Chelsea's Law Threatens To Force San Francisco Sex Offenders Into Homelessness For Life

Categories: Crime
homelessguy.jpg
Living like this for 10 years?
Republican Attorney General Candidate Steve Cooley is drawing heat from Kamala Harris' attorney general campaign for remarking that "You know what gets an initiative passed in California? Name it after a female ... Jessica's Law, stuff like that."

Call that a sexist if you will (Kamala will). But there's no doubt that laws named after female victims of sex offenders are responsible for what could become the perfect bureaucratic storm for sex offenders paroled to San Francisco: forcing them to live homeless for 10 years -- even life.

The first piece of this conundrum comes from Jessica's Law, the 2006 ballot initiative that barred sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school. In San Francisco, that means sex offenders on parole in San Francisco basically can't live anywhere. So they're homeless -- sleeping in RVs, cars, or sleeping bags, often spending their days just roaming the streets. A California Sex Offender Management Board study says destabilizing the sex offenders in this way makes it pretty near impossible for them to get a job or reintegrate into society. This may make them more likely to re-offend -- but, in any event, telling sex offenders to just wander aimlessly around all day is not really a defensible idea.   

But now, here comes Chelsea's Law -- the pending state legislation named after Chelsea King, the Southern California teen who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender in February. The sex offender board recently wrote lawmakers about its reservations regarding the bill. Passing the Senate Public Safety committee last week, the law would plump up prison sentences and the length of parole for certain sex offenders of child victims.

By just how much? While most parolees face three years on parole with a maximum of five years, the law would change that to a maximum of 10 years. It would also institute lifetime parole for habitual sex offenders whose victims were under 14, and for people convicted of crimes such as lewd acts on a minor, continuous sexual abuse of a child, and aggravated sexual assault of a child.

Add Jessica's and Chelsea's Law together, and you have some sex offenders paroled to San Francisco forced to live homeless for 10 years or even life.

When we talked to sex offenders sleeping in homeless shelters or out on the street for our cover feature in December, three years of homelessness seemed interminable. One parolee died in February; his health case worker said he'd simply given up. 

Jake Goldenflame is a former sex offender living in San Francisco who has written books and even spoken on Oprah about the topic. He's currently seeking grants to create a drop-in center where transient sex offenders could seek counseling and support groups and attempt to get their life back together. But he says if he was faced with parolees that had to live homeless for the rest of their lives the focus of his program would have to change from reintegrating into society to an "inner journey," simply making peace with nightmare circumstances.

And rather than dropping in, a lot more parolees might drop out -- and go on the run.  

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