California Legislature Passes Bipartisan Reform of California's Broken and Unfair Sex Offender Registry, Led by Law Enforcement

September 16, 2017

Sacramento –  A bill to reform California’s broken sex offender registry was approved by the California State Legislature on the last day of legislative session. SB 384 passed the Assembly, and after receiving a concurrence vote in the Senate to accept amendments made in the Assembly, now moves to the Governor’s desk. Governor Brown's office announced he supports the bill. 

The bill is authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Senators Joel Anderson (R- Alpine), Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). The bill is supported by district attorneys, police chiefs, and rape crisis centers.

Law enforcement officials wrote the sex offender reform legislation, with support from rape crisis advocates and criminal justice reform groups, to make the registry a more effective tool for monitoring high-risk sex offenders and solving sex crimes. California's sex offender registry is so huge - more than 100,000 people or 1 in 400 Californians are on it - that the registry is basically useless to law enforcement. The registry contains a huge number of low-level offenders and offenders who were convicted decades ago and now present little or no risk.

California is one of only 4 states in which all sex offenders, ranging from sexually violent predators to people caught having sex in the park 50 years ago, are treated the same with lifetime registration. SB 384 creates a tiered registry, with high-risk offenders on the registry for life and others able to petition to be removed after either 10 or 20 years without reoffending, depending on the offense. No one will be automatically removed from the registry. Rather, low-risk offenders will be able to petition after one or two decades on the registry, and a court, with feedback from the local district attorney, can grant or deny the petition. High-risk offenders will continue to remain on the registry for life.

“This bill was written by law enforcement and supported by rape crisis advocates because they know we need a sex offender registry system that actually works to protect people from those who pose a significant risk of committing sexual violence,” said Senator Wiener. “Our current registry system is broken and burdensome for law enforcement to use, and wastes resources by requiring law enforcement to monitor low-level offenders who pose little to no risk of committing any crime. The California Legislature took a big step forward towards to improve public safety, help our law enforcement agencies more effectively monitor violent sex offenders by focusing resources, and better prevent sex crimes from happening in the future.”

SB 384 is sponsored by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA, a coalition of rape crisis centers), the California Sex Offender Management Board (chaired by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley), and Equality California. The California Police Chiefs Association and various County Sheriffs (including the Los Angeles Sheriff) have endorsed the bill. The full list of supporters can be found on the fact sheet here

“The sex offender registry is meant to be an investigative tool to assist law enforcement in crime solving and prevention of additional sexual assaults,” said Bradley McCartt, Deputy in Charge, Family Violence Division, Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. “The current overly populated system is incapable of serving that purpose. A tiered system which gives low risk/low level offenders with old offenses the ability to be removed from the registry will restore the registry to the purpose for which it was originally created. This bill is not only aimed at requiring the most dangerous offenders to continue to have lifetime registration, but also to allow law enforcement to focus their resources on the supervision of these high risk individuals to better protect the public.”

“SB 384 takes an antiquated, ineffective 70 year old system and replaces it with an evidence-based and updated method to monitor sex offenders,” says Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley, a lifelong victim advocate and leader in combatting sexual. “This proposed law will better protect the public from sexual predators by enabling law enforcement to focus on those who have committed the most serious sexual assault crimes and who pose the greatest danger of recidivism. SB 421 stems from five years of research and drafting with the goal of ensuring that all Californians are protected from those most at risk of reoffending. Thank you, Senator Wiener and all of the partners in this effort for your leadership in addressing this vital legislative effort.”  DA O’Malley also serves as the Chair of California’s Sex Offender Management Board. 

Sandra Henriquez, CEO California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), said: "California is currently unable to effectively manage the 100,000 plus people that are required to register. Our registry currently includes individuals that committed an offense as a minor and/or at the age of 18, who are slated to remain on the sex offender registry for life. SB 421 will allow us to focus on those who are at the greatest risk to reoffend, thereby increasing public safety."

“Over the years, thousands of LGBTQ people have found themselves unfairly included on California's sex offender registry, sometimes for something as innocent as a same-sex kiss,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “Many were victims of law enforcement policies that consciously targeted and entrapped gay men. Our laws have changed for the better, but California's universal lifetime sex offender registry has not, and many are still included who hurt no one and who would not be placed on the registry today. It's time to remove them and to restore the registry's usefulness as a tool for investigating those who pose a real danger to society.”

Currently, California is one of only four states (Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina are the others) with a lifetime requirement for all convicted sex offenders. By treating all sex offenders alike, regardless of offense, California has created a system with over 100,000 registrants in its system, which inhibits law enforcement’s capability to effective protect the community. Law enforcement responsible for policing sex offenders estimates that 60% of officers’ time is spent on monthly or annual paperwork for low-risk offenders, which is time spent at the expense of being active in the community monitoring high-risk offenders.

In addition to the inhibitions on law enforcement, the current registry system has collateral consequences by restricting access to housing and employment for those on the registry, which can drive low-level offenders to homelessness and despondency, which in turn can these low level offenders to re-commit offenses.  The current registry also punishes LGBT people who were targeted decades ago by police for simply engaging in same-sex conduct when that conduct was criminalized. SB 384 would remove these people from the registry. 

SB 384 addresses this by establishing a tiered system for all sex offenders:

-       Tier 1: Registration for 10 years for misdemeanors or non-violent felonies

-       Tier 2: Registration for 20 years for more serious felonies

-       Tier 3: Registration for life for high risk offenders including but not limited to sexually violent offenders, repeat violent offenders, sexual assault of children, and sex offenses requiring a life term.