There are two distinct bodies of literature on sexual offender law. The most important is that from the mass media, for example the "San Diego Union Tribune," that printed close to a thousand articles cheering on Chelsea's Law. Columnists vied with each other to most floridly express their loathing for the perpetrator of the crime, while praising this law and it's sponsor, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. There was so little space given for serious analysis, that the rare articles that made it to print died of isolation. This includes a single editorial that demanded elimination of excessive residence restrictions. It was ignored in the legislation and never mentioned again in the newspaper.
The other body of writing is from academic sources, the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, psychology and law that underlie the field of criminology. These research based, often cross cultural studies describe the political processes of creating this body of law, along with evaluation of their effectiveness. Such literature, examples of which I have referenced in my personal blog article linked below, are little read by the public, and have almost no effect on policy. I will not be writing here about this this body of research.
Readers of this blog are intensely interested in the small city of Encinitas California, and follow its council members like the general public follows Members of Congress,. So, this blog article will start with one event, a five minute segment of a city council debate over sending a letter of endorsement for Chelsea's Law. It's best to watch the video linked below and we can continue right afterwards. (for those who can't access it, or if you want the short synopsis in my recent article in Coast News along with additional references, it's here on my own blog AlRodbell.blogspot.com.) I'll continue with this excerpt from that article. In a break from a major focus of Lucadia Blog, this is not written to criticize or praise any of the members of the Council, but to illustrate a process of creating legislation in this area which transcends local politics.
From The Coast News:
The political dynamics were clearly illustrated on May 26, 2010 (available on video drop down to discussion at 1hr 50 m ) when the City of Encinitas Council was asked to vote on endorsing a letter supporting the law.
The law provides for up to life imprisonment for aggravated first offenses, at a cost estimated to reach over a hundred million dollars a year. As with the truism that prevention is more effective than incarceration, the belief that early inappropriate sexual activity is predictive of later violent crimes is equally uncertain. But by the time the issue came to the Encinitas Council this law was on steamroller, and sending the letter of support to the legislature seemed assured.
One member of the council, Maggie Houlihan, suggested that while she, like everyone else, abhors sexual violence this law should be considered in the context of other social needs. She suggested a modification of the letter of endorsement that would have noted the need for this larger perspective.
Councilman Jerome Stocks dismissed this vehemently, saying, "I don't want to hear about potential problems, let the legislature find the money." Maggie wasn't intimidated. After a sharp interaction, acknowledging that her vote against unconditional support of the bill would draw constituent's anger, she concluded with, "This is a much larger problem of our penal system."
The vote to send the letter was only opposed by Maggie, with the other three members who were clearly ambivalent not willing to go on record against it. Several months later at an election forum at Cardiff, I brought this up in front of the large audience. Candidate Dan Dalager (under siege for alleged corruption), whom I confronted for passively voting for this resolution, didn't defend his vote, but pointed out that three other members did the same thing.
Then, Teresa Barth, who was also on the ballot for the council, stood up and made a statement that explains much about the political process in our country at all levels. She said, "I didn't want to vote to send that letter. But, if I had voted against it, every candidate's mailer would have blasted me for not supporting Chelsea's Law, that I was soft on child sexual predators."
Maggie Houlihan may well have been the only elected official in California to publicly question Chelsea's Law.
I ended my Coast News essay with this:
The law was promoted, and accepted as being targeted for "the worst of the worst" the irredeemable sociopaths such as Chelsea King's killer John Gardner. Actually, the first person who was prosecuted under this law was Joseph Cantorna, a fifty five year old brain damaged man whose offense was inappropriately touching two boys whom he believed to be his grandsons. After the expense of pre-trial incarceration and preparing a prosecution under this law, it took the Judge five minutes to throw the case against this obviously incompetent person out of court.
I have written this synopsis of the half hour jail house interview with Cantorna, a man who still wants to play doctor with the little girls and boys. He doesn't want to do any harm, yet has a temper that explodes when he doesn't get his way. We, as a society, unlike others in other times, have decided to accept him, acknowledging his severe mental deficiency that precludes the development of sexual constraints that shape what we describe as acceptable behavior. Yet, when he is caught doing something rather minor, that is for his five year old mental-emotional age; with Chelsea's law, we have chosen not to segregate him from others in a protective place, but rather put him in a prison with hardened predatory felons to live out his life.
While I have a pretty good idea what is wrong with this system, getting it right is more of a challenge. And that's where I'll leave it; hoping to get some insights from others who may read this.
Encinitas Resident and frequent contributor to DailyKos.