March 13, 2008

CA- Sex Offenders React To Tougher Residency Restrictions

3-13-2008 California:

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Local sex offenders said they are fed up with yet another round of proposed restrictions on where they can live.

The ordinance being drafted by the Kern County Board of Supervisors would enhance Jessica's Law, passed in 2006, and would limit newly paroled sex offenders from living near school bus stops, churches, day care facilities, and other places where children gather. The ordinance would apply to all offenders regardless of whether they committed crimes against children.

"I don't expect pity," Hamilton Oser, a man who has been on the sex offender registry for 10 years, said.

"But I expect fairness. I expect freedom, what this country is based on."

Oser turned himself in to authorities in 1997, admitting to a lewd act with a minor seven years earlier. His admission led to an eight-month jail sentence and a lifetime on California's sex offender registry, an issue many sex offenders call excessive punishment.

"Haven't I done my time? Haven't I paid my price? How is it that one incident can totally define a person's character?" he asked.

The outcry for even tougher restrictions began after community activists found locations like the El Don Motel and Bakersfield Lodge were housing dozens of newly paroled sex offenders, since the state could put them nowhere else.

Sex offenders are concerned further residency restrictions will force them to live in the middle of nowhere. The U.S. is one of eight countries with public sex offender registries, and is the only country with residency restrictions on sex offenders, according to Human Rights Watch.

Blog Commentary: Nick 2.0 Talks Sex Offenders

Over the last year, the debate was focused on whether the state could house multiple offenders in the same location, according to Gordon Hinkle, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. But now, even that may not be enough to appease residents.

In January, state officials met with the community regarding residency restrictions on sex offenders.

An estimated 1,500 registered sex offenders live in Kern County, and around 80 percent of those live in Bakersfield.

Residents in smaller towns said residency restrictions are forcing sex offenders to outlying areas, Tehachapi police chief Jeff Kermode said during the January meeting.

That prompted cities like Taft and Shafter to enact their own ordinances limiting where sex offenders can live, and now the county is considering its own restrictions.

The manner in which residents handle neighbors who are registered sex offenders vary by community.

In the last year, there have been multiple reports of violence nationwide by citizens against sex offenders, although there have been no reports of this in Kern County.

Instead, the activism has been mainly limited to flyers containing sex offenders' information being posted on churches or handed out to residents, or pranks committed against offenders' homes.

Oser recalled one recent event, in which his children were handed flyers with his information at their school bus stop by a parent.

"The lady at the bus stop passed a picture of me around without knowing my circumstances, and passed it to other kids right in front of my kids," he said.

He claims his house was subsequently littered with eggs several weeks later, believing that the children who received the flyers were resonsible.

"Where's the justice for my kids?" he said.

When asked about a recent account of a female victim who came to Bakersfield to post flyers about her attacker at his church, he offered some advice for what people should do.

"Hold me accountable for my actions, not my wife and kids, not my house," he said.

Oser said the time for sex offenders to keep quiet about the way they're treated by politicians and neighbors needs to end.

He said explaining to his children what he did was one of the hardest things to do in his life, but it helped him atone for his mistake.

He believes that politicians will not stop at sex offenders; that they will continue with registries for drug dealers, murderers and arsonists.

"Let them know that this isn't you," he said, referring to fellow registered sex offenders.

"What [strangers] want to say about you, whatever you did in the past doesn't define you as a person." ..more.. by Turn to 23 staff

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