While all homeless sex offenders in San Francisco will have to report to round-up centers
on Halloween, there will likely be fewer transients who need to check in this year.
In the last six months, San Francisco's public defender has quietly won temporary stays on Jessica's Law residency restrictions for between 50 and 60 homeless sex offenders, who have since been able to move inside, SF Weekly has learned.
The stays have relieved the Catch-22 that plagued sex offenders paroled to San Francisco since passage of the 2006 state ballot measure, which we covered in a 2009 feature
. Jessica's Law mandates that sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school or park, which, in dense San Francisco, has meant they can't live at any fixed location at all. That means they've instead slept in RVs or vans, on a series of couches, or on the street.
The only agency that heeded the residency restrictions was the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, enforcing it on sex offender parolees -- even those whose convictions are as minor as indecent exposure, and are decades old.
"Would you like them on the streets, or in a stable housing situation?" says Dorothy Bischoff, of the Public Defender's research department.
The California Supreme Court ruled in 2010
that local jurisdictions would have to consider the constitutional arguments against Jessica's Law, and sex offenders have been challenging the restrictions
throughout the state.
Starting last spring, the San Francisco Public Defender's Office began filing habeas corpus petitions for individual sex offenders in Superior Court. While considering the petitions, Presiding Judge Cynthia Lee has approved temporary stays on the residency restrictions for some 50 parolees, says Bischoff. However, parole officials count as many as 60.
The news quickly circulated among parolees, who have walked into the Public Defender's Office to see if they, too, could get a stay, Bischoff says.
Jeff Adachi, the media-savvy public defender
who is also running for mayor, has remained quiet about the legal successes. "I wouldn't seek publicity on such a thing because the law was enacted because it's an emotional issue," says Bischoff. "You hear about Jessica and hear 'sex offenders' and most people don't really feel they want to help sex offenders necessarily. But they don't understand what this law means, especially in a city like San Francisco."
Indeed, the state's own Sex Offender Management Board
has spoken out against Jessica's Law residency restrictions, saying homelessness destabilizes sex offenders' lives, making it difficult to get a job or reconnect with family. That only increases the chances they'll reoffend, the board wrote in a 2008 report
Parolees with stays still must wear the Jessica's Law-mandated GPS ankle bracelet. Parolees whose sex offense involved children still face restrictions from another state law that mandates they must live at least a half-mile away from a school, says Matthew Goughnour, parole administrator for the region that includes San Francisco.
That aside, Goughnour says there's been 60 stays for San Francisco parolees so far, though some of those people have violated their parole and been sent back to prison.
Bischoff says the stays make law enforcement's job to track sex offenders easier. "Though the parole officers would never say it, I think they're happy we're doing this because it makes it easier for their people to succeed and to supervise them."
But on paper, the CDCR doesn't support the sex offenders being able to live indoors at all. Represented by Attorney General Kamala Harris in court filings, the state's correction department argues that Jessica's Law residency restrictions don't step on sex offenders' constitutional rights. Actually, the state argues, the rules protect public safety.
"... California's decision to restrict sex offenders from living in close proximity to places where children regularly gather is rationally related to the compelling interest in protecting children from known sex offenders," the CDCR's court filing reads.
Harris will be in San Francisco on Monday to talk about Operation Boo, which will round up the remaining homeless sex offenders in San Francisco for Halloween, keeping them away from trick-or-treaters from 5 to 10 p.m.Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly