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California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is easing its residency restrictions on sex offenders after the California State Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in San Diego County.

Under the new policy, which will be applied to sex offenders on parole living in Napa County, parole agents will assess each parolee on a case by case basis to find if the person has to stay 2,000 feet from schools and parks.

The state Supreme Court found that the blanket enforcement of residential restrictions in San Diego County had led to “greatly increased homelessness among registered sex offenders on parole in the county.”

“High-risk sex offenders with current or prior conviction for lewd acts on a child under 14 are still prohibited from living with a half-mile of any K-12 school,” said Luis Patino, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“All sex-offender paroles will still be GPS-monitored,” Patino said.

There are more than 73,400 registered sex offenders in California who live in towns, according to the state Department of Justice. In Napa County, 155 registered sex offenders are posted online under California’s Megan’s Law.

“We believe the changes will reduce the alarming number of homeless sex-offender paroles, reduce their risk of reoffending, and increase community safety,” Patino said.

On Friday, Napa County Public Defender Ronald Abernethy praised the new policy. “The housing restrictions imposed by Jessica’s Law were an example of trying to impose a simple solution on a complex problem and making our communities less safe in the process,” he said.

“In some communities (San Francisco, being one), there was no place a person convicted of a sex offense could live and remain in compliance with the law,” Abernethy said. “Compliance with the law has left many parolees homeless and much harder to supervise than they would be with permanent housing.”

“It’s hard to see how Jessica’s Law, which allows a person to live on one side of the street but not the other because the one side is 10 feet farther away from a school, provides a safer community,” Abernethy said.

Napa County’s Chief Probation Officer, Mary Butler, whose department oversees 28 sex offenders, said her department is updating its policies based on the court’s ruling. Offenders whose victims are children will continue to be required to stay away from schools and parks, she said.

On Friday, Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said homeless sex offenders had not been “a particular issue in our county due to the overall rural character of the county.”

“Having said that, I am certainly aware that some registered sex offenders released to our communities were prohibited from living in certain areas, particularly within the city of Napa,” he said.

Not all sex offenders are supervised by either state parole or county probation, but all have to register in the jurisdictions where they live, including the Napa County Sheriff’s Office and Napa Police.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Megan's Law, the group of state laws requiring public notification when a convicted sex offender moves into a community. Such regulations are named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was murdered in 1994 by a male neighbor who had served prison time for previous sexual assaults.

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