We have drawn a line in the sand. No longer will we accept governmental decisions that exclude registrants from benefits provided to the rest of society. Instead, we will challenge in court those decisions which are based upon the myth that registrants “always” re-offend.
There are three such challenges now pending in state courts in California. The first challenge is to a decision by the Registrar of Voters in Los Angeles County that prohibits individuals convicted of a sex offense from serving as poll workers. This decision was made after a few school districts in that county complained that they did not want registrants on their campus. Regardless of the fact that there are no students present on election days. Regardless of the fact that state law requires registrants to obtain prior written permission before entering a school campus. Regardless of the fact that 56 out of 58 counties allow registrants to serve as poll workers.
The poll workers challenge was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in May 2018. Both parties have filed Motions for Summary Judgement and a hearing on those motions is scheduled for January 24, 2020. If the court grants either motion, the case will end. We expect success in this case if only the court pays attention to the facts presented in that case: the re-offense rate for registrants is not high. In fact, the re-offense rate is low according to both government and academic studies such as reported in an annual CDCR report which has consistently found that the re-offense rate for a registrant on parole is less than one percent. And the U.S. Department of Justice has found that the re-offense rate for a registrant who has committed a violent contact offense is about 5 percent over a lifetime. Finally, Dr. Karl Hanson, the preeminent researcher on this topic, has concluded that a registrant who has lived in the community for 17 years or longer and has not re-offended, is very unlikely to commit a new offense.
The second challenge is to a decision made this year by the state legislature that prohibits registrants from serving on a jury. The legislature created this prohibition when it passed Senate Bill 310 which granted the right to serve on a jury to all other individuals convicted of a felony. Yes, that is correct. A person convicted of murder is eligible to serve on a jury, but a person convicted of a non-contact, non-violent sex offense is not eligible. There was no discussion of this exclusion during the legislative process, but instead was silently added by a member of the legislature who goes out of her way to limit the rights of registrants. The juror exclusion challenge was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in November 2019.
The third challenge is to a decision made by an agency of the state government to deny the rights of a registrant to receive benefits from the Victims Compensation Fund which is available to citizens who are the victims of violent crime. The registrant lost three family members in a fire on a dive boat near Santa Barbara a few months ago. He would be eligible to receive benefits from that fund in the form of counseling except for the fact that he is required to register as a sex offender. The exclusion of fund benefits to anyone convicted of a sex offense is the result of recent legislation. The victims compensation fund challenged was filed in Sacramento Superior Court in December 2019.
We cannot and will not accept decisions by state and local governments to exclude a large group of its citizens from their rights and benefits. We have drawn a line in the sand and that line will continue to be reinforced through court challenges until and unless the government learns an important lesson: most registrants do not pose a current danger to society. In fact, the rate at which registrants re-offend is extremely low and continues to diminish as they spend more time in the community.
The fight has just begun and will continue until registrants are provided all of their rights and benefits. How many lawsuits will be required to reach this goal? The answer depends entirely upon how quickly state and local governments learn this important lesson.