February 13, 2015

Critics of Carson's sex offender laws say they are too strict

2-13-15 California:

For Frank Lindsay, the city of Carson feels like an obstacle course whenever he visits his relatives.

He makes sure to stay clear of all city parks. If he's hungry, he avoids the local McDonald's, which includes a playground for toddlers. The library, where children have reading time, is off-limits. So is the local mall, which has a play lighthouse for youngsters to climb.

Lindsay, a convicted child molester, is one of the targets of a Carson ordinance that is among the toughest in the state.

The ordinance goes further than California's already strict limits on where sex offenders can live to ban them from loitering in "child safety zones" — areas within 300 feet of a host of areas where children might congregate. Those include child-care centers, schools, parks, swimming pools, libraries and businesses that provide children's play areas.

The city's rules are popular among residents but are now the focus of a legal battle in which Lindsay and a sex offenders' rights group say they infringe on the rights of sex offenders. Lindsay, who says he visits his ex-wife and her mother in Carson a couple of times a year, complains that he lives in fear of being arrested for accidentally entering an off-limits area and being accused of loitering.

"I'm afraid to move about town freely," he said. "I'm not a monster.... If they understood what we are going through, I don't believe there is a rational person who would say this is fair."

Scores of cities enacted similar ordinances in recent years but repealed them in the face of lawsuits by California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a nonprofit group that advocates restoring civil rights for offenders in the wake of an appellate court decision last year that struck down a similar set of laws in Irvine.

All except Carson.

City officials say that they are refusing to back down and that the ordinance is necessary to protect children.

They have vowed to fight the legal challenge all the way to the California Supreme Court if necessary and say that they plan to support a change in state law so that Carson can keep its ordinance. If Carson prevails or new legislation is approved, cities and counties across the state would be free to draft their own laws that restrict the movement of offenders.

"Someone had to have the courage to challenge it, take it to the court and fight," City Councilman Al Robles said. "Sooner or later, the law — whether it be by a judge or legislation — will come to see it the way we do in Carson."

The dispute comes amid continuing questions over whether California's strict approach to regulating convicted sex offenders is effective at protecting public safety.

There are about 98,000 convicted sex offenders registered in California, one of four states that require someone to stay on the list for life. A 2006 ballot measure prohibits those on the registry from living within 2,000 feet of a park or a school, pushing many sex offenders into remote locales or industrial areas.

Last year, the California Sex Offender Management Board — a state panel that includes law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges and victims rights advocates — issued a report saying that rules limiting where sex offenders live can prevent them from finding housing and jobs, which could "exacerbate risk factors thereby actually increasing an offender's level of risk for re-offense." ..Continued.. by Stephen Ceasar

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