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Jessica's Law boosts number of sexual predators considered for mental hospitals

July 12, 2011 | 11:37 am

Photo: A parole agent, left, escorts a sex offender in Sacramento. The man ran afoul of Jessica's Law, which decrees that freed offenders must live more than 2,000 feet from areas where children gather. Credit: Los Angeles Times The number of convicts referred to mental health officials for possible confinement in a state hospital as sexually violent predators has skyrocketed since California voters passed Jessica’s Law, a state audit said Tuesday.

The audit said part of the increase is attributable to prison officials not complying with requirements for thoroughly screening offenders before they are referred to the Department of Mental Health.

That has resulted in the state performing "unnecessary work’’ and has created a burden for the department, which conducts the evaluations, the audit found.

Despite the increased number of referrals, the department did not significantly increase the number of sex offenders it recommended to prosecutors for commitment to a mental facility.

The audit indicated that the department’s screening of sex offenders leaving prison appears to have been effective.

Of the 13,512 sex offenders released since 2005 which screening determined did not require further confinement, 59% later violated their parole, but only one person was convicted of a sexually violent offense.

"Although higher numbers of offenders were subsequently convicted of felonies that were not sexually violent offenses, even those numbers were relatively low,’’ the audit found. It said 134 of the offenders, about 1%, committed new felonies that were not sexually violent offenses.

The audit looked at a state program created in 1996 that evaluates sex offenders who complete their prison sentences and allows the courts to commit them for at least two years to a mental facility if they are found by the Department of Mental Health to be a continuing danger to the public as a sexually violent predator.

The audit said voter passage of Jessica’s Law in 2006 added more crimes to the list of sexually violent offenses and reduced the number of victims required for a sexually violent predator designation. The number of sex offenders referred by prison officials to a mental health evaluation went from 1,850 in 2006 to 8,871 a year later, the audit said. 

Auditors also said that prison and parole officials referred all offenders convicted of sexually violent offenses "without assessing whether those offenses or any others committed by the offender were predatory in nature’’ and without considering other information required by law to be part of the evaluation.

Officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation indicated they agree that improvements can be made in streamlining the referral process.

The department, wrote corrections Undersecretary Scott Kernan, "is committed to adhering to the statutory law governing this program and will always err on the side of caution in regards to public safety when making sex offender referrals to the Department of Mental Health.’’

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--Patrick McGreevy

Photo: A parole agent escorts a sex offender in Sacramento. The man ran afoul of Jessica's Law, which decrees that freed offenders must live more than 2,000 feet from areas where children gather. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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