Study: Sex-Offender GPS No Panacea Against Crime

The California law mandating GPS monitoring of sex offenders can provide a false sense of security for the public, according to a report released Wednesday.

While it can help law enforcement authorities find suspects after a crime has occurred, it has only limited benefits in preventing crime in the first place, the report says.

The report from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Inspector General was requested after two Orange County sex offenders who were required to wear GPS devices were arrested last spring in the rapes and killings of four women. Both had their whereabouts constantly tracked by satellite.

Monitoring the movements of ex-felons using GPS ankle bracelets is required under Jessica's Law, an initiative passed by voters in 2006. It can be a tool for law enforcement, but there is little evidence that it significantly deters crime, the inspector general's report found.

The same initiative requires sex offenders to live at least 2,000 feet away from schools and parks.

The result is that one of every five paroled sex offenders has no permanent home. Those transients committed about 76 percent of all parole violations among sex-offender parolees during the 12-month period studied in the report, although many of the violations were for failing to register or failing to meet with a parole agent.

Less than 1 percent of the violations were for sex-related crimes, Inspector General Robert Barton said in the report. That revelation "runs contrary to the popular belief that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism compared to other types of felons." The assumption was "an underlying premise" that led voters to enact Jessica's Law in the first place, the report says.

The inspector general's report is the second study this year to question whether California should change how it monitors sex offenders after their release from prison.

The California Sex Offender Management Board, made up of law enforcement and treatment professionals, recommended in April that only high-risk offenders, such as kidnappers and sexually violent predators, be required to register for life. It said less risky offenders should be allowed to stop registering 10 to 20 years after their offense.

The inspector general report was requested by former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, after Franc Cano, 28, and Steven Dean Gordon, 45, were arrested in April. They pleaded not guilty last week to charges of murder with special circumstances and rape in the four deaths.

Both men were wearing tracking devices ordered after prior sex crimes, with Cano being monitored by state parole agents and Gordon by federal parole agents.

The inspector general's report is being sent to the Legislature for possible action. Lawmakers cannot undo Jessica's Law because it was passed by voters. But they can make certain changes to it, such as those recommended by the Sex Offender Management Board.

The report doesn't specifically address the Orange County suspects or the investigation, but it says there is no definitive research showing the devices are a deterrent.

The Orange County suspects were living on the streets, as are many sex offenders because of the residency restrictions imposed under Jessica's Law. The ban on living near schools or parks means there are few places the offenders can legally live.

Before the law, 88 paroled sex offenders statewide had no permanent address. That number now is 1,556.

The cost to the state for the GPS equipment and monitoring operations has dropped more than one-third in the last five years, to about $8 million a year. Parole agents spend more of their time analyzing the movements of ex-cons, the inspector general found, but the technology also helps them find parolees when they need to do so.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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