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