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Debate Over California’s Sex Offender Laws

How safe are our children from sex offenders? While no parent wants to think about the possibility of his or her child being in danger, it is the reality, and one that parents prepare for. It is also a reality that lawmakers prepare for. Laws such as Megan’s Law and Jessica’s Law are in place to keep kids out of the hands of sex offenders. Now, a new proposed law, Chelsea’s Law, is hoping to accomplish the same thing. But what are these laws and are they really keeping our children safer?
Megan’s Law was passed in California in 2004 and was designed to allow the public to keep informed of where sex offenders live. It requires sex offenders to register with the state and allows the general public to go online and view the number of sex offenders in their neighborhood or city. Jessica’s Law takes it a few steps further and restricts where sex offenders can live and has a provision that allows sexually violent predators to be sent to prison indefinitely. The proposed Chelsea’s Law would place even further restrictions and have tougher sentences for sex offenders. Notably, it would include a one-strike provision for some offenses, would increase the minimum sentence, and keep offenders from visiting public spaces without prior permission.

While all of these laws sound great and are certainly backed by public opinion, debates are waging over whether these laws are really protecting our children as well as if specific provisions in these laws violate the offender’s civil rights. California Supreme Court is currently looking at the legality of treating sex offenders differently than other offenders, as Jessica’s Law does. Now it is being questioned if the same issues could arise with Chelsea’s Law. As for these laws keeping our children safer, it has been argued that Megan’s Law is not helpful, as the online database is confusing and vague and Jessica’s Law displaces offenders from their homes, increasing the likelihood they will reoffend. Furthermore, Chelsea’s Law focuses on longer sentences, which has not been shown to be effective.

Regardless of which side of the debates you are on, it is apparent that we must keep diligently looking at the laws already in place; how can they be made to be more effective and not violate the rights of any individual. There is a common goal of keeping children out of danger, and we must keep striving for it.

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