Sunday, September 23, 2007

Time to take a deep breath

If there is one thing pisses me off worse than the fact that this Supreme Court is going to be in place for the rest of my life – and possibly outlive me – it is being made to feel sympathy for sex offenders.

In 2006, the voters of California, in a head-long rush to herald the plaintive wail of Helen Lovejoy and “Please! Think about the children!” passed Jessica’s Law (.pdf warning) which tightened regulations on where sex offenders can live and work, and increased penalties for sex offenses.

Our kids deserve the protection of the toughest sex offender and punishment law in the nation. Please join us today. The posters and fliers cried out…

It all looks good at first blush – what kind of animal doesn’t want to protect children? So Californians flocked to the polls and ratified the initiative.

Then, the Law of Unintended Consequences reared it’s ugly head once more.

In August, the state department of corrections started notifying 2700 parolees that they had to find new places to live, “go transient” or be returned to California’s overcrowded prison system.

Inmate advocates, some lawmakers and the corrections department itself warn that requiring offenders to move could force some to go underground, move to rural areas, become homeless, or ignore warnings and return to overcrowded state prisons.

The department has adopted new policies to deal with sex offenders that wind up on the street, Sessa said.

Homeless offenders will be required to visit their parole officer each day to report where they spent the previous night. They can also take that opportunity to recharge the monitoring units they are required to wear to track their movements.

When are people going to get a grip? Or at least have the balls to admit that a sex offense of any caliber carries a life sentence? It has gotten to the point where people are denied shelter and the option of living any semblance of a normal life, even after their sentences have been served.

There comes a point where punishment crosses a line and becomes counterproductive. It’s the stuff of our lore – the oppressed have had enough and respond by throwing off the yoke of oppression. Now sex offenders are not folk heroes – but they are still human beings. Deeply flawed human beings, but human none the less.

I can not for the life of me figure out how hyper-punitive, cast-out-into-the-wilderness measures benefit society when the final equation is balanced. Honest I can’t. It does not speak well of a society when parole officers are telling parolees that they might have to “go transient” but hey, since you will have to check in with us every day, and sign a declaration proclaiming which bridge you slept under last night, you can charge your GPS unit in the parole office.

Sheer, mind-boggling fuckwittery. Especially when we know that offenders who are integrated back into society in incremental, monitored steps, fare better and recidivism is decreased, which benefits society. Keeping a roof over the heads of offenders has been considered a vital first step, to the point that until just days ago the California corrections department helped pay the rent of parolees who were unable to cover their expenses themselves.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but marginalizing a population that is hallmarked by crimes against the weakest in society to the degree we have seems hysterical. Twenty years ago, we locked up proprietors of day care centers on imaginary charges. Under the banner of “protecting children” of course.

Like I said – I don’t have the answers – but I have a desire to see the periodic spasms of counterproductive social insanity that grips our nation every few years like clockwork come to a screeching halt. To that end, we need to start by having a national conversation, and examining issues carefully and thoughtfully, not with knee-jerk reactions and blustering proclamations.

I only know one thing for sure – when our society goes so far that I am sympathetic to sex offenders, it is time to take a deep breath and reassess the place we find ourselves.

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