Letter: Support California SB 421

Dear Sen. Wiener:

On behalf of the R Street Institute, I write in strong support of Senate Bill 421. Your bill represents an important first step to fix California’s antiquated universal lifetime sex-offender registration system. This bill creates a tiered registry that will improve public safety by focusing law-enforcement resources where they are most needed. A tiered registry also will create a path for people to re-enter their communities safely, obtain stable housing and achieve self-sufficiency.

California’s outmoded and counterproductive registration system, which dates to the 1940s, is one of only four nationally that treats all offenders the same, regardless of their age at the time of the offense or the person’s risk to reoffend. As a result, California’s registry has ballooned to more than 100,000 individuals, most of whom are low-risk. Research shows that forcing low-risk offenders to register for life does nothing to increase public safety. Instead, it diverts law-enforcement resources from where they are most needed to keep our communities safe and to reduce sexual violence.

The system undermines public health and safety in another significant way. Experience has shown the high human cost of California’s universal lifetime registration system to individuals, their families and their communities. Registrants face lifetime barriers to employment, irrespective of their risk to reoffend or their fitness to work in appropriate jobs. They also face lifetime bars to stable housing and therefore experience homelessness at greater rates.

S.B. 421 is based on sound research and offers a moderate first step to bring best practices for sex-offense monitoring to California. It prioritizes public safety and will begin to redress the unintended consequences of overbroad registration: chronic homelessness and poverty that compromise public health and safety.

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