Last week, California voters approved Proposition Eighty-Three overwhelmingly, by a margin of seventy-one percent to twenty-nine percent. The measure, which is the most Draconian of the so-called ‘Jessica’s Laws’ to take effect so far in the Evil Empire, bans people on the sex offenders registry from living within two thousand feet (six hundred metres) of a school or a park, requires lifetime satellite tracking of sex offenders, makes more sex offenders eligible for indefinite, involuntary commitment to mental hospitals and increases sentences for a number of offenses. In other words, the Golden State’s voters have passed a resolution that runs afoul of the constitutional ban on being punished twice for the same crime (no matter what anybody says, this measure is indeed punitive), spits in the face of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment and effectively bans anybody on the offenders registry from living in most urban and suburban areas. Yet even before the proposition’s supporters could finish their bubbly, a federal injunction blocked key provisions of the law pending judicial review of its constitutionality. Furthermore, prosecutors in Iowa, where a similar but less Draconian law has already been in effect for a couple of years, are warning openly that the law may be doing more damage than good.
Evil Empire District Judge Susan Illston issued a temporary restraining order against the proposition the day after the election in response to a legal challenge to the legislation by a sex offender whose offense dates back two decades and has lived a clean life in his community with his wife ever since. The lawsuit states that the new measure “effectively banishes John Doe from his home and community for a crime he committed, and paid his debt for, long ago”. Judge Illston herself believes that John Doe’s challenge will succeed, stating that the proposition “is punitive by design and effect”. In fact, the court agreed to keep the plaintiff anonymous in order to protect his safety, a tacit admission that ‘naming and shaming’ offenders can cause real danger to them.
The current challenge pertains primarily to the two thousand foot rule, not the other provisions of the measure. It also seeks to clarify if the law can be applied retroactively or if it can be applied only to new offenders. Still, it is an important step in the fight against the imposition of a new era of Jim Crow laws that seek to marginalise society’s new underclass, ensuring that they will be unable to find gainful employment, housing and access to professional services. Indeed, in Iowa, where such a law already exists, even its proponents are realising that it is having a negative effect. Experience with the law has shown that offenders affected by the law either live in outlying or rural areas where they are isolated from their families or they are disappearing and going underground rather than complying with the law’s reporting requirements. Corwin Ritchie of the Iowa County Attorneys Association has said that the law gives a false sense of security as well as “isolating an individual for whom isolation might aggravate the possibility of re-offending”. He also points out that the residency requirements are largely ineffective, as ninety percent of offenses are not at the hands of strangers but at the hands of family members, friends and others to whom a child’s parents have entrusted his care.
Whatever the result of the current challenge, more challenges are necessary. More importantly, better education of the public is necessary to show them what these laws will actually achieve. People need to realise that this law will net not just violent offenders, but non-violent and even juvenile offenders, effectively sentencing them to a life of isolation, ostracism and poverty. In order to comply with these laws, many of these people will have to live on the periphery of society, unable to find jobs or housing. Many will wind up friendless and even homeless, lacking an even rudimentary network of support to work through their issues. Is this what society really wants? Do we really want to create a marginalised, bitter underclass with unresolved issues? How can this possibly be in the public interest?