California Law May Force 2,100 Sex Offenders to Move

As many as 2,100 newly paroled sex offenders are living illegally near schools and parks under the tough residency requirements passed overwhelmingly by California voters last fall, the state corrections secretary said.

The department will give the parolees 45 days to find new homes, a move that could spark renewed conflicts in communities throughout the state as sex offenders seek to comply with the law.

"We want to be public that we have some people who are out of compliance but ... we are fully committed, and the governor is fully committed, to complying with the housing component of Jessica's Law," James Tilton, director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

Tilton said the moves could leave some parolees homeless or force them to live in substandard housing.

Voters passed the Jessica's Law ballot initiative last November with 70 percent approval. It prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

Opponents had warned that it would push sex offenders out of towns and cities, disproportionately affecting rural areas that would become a refuge for parolees. Corrections officials previously warned that the residency restrictions effectively prevent parolees from living in many of California's cities.

"There are many communities where housing is a problem," Tilton said.

The department recently completed a review of the registered addresses of sex offenders who have been paroled since the November election. Courts have ruled that the law can only apply to inmates freed after the measure was approved.

Late last month, it adopted the emergency regulation requiring parolees to move within 45 days if they violate the residency requirement. Parolees who refuse to move face the possibility of being sent back to prison for violation of their parole.

The department began reviewing the addresses after the co-author of Jessica's Law, state Sen. George Runner asked about the initiative's implementation.

Tilton said corrections officials will begin going through the list "case by case" to confirm the residency violations.

Runner said he doubted the law will force sex offenders onto the street but said he is willing to amend it if housing becomes a problem.

A spokesman for the union representing California parole agents said corrections officials told agents in January not to cite sex offenders if they were found to be in violation of Jessica's Law. Then on Tuesday, parole agents were told they had to immediately detain parole violators, he said.

"They weren't going to give anybody any waiting time to move," said Scott Johnson, president of the Parole Agents Association of California. "They were trying to figure out how they were going to arrest all those people and where they were going to put them, because there's no room."

Johnson said his union supports the policy of giving sex offenders 45 days to find new homes.

"There had been discussions about immediate violation, (but) the secretary does want to make sure they have proper notification," corrections department spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said in response.

California's Proposition 83 was named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and suffocated by a convicted sex offender in 2005. Her killer is now awaiting sentencing.