California will alter its 8-year-old ban preventing all registered sex offenders from living near schools or parks, state officials announced Thursday, instead imposing the restriction only on pedophiles and others whose sex crimes involved children.
The state corrections department said it is changing its policy in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that found the blanket prohibition unconstitutional. The high court ruled this month that restrictions imposed by California voters in 2006 go too far to limit where sex offenders can live.
Parole agents can still force sex offenders to live more than 2,000 feet from schools and parks where children gather, as required by the ballot measure commonly known as Jessica's Law. But they will have to make the decision for individual cases.
The March 2 court ruling applied only to registered sex-offender parolees in San Diego County, but prison officials will apply the ruling statewide. Some local governments outside San Diego County also have begun repealing their local residency restrictions in response to the high court's ruling.
It will take about 60 days for the department to review the files of about 6,000 sex offender parolees to decide if the restriction should still apply, department spokesman Luis Patino said. Existing restrictions will stay in effect until then.
About half of the sex offenders are considered child molesters, he said.
"Some people who are not pedophiles ... will probably be removed from the restriction," Patino said. "It will be tailored to people who need it the most."
That will help the department by reducing the large number of sex offenders whose whereabouts must be monitored to determine if they are violating the residency law, he said. It also is expected to reduce the number of sex offenders who registered as transient because they could not find permanent housing that met the restrictions.
"It will be easier to track the actual pedophiles," Patino said, "the ones that we really need to track."
The ruling, and the change in policy, do not affect a different law that will continue to bar certain high-risk child molesters from living within a half-mile of any K-12 public or private school.
Patino said the department decided to make the changes statewide after it was advised by the state Attorney General's Office that applying the blanket mandatory residency restrictions of Jessica's Law would be found to be unconstitutional in every county.
It does not change other parts of the law, including a requirement that sex offenders' whereabouts be monitored with tracking devices. Registered sex offenders also still must tell local law enforcement agencies where they live.
Jessica's Law supporters said the court substituted its judgment for the will of the 70 percent of voters who approved the restrictions.
Critics of the law, including law enforcement and treatment professionals on the state's Sex Offender Management Board, have repeatedly recommended that the state narrow what the board called a "one-size-fits-all" restriction. The board said in a report to the Legislature last month that limiting where sex offenders can live increased the number of transient offenders from about 1 percent to nearly 10 percent -- almost 6,700 statewide -- making them more difficult to supervise. Nearly 1,400 parolees have registered as homeless, the report said.
One of the San Diego County offenders who sued to overturn the law said he was forced to live in a dry riverbed after his parole agent told him he couldn't live near schools and parks. Two others said they slept in an alley near the parole office.
"Having an alarmingly large number of transient sex offenders in California does not make communities safer," the board said.
The high court echoed those criticisms, ruling that applying the residency restriction to every sex offender, no matter the age of their victim, bears "no rational relationship to advancing the state's legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators."