The California State Assembly postponed a final vote Friday, on the approved Senate version of AB 1844, a bill that would create mandatory life sentences for violent sex crimes against children, stricter parole guidelines for sex offenders, and lifelong tracking of certain kinds of sex offenders.
Lawmakers are calling the bill “Chelsea’s Law” in memory of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, two San Diego County teenagers who were both raped and murdered by John Gardner, a convicted sex offender.
Gardner’s arrest earlier this year shocked an entire nation when Americans learned that he had already been convicted for sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl in 2000, but was released on parole after serving only five years of a six year prison sentence, and had violated the terms of his parole multiple times without action by the state.
Details of a 2000 probation report also emerged, indicating that a psychiatrist strongly recommended against Gardner’s early release, saying that he possessed “significant predatory traits toward underage girls and should be kept in prison for as long as possible.”
The bill passed the California Senate on Tuesday in a 33-0 vote before being sent back to the Assembly for final approval of Senate changes. Chelsea King’s parents, Brent and Kelly called the passage of Chelsea’s Law “bittersweet,” adding:
“As the vote came through, I had tears streaming down my face. I can’t think of anything, other than having my daughter back here now, more meaningful to Brent and I.”
The Assembly has tentatively scheduled a final vote for Monday and Governor Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that he plans to sign the bill when it comes across his desk.
While the bill is a good first step toward preventing future horrors such as those endured by the Dubois and King families, California may need to take additional measures to make it possible to carry out the provisions of Chelsea’s Law.
An already severely over-burdened prison and safety system, with costs spiraling out of control, hampers the state’s ability to detain violent and dangerous offenders as long as necessary to keep California safe.
Possible solutions to this problem include medical parole for a select few inmates who pose a minimal threat and consume a disproportionate amount of state resources because of their medical conditions. According to a conservative estimate, the prison system could save $213 million over five years by paroling only 32 inmates who have been classified as “severely incapacitated.”
Another way to conserve resources for the proper detainment and tracking of potentially dangerous sex offenders like John Gardner, is passage of Prop 19, the Tax Cannabis Act, which would legalize the cultivation, possession, and recreational use of cannabis. This would purge the prison system of non-violent offenders who pose no threat to California residents, and free up law enforcement to focus on stopping violent crime.
Last of all, a repeal of the Three Strikes Law would put an end to the lifetime incarceration of non-violent offenders for committing three petty crimes of theft or drug possession. This law is putting an enormous strain on California’s prison system while arguably violating the civil rights of some inmates by punishing them with sentences vastly disproportionate to their crimes.
Also, if Chelsea’s Law passes Monday, it will ostensibly mean that violent sex offenders will stay in the prison system for much longer than they are now. It is therefore important to take one more measure to protect prison inmates themselves from the most violent offenders among them: the passage of a law to require better surveillance and security within prisons to prevent prison rape, which is the most prevalent kind of rape in the United States today.