Report 2007-115 Summary - April 2008
Sex Offender Placement:
State Laws Are Not Always Clear, and No One Formally Assesses the Impact Sex Offender Placement Has on Local Communities
Our review of the placement of sex offenders in communities found that:
- The Department of Justice's (Justice) database contained more than 59,000 registered sex offenders living in California communities. Of these, 8,000 are supervised and monitored by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) until they complete their parole.
- State laws and regulations and departmental policies do not require that licensing departments consider the criminal background of potential clients, including registered sex offenders, that the licensed facilities plan to serve.
- State law does not generally allow sex offenders on parole to reside with other sex offenders in a single-family dwelling that is not what it terms a "residential facility"; however, in several instances two or more sex offenders on parole were residing in the same hotel room.
- The registered addresses in Justice's database for 49 sex offenders were the same as the official addresses of facilities licensed by the Department of Social Services that serve children.
- Although state law does not prohibit two or more sex offenders from residing at the same "residential facility," it does not clearly define whether residential facilities include those that do not require a license, such as sober living facilities.
- State law is also unclear whether the residence restriction applies to juvenile sex offenders; we found several instances in which Corrections placed juvenile sex offender parolees at the same location.
- Local law enforcement agencies generally told us they have not performed formal assessments of the impact sex offenders have on their resources and communities.
- State laws generally do not require the departments or their contractors that place registered sex offenders to consider the impact on local communities when making placement decisions.
RESULTS IN BRIEF
The Sex Offender Registration Act requires that all persons found to have committed certain sexual offenses by any state, federal, or military court must, for the remainder of their lives, register with certain regional entities as sex offenders while residing in California. The individuals subject to this state law (sex offenders) are required to register with the local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over their place of residence within five working days of moving there and upon each anniversary of their birth. As of December 13, 2007, the database of this information maintained by the Department of Justice (Justice) contained more than 59,000 registered sex offenders living in California communities. Of these, 8,000 are supervised and monitored by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) until they complete their parole. The remaining 51,000 who are no longer on parole do not generally receive any formal supervision.
Three state departments—the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Mental Health, and Corrections—provide treatment or support services to a very small number of registered sex offenders, about 1 percent, either on a voluntary basis or as required by law. These three departments may assist some registered sex offenders by placing them in various housing accommodations, including licensed residential facilities. As part of their responsibilities, they may also provide some oversight of the sex offenders they place.
The Department of Social Services (Social Services) and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (Alcohol and Drug) are responsible for licensing residential facilities, including those that serve six or fewer individuals. However, state laws and regulations and departmental policies do not require that these licensing departments consider the criminal background of potential clients, including registered sex offenders, that the licensed facilities plan to serve. Our comparison of the databases from these two licensing departments with Justice's database of registered sex offenders showed that at least 352 licensed residential facilities housed sex offenders as of December 13, 2007. However, because of the variations of the same address included in these databases and the large size of the databases, we were unable to determine precisely how many sex offenders reside in each licensed facility.
We also found 49 instances in which the registered addresses in Justice's database for sex offenders were the same as the official addresses of facilities licensed by Social Services that serve children such as family day care homes. State law requires that before issuing a license to operate or manage certain facilities that serve children, Social Services must review the criminal history of all applicants seeking licenses, their employees, and all adults residing at these facilities.
State law does not generally allow sex offenders on parole to reside with other sex offenders in a single-family dwelling that is not what it terms a "residential facility." However, we found several instances of two or more sex offenders on parole living at the same hotel. Corrections believes the law does not prohibit such living arrangements because hotels are not single-family dwellings. But we also found several instances in which two or more sex offenders on parole were residing in the same hotel room. According to Corrections' interpretation of the law, a single room within a hotel is a single-family dwelling, and thus this arrangement would not be permitted. When we informed Corrections' staff of the apparent violations of its policies, they noted that they plan to review all parolee cases to identify such living arrangements and work to correct them. Nevertheless, we believe the law is not clear as to whether a single unit within a multifamily dwelling such as a hotel is considered a single-family dwelling.
Although state law does not prohibit two or more sex offenders from residing at the same "residential facility," it does not clearly define whether residential facilities include those that do not require a license, such as sober living facilities. We identified several instances in which two or more adult sex offenders on parole were residing in the same sober living facility. It is also unclear whether this restriction applies to juvenile sex offenders. In fact, we identified several instances in which Corrections had placed juvenile sex offender parolees at the same location, such as a group home that does not require a license, because it does not believe that the residence restriction imposed by this law applies to juveniles.
While we focused our review on identifying instances in which two or more sex offender parolees listed in Corrections' database were living at the same location, the law is even more restrictive and does not allow a sex offender on parole to live with other sex offenders regardless of their parole status. Thus, because we did not compare Corrections' database with the larger population of sex offenders that include those no longer on parole, there are likely more instances than we have identified of paroled sex offenders residing with other registered sex offenders.
Local law enforcement agencies generally told us they have not performed formal assessments of the impact sex offenders have on their resources and communities. Further, state laws generally do not require the departments or their contractors that place registered sex offenders to consider the impact on local communities when making placement decisions, and the departments generally do not have policies calling for assessments of the impact such placements have on local communities. The California Sex Offender Management Board, created in September 2006, is in the process of assessing the current practices for managing adult sex offenders, with the goal of improving community safety. It released an initial report in February 2008, which concluded that most sex offenders in communities are not under formal supervision and that it is unclear who is responsible for monitoring them after they are discharged from parole.
Finally, although Corrections generally followed its policies when monitoring sex offender parolees, it did not always adhere to policies for notifying local law enforcement agencies of the impending release of parolees into their jurisdictions. While Corrections makes this information available to local law enforcement agencies through its Parole Law Enforcement Automated Data System—a free Internet based service—not all local agencies have opted to use it. Corrections also did not always ensure that parolees registered with the appropriate law enforcement agency within five working days of being released from prison.
If the Legislature is interested in identifying all sex offenders living in licensed residential facilities, it will need to require Justice, Social Services, and Alcohol and Drug to coordinate with one another and develop an approach that will allow them to generate such information on an as needed basis. For example, with the assistance of Social Services and Alcohol and Drug, Justice could assign a unique identifier to each registered address in its database, such as the license number issued by the respective licensing department, which would allow it to compute the number of sex offenders living together in licensed facilities.
To ensure that registered adult sex offenders are not residing in licensed facilities that serve children, Justice should provide Social Services with the appropriate identifying information to enable Social Services to investigate those instances in which the registered addresses of sex offenders were the same as child care or foster care facilities. If necessary, Justice and Social Services should seek statutory changes that would permit Justice to release identifying information to Social Services so that it may investigate any matches.
To ensure that state laws are appropriately applied to sex offenders, the Legislature should consider amending the law that places limits on the number of paroled sex offenders who may reside at the same single-family dwelling to clearly define what constitutes a single-family dwelling and a residential facility. Further, the Legislature should specify whether this statute applies to juvenile sex offenders.
To ensure that it complies with its policies and interpretation of state laws, Corrections should continue to monitor the addresses of paroled sex offenders to ensure that they are not residing with other sex offenders, including those not on parole, in the same unit of a multifamily dwelling.
To comply with legal requirements and its own policies, Corrections should do the following:
- Ensure that its parole regions provide prompt notification of the release of all parolees to the applicable law enforcement agencies.
- Ensure that its parole agents review all registration receipts to make certain that all parolees required to register as sex offenders do so within five working days of moving into a local jurisdiction.
Corrections does not agree with the conclusions contained in this report; however, it noted that it will address the findings and recommendations through a corrective action plan. Although Justice does not address our recommendation we made to the Legislature, Social Services and Alcohol and Drug generally agree with it. Finally, Social Services, the Department of Mental Health, and the Department of Developmental Services provided some additional clarification.