Few sex offenders deemed 'violent predators,' audit finds

July 13, 2011 1:47:36 PM PDT
The year before California voters passed Jessica's Law, a broad crackdown on sex offenders, the state prison system referred 512 potentially "violent predators" for examination.

By 2007, the year after the law (Proposition 83) passed, that number had rocketed by more than 1,600 percent. Meanwhile, the number of convicts actually deemed sexually violent predators almost tripled, from 15 in 2005 to 43 in 2007.

But the number of convicts considered violent predators has dwindled in the years since, according to a report released yesterday by the California State Auditor. After a significant uptick in sexually violent predator commitments in 2006 and 2007, the number dropped to 16 in 2008 and just three in 2009, according to data collected by the auditor.

The auditor's examination [PDF] also found that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been referring far more inmates for examination as possible sexually violent predators than the law permits. Rather than discerning which sex offenders to refer, the prison system has instead forwarded all such offenders for review.

Further, the corrections department has not given the state Department of Mental Health the required six-month lead time for examinations.

Corrections officials confirmed the findings. "We agree that improvements can be made in streamlining the process and have already implemented steps to improve the timeliness of our referrals to DMH," wrote Scott Kernan, the corrections undersecretary.

Offenders deemed predators are committed to treatment by the mental health department after finishing their prison sentences.

Jessica's Law made it easier to designate a predator in two ways. First, it expanded the number of criminal offenses that can earn a convict that label. Second, it changed the law so that all sex offenders who have one victim of a criminal sex act can potentially be deemed a predator; in the past, an offender had to have committed crimes against at least two victims.

Perhaps the most noteworthy finding in the audit report is how few convicts the state's court system has committed as sexual predators.

Since 2005, 59 percent of California's released sex offenders violated their parole; however, just 1 percent (134 convicts) committed a new offense. One committed a new sex offense.

The auditor concluded that the corrections department forwarded for review all inmates convicted of any sex offense, not just those designated under Jessica's Law. More than 14,000 cases (45 percent of all referrals) were sent to the mental health department, despite the fact that the agency had previously concluded the inmates were not sexually violent offenders.

The report concludes the huge number of referrals is the result of unintended consequences.

"By expanding the population of potential SVPs to include offenders with only one victim rather than two, Jessica's Law may have unintentionally removed an indirect but effective filter for offenders who do not qualify as SVPs because they lack diagnosed mental disorders that predispose them to criminal sexual acts. In other words, the fact that an offender has had more than one victim may correlate to the likelihood that he or she has a diagnosed mental disorder that increases the risk of recidivism."

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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