Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Chelsea's Law Moving Through Legislature

Chelsea's Law Moving Through Legislature

GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, a California state Senate committee approved the proposed Chelsea's Law with some amendments. The bill is named for 17-year-old Poway teenager Chelsea King who was raped and murdered by convicted sex offender John Gardner and it has passed the assembly. With me to discuss whether Chelsea's Law will help protect against sex offenders who seek out more victims are John Warren, editor of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint; and Ricky Young, Watchdog Editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Ricky, the essence of the original proposed legislation was to mandate longtime, lifetime imprisonment for the most violent sex offenders. What else does it call for now?

RICKY YOUNG (San Diego Union-Tribune): Right, it has that one-strike provision that you mentioned and another provision was lifetime parole for some lesser sex offenses. Now this committee is, you know, one of its charges is making sure they don’t make the overcrowded prison system even more overcrowded. And so they this week lessened some of those; made instead of lifetime parole, some ten and twenty year parole for certain offenses. And so they toned it down a little bit. They also added in some treatment for sex offenders specific to their needs, which they don’t get so much now, some polygraph tests and something called a containment model that they found in the probation department here in San Diego County works in terms of working on trying to avoid recidivism.

PENNER: So that’s interesting. Treatment is now being discussed in a broader form. John, does our state need to enact stricter correction and incarceration guidelines for sex offenders? Or go for the treatment model?


JOHN WARREN (San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Well it has to do a lot with who you talk with. The treatment model, many feel is not complete in and of itself because there's so much more that could be done with it. There's a concern that every time this happens when will it happen next. There’s a question: is it whether or not we’re enforcing the laws that we already have on the books? The monitoring the GPS systems where we have a backlog with those cases. And so some would offer treatment, but yet treatment does not seem to be handling the problem. And that’s where we’re looking at stricter sentencing.

PENNER: Well, you know there is some opposition to the bill from California attorneys for criminal justice. And so we did ask one San Diego criminal defense attorney, Michael Crowley, his opinion of the proposed law. This is what he said.

MICHAEL CROWLEY (Criminal Defense Attorney): Chelsea's Law is not going to do what its author intends it to do. It's not going to prevent those tragic deaths for a number of reasons. And in many ways, anytime we have legislation that comes out of a particular tragedy it almost always is problematic because we're dealing with emotions rather than dealing with the studies that we have out there, listening to the commissions that we've had that have spoken on these matters, and those kinds of situations that will make for good legislation that do have a possibility of preventing something like this to ever happen again.

PENNER: So, Ricky, as the bill goes through the senate do you think any of the points that Michael Crowley made will become a major issue?

YOUNG: Absolutely. Well, no actually. I think they blunted these issues moving forward. He said they didn’t take into account any of the studies or any of the commissions. That’s actually… That was true prior to this week’s committee hearing. You know, it’s definitely a process of compromise. And you had a republican, tough on crime measure working its way through, but this is a democratic dominated legislature and specifically committee. And this committee added in a number of changes in response to both studies and the sex offender management board, which is the commission he’s referring to that added in some of this treatment options and some of this containment model thing. The Kings really didn’t believe that treatment ever works with sex offenders. So this is a major compromise for them to insert some of that into the measure.


PENNER: Well there's a whole other area that’s concern to quite a few people, and that is our overcrowded prison systems. How do you think this potential law will affect our prison system?

WARREN: Well there's discussion of removing the misdemeanor cases and sending those from the federal back to state or county jails, which will make room. And that’s consistent with this whole movement of early releases. So there's no question that we can't build new prisons quickly enough to accommodate this growing element. And so the only thing left to do is to make room at the other end, which means they're going to have to increase the probation portion and show to the public that there's some tougher standards in place.

PENNER: Yeah but on the other hand, when you take a look at the prison system the concern is that they're going to have to build new cells to take care of all these perpetrators and decades down the line, and that it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to keep these additional prisoners in prison.

WARREN: Well the prison is already overcrowded. They're under court order in terms of some early release. So I'm not quite sure how they’ll be able to justify adding more people. One of the alternatives is to move people out of state, and I think it will come to that as the collision occurs between the federal judges and the increased prisoners.

PENNER: We only have time to pick up one more point and I think I need to ask you, Ricky, how would the new law prevent a person like John Gardner, who was a convicted child molester, from being available to perpetrate this kind of crime again?

YOUNG: Well. I think it was specifically designed to take his kind of crime and say – his crime from 2000, a molestation and false imprisonment of a 13 year old – and decide that if someone did that on a moving forward basis, that that person would go to prison for life. You know I think that was job one in this bill. Now they’ve made a lot of other changes but I don’t think you’ll see them let that go.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.