No two sex offenders are the same, which is why Assemblyman Tom Ammiano wants California to consider a tiered system to categorize those who break the state's sex laws.
As he points out, there is a gradation of offenses. It's true that a consensual, sexual relationship between a 21-year-old and a 16-year-old, for instance, is not even in the same league as a person who sexually assaults a 3-year-old. However, in both scenarios, the guilty party is stamped a sex offender for life.
To get to the bottom of this issue, the veteran assemblyman will hold the first hearing Tuesday, where experts will discuss the merits of this "black and white" system.
Specifically, he wants to reconsider registration requirements, so that perhaps less violent sex offenders, or those in consensual relationships, don't have to register as sex offenders for life.
"You are forever a sex offender, regardles of the scope of your offenses," says Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for Ammiano. "But there are differences across the board -- there is a whole range of sex offenders."
The impetus for this discussion was a December report from the California Research Bureau that showed that registration didn't correlate with reduction in recidivism. It also showed that registration and residency requirements doesn't necessarily keep sex offenders away from potential victims. Moreover, the cost of a system with a blanket registration policy creates no clear path for rehabilitation.
California is already grappling with litigation around the state residency requirement. Under Jessica's Law, a registered sex offender is banned from living within 2,000 feet from a park, school, or anywhere else children may gather. But this law has been deemed counterproductive, since it is forcing many sex offenders into homelessness.
It's especially hard for them to find legal housing in a small, dense city like San Francisco -- where about 10 percent of sex offenders are homeless. Locally, the community has been pushing the state to ease up the law and allow -- at the very least -- the city's ailing sex offenders to have housing, even if it is within 2,000 feet of a school.
Sheriff Michael Hennessey told the Examiner in November that there should be some leniency. "There are people who are treatable, and their crime is so distant it might be appropriate for an exception," he said.