The California Legislature is considering passing a new law against violent sex molesters of children that has the endorsement of victim families, advocacy groups, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger, U.S. Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and an endless list of who’s who in the fight for human decency.
There are mousetraps in the law Legislators must weigh.
One is the realization there is no cure for deviant child predators or within the sexual molester population. Yet, the state pays $185,000 annually in rehabilitation costs for each molester in the state’s mental hospital at Coalinga in Fresno County.
The second is a political time bomb. Although the new law if enacted would cost nothing above current prison costs, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst puts the ultimate tab at $1 million in 2015, $9 million by 2020 and $54 million by 2030. The state Legislature this year is facing a $19 billion budget deficit.
The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the costs will come about to build more prison cells to house nearly 400 more inmates with longer terms and increase the number of parolees by more than 7,300 by 2030.
By comparison, the state of Texas spends about $30,000 per prisoner in a system that eschews rehabilitation and not subject to federal court orders as is the situation in California and 19 other states.This is according to a lead investigator for the Riverside County, Calif., task force on paroled sexual offenders whose name is withheld for undercover confidentiality purposes.
He points out another shocking reminder. “Eighty five percent of the parolees we track are relatives or family friends of the victims molested,” he said.
California’s Assembly Bill 1844 is known as Chelsea’s Law and will be open for debate Friday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It is named after Chelsea King, 17, brutally murdered by convicted child molester John Albert Gardner III who was sentenced to life in prison this month after pleading guilty to raping and murdering King and Amber Dubois, 14, in San Diego County.
The law would extend tough provisions in Jessica’s Law, passed in 2006, that critics claim is rarely enforced because of its high costs and judges who accept plea bargains rather than mandatory sentences as proposed by the Riverside District Attorney investigator and others who do the dirty enforcement work in the field.
In San Diego County, one Superior Court Judge has filed a law suit against her boss, the presiding judge, and other court judges who she claims is not enforcing all guidelines of Jessica’s and other predatory laws.
Chelsea’s Law would allow life sentences for a first offense of forcible sex crimes involving a child under 18, up from the current 15-year to 25-year sentence. The life term would be reserved for cases with aggravating factors that include kidnapping, using a weapon, torture, binding or drugging a victim or a previous sex crime conviction.
It would double sentences for some other sex crimes involving children and double parole to 10 years for felons released after serving sentences for forcible sex crimes.
The bill also would require the state to use GPS tracking for lifetime monitoring of those convicted of forcible sex crimes against children under 14. Currently, most tracking ends when offenders leave parole, despite an existing state lifetime monitoring law. It would ban sex offenders from parks, going beyond the state law that already limits how close offenders can live to schools and parks.
The extent that California’s penal system goes to rehabilitate sex offenders is rather astonishing. The following is a recap and excerpts from The San Diego Union-Tribune reporter’s visit to the mental hospital in Coalinga.
* The 800 child molesters and rapists deemed too dangerous to release reside in dormitories named after cool places such as Fisherman’s Wharf and Newport Beach and “a spacious central mall features a store, a cafeteria, a barbershop, a library and a gymnasium. Windows look out onto small gardens.”
* There’s certainly room for them. The $388 million facility has a capacity of 1,500 beds, and about 600 of them are unused.
* Nearly two-thirds of the 800 inmates refuse treatment, saying it’s a joke and spend their days watching television, lifting weights, conning the staff and resigning themselves to die. The staff addresses each inmate as “Mr.” One reason they don’t participate is anything they say could be held against them for additional prosecution.
* Since 1996 at other hospitals and at Coalinga, only 19 have been released from the selected civil-commitment therapy program, six had their conditional releases revoked and four of the six were released later. An additional 175 were released unconditionally because of medical reasons, advanced age or legal rulings.
* Tricia Busby, one of the hospital’s clinicians dealing with the psychological aspects of predators, said the program helps but the ultimate goal is containment — no new offenses. Almost nobody thinks sex offenders can be cured, she said. They’ll need to be in treatment the rest of their lives, no matter where they’re living, she added,
Because of the Chelsea King and Amber DuBois murders, the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune is pulling a full court press to get Chelsea’s Law enacted. In a series of editorials, the newspaper interviewed Rebecca Jones, an appellate lawyer and former board chair for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
She cites laws already on the books — the Sexually Violent Predator Act which allows the state to incarcerate one in a mental hospital for life, the Mentally Disordered Offender Act also imposing life sentences for predators unable to live outside of prison, and Penal Code Section 259 which demands 15 years to life depending on the torturous details of an offense.
The provisions in Chelsea’s Law that widen the scope of that actually only bring into it teenage offenders… The problem is that we still don’t have the resources in this state, and this is pointed out in the Sex Offender Management Board report, that we don’t have adequate parole supervision, we don’t have adequate treatment, either inside the prisons or once people are released. GPS tracking, this report says, is not an effective mechanism for tracking people and making sure that they don’t reoffend.
In that same editorial board interview, defense lawyer Michael L. Crowley said:
Here we have another act that just lengthens prison times without discussing in any way, shape or form the consequences of that, the costs of that. We have a jail system that is under court order right now to reform itself or release people. … We have parole officers supervising enormous numbers of people and they can’t possibly do it. That, to me, is just common sense. …
That pesky cost issue keeps cropping up.
“I think it’s undeniable there are significant costs,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee. “It’s clearly a very important issue, a highly emotional issue, and we need to be grounding ourselves in fact.”
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, who introduced Chelsea’s Law, said it is worth the money to protect children. “If you look at a budget that annually exceeds $100 billion a year, that’s a small price to pay to protect our children.
The way I see it, California is jumping through legal hoops to incarcerate the most heinous sexual predators for life by committing them with the option to participate in a rehabilitation and treatment program in which most agree there is no cure. It makes me wonder about the people running the asylums in such a system that is as crazy as the inmates. May I offer a tongue-in-cheek solution? Have California send its $185,000 annual cost of its sexual predator prison population to Texas. It would be cheaper even if the Lone Star state makes a profit from the arrangement.
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Posted comments are welcome and automatically go to my email address at [email protected] in which I will reply when appropriate. Remmers’ varied career spans 26 years in the newspaper business. Read a more thorough resume on his blogsite.
Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.