There is no group more oppressed in our society than ex-convicts. Within that group, paroled sex offenders are the most oppressed of all. Every politician knows that he can make cheap points with his constituency by championing some measure that is tough on crime. The fact that crime can only be reduced by providing education, training, counseling, support, and dignity to ex-offenders is ignored by most officeholders because they don't really care about reducing crime; they care about getting votes, and the perks that go along with the power of being elected to office.
That is why in California now, the system is virtually guaranteeing that paroled sex offenders will end up reincarcerated. It is doing so by requiring that the parolees live in the streets, without housing or jobs or help of any kind. The result will be more violations of parole leading to costly imprisonment, more destruction of the lives of people who made mistakes but want to remake their lives, and less security for the citizens of the state. Thus, my state's approach to convicted sex offenders is both inhumane and counterproductive. It is, however, unlikely that anyone will have the balls to do anything about it.
Before discussing the present status of paroled sex offenders in California, I want to deal with those who are going to respond to this diary in the same way most people in my community respond to the issue - that is, by asking why we should give a fuck about convicted sex offenders. Aren't they the spawn of Satan, unredeemably evil people who live only to prey on the weakest members of society?
The answer is no, at least not most of them. Yes, there are sex offenders who are undeniably dangerous and will remain so throughout most, if not all, of their lifetimes. There are drug users and robbers and burglars and white-collar criminals who fall into the same category. However, there are two important things to recognize about people convicted of sex crimes.
First, there are sex crimes and there are sex crimes. In California, sex offenses range from the date rape of a woman by her boyfriend to the rape of a woman walking home from the bus stop by a stranger, from the consensual sexual relations between a 13 year-old and her 18 year-old boyfriend to the molestation of an 8 year-old by her father, from the drunken groping of a woman by a fellow party-goer to the fondling of a detained woman by a corrupt cop. There may be an argument that these should all be criminal offenses, but there can be no argument that these all carry different degrees of moral culpability, and represent qualitatively different species of pathology. One can become a sex offender because of pedophilia, because of sociopathy, because of alcoholism, because of immaturity, because of a history of abuse or molest, or because of situational stupidity (among other reasons). However, the criminal justice system in California increasingly treats all varieties of sex offense exactly the same.
Second, contrary to popular opinion, historically the recidivism rate for sex offenders has been lower than that of other offenders. Of course, any recidivism is a bad thing, but the important point is that it is a myth that all sex offenders are irrevocably broken creatures who will invariably commit more crimes if given half a chance.
Despite increasingly punitive laws, lots of people convicted of sex offenses are released from prison every day. We have a choice about how to deal with them. We can give them the psychological, financial, and vocational assistance they will need to reenter society and develop into productive, law-abiding residents. Or we can further marginalize them and demonize them, making it as nearly impossible as we can for them to atone for their behavior and ensure that it never happens again.
California has chosen Plan B. Parolees who were convicted of sex offenses are not allowed to live within 2000 feet of schools or parks, regardless of the nature of their convictions. They are released with no money, and with a minimal ability to get a job given their prior record and the current unemployment rate. Parole does nothing to help them get work. They are not allowed to leave the county of their parole, even if they have family, housing, and/or job opportunities in another county. They are given referrals to apartments in which they can legally live, but which they cannot afford. They are not allowed to stay in shelters. Even when they are fortunate enough to be able to afford to stay in legal housing, they are usually hounded out. In Orange County, convicted sex offenders are now being told by parole agents that their only recourse is to live on the streets. This treatment is accorded to all parolees, regardless of offense and regardless of willingness and desire to reintegrate into society.
It is easy to demonize those who have committed crimes, particularly those who have committed sex crimes. It makes politicians successful to do so, and it makes the average person feel good to do so. The problem is that this approach destroys the lives of many people who may still have things to contribute to society if they are given an opportunity to rectify their errors and to get back on their feet. What may be more important to some, this approach is also insanely destructive to the goal of reducing criminal behavior. Someone who is released from prison after serving time for a sex offense already has a difficult task ahead of him if he wants to rebuild his life and have a productive future. When he is prevented from having a place in which to sleep, a bathroom in which to take a shower, an address to give prospective employers, and a dignity associated with being allowed to live with his fellow man, the likelihood of his being able to avoid reoffending is drastically reduced. As a result, the safety of us all is endangered. Crime is prevented by giving all people a stake in the health of the community, not by marginalizing offenders to the point where they avoid supervision and have no means of support (emotional as well as financial) other than criminal activity. In short, the best way to ensure that our prisons remain overcrowded and our communities remain at risk is to treat parolees like animals fit only to eat out of the gutter and sleep on the sidewalk.
I don't expect a lot of popularity for this diary. The truth is, however, that recognizing the inherent human dignity of and meeting the need for help shared by ex-offenders is both morally correct and rationally required if we wish to optimize the reduction of recidivism. Ultimately, criminal behavior will be minimized not by the construction of more concrete walls but by repairing the damage that led to the behavior in the first place.