Expanding the Web of Criminalization

by Diana Block
On November 7, 2006, California voters passed Proposition 83, also known as Jessica’s Law, by a 70% yes vote. The new law increases the penalties for sex offenses under Penal Code 290. It requires registered offenders to wear lifelong GPS bracelets to track their every movement. And it makes it illegal for all registered sex offenders to “reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather.” This makes it virtually impossible for registrants to live in any urban area in California. Proposition 83 also expanded the offenses which require registration as a sex offender to minor offenses such as indecent exposure (Penal Code 314).
CCWP received a letter from a woman who had pled guilty to a charge of indecent exposure many years ago. At the time, she made the plea in order to avoid a more serious conviction on prostitution charges. Now, she is imprisoned for an unrelated incident and years after the indecent exposure plea she is being told that she has to register as a sex offender when she is released! This terrible situation exposes the extremist agenda which motivated this proposition.
Many people who voted for Proposition 83 had no idea of the wide ranging impact this law would have on all sorts of people. The term “sex offender” is used to conjure up an image of a person who preys upon young children and whose behavior is uncontrollable. The fear of the incurable sex offender is being used to pass laws which criminalize increasing numbers of people and have nothing to do with keeping children and communities safe.
There have been several constitutional challenges made to the provisions of Prop 83. So far, there has been one ruling which says that the provisions of Prop 83 cannot be applied retrospectively. However, some confusion still remains as to the exact scope of this ruling. Other challenges regarding the GPS bracelet and the residency restrictions are yet to be decided. To make matters even more confusing, counties are responsible for the implementation of the law and it’s likely that various counties will enforce the law differently according to the resources available for enforcement.
Harsher laws and more punishment will not help California’s prison crisis or solve the fundamental social problems which give rise to sex offenses. We need to advocate for community-based solutions which address the social causes of individual problems and work together to develop restorative methods of change.
CCWP would like to gather information about women and transgender prisoners who are being impacted by Jessica’s law. Please write us with any stories you may know about.
Thanks to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) for their original opposition to Proposition 83 and for contributing information for this article.