Protecting our Children from sexual predators in California: How the bureaucracy has failed our community and our children

Christine Rubin Christine Rubin


The recent tragedies in San Diego County have shed new light on our parole system and the risks to our children. Citizens are demanding that the system be evaluated, fixed, and overhauled, so that the protection of our children remains the top priority and is never compromised in the policies, procedures, and safeguards put in place. The desire to shrink prison populations along with the pressure of decreased funding in the parolee administration system is at odds with the goal of ensuring that convicted sexual predators can never commit another heinous crime.

In 2000, Senator Dennis Hollingsworth and Assemblyman Jay LaSuer led the charge to protect our children. Since 2002, over 80 pieces of legislation have been introduced regarding sexual predators, but sadly, most of them have been voted down in “public safety committee” or never passed on the floor. As California struggles to manage its prison population in the face of federal court cases, it also must manage its parolees in the face of shrinking dollars and increased caseloads.

In 2006, The State of California established a State Authorized Risk Assessment Tool for Sex Offenders Review Committee (SB1128), to consider the selection of the risk assessment tools for California. (Pen. Code, 290.04). The goal of SB 1128 was to establish a quantitative assessment for soon-to-be paroled sex offenders. On February 1, 2008 the committee recommended Static-99 as the sole risk assessment tool:

“For adults, the Committee has selected the Static-99 designed and cross-validated by Dr. Karl Hanson and Dr. David Thornton. This instrument is currently in use by CDCR as a tool to designate a parolee as a High Risk Sex Offender (HRSO).”

Risk Assessment processes are found in many areas to ensure that business, operations, or procedures are carried out in such a manner, so that the investment in carrying out a particular strategy ensures a positive return on investment (ROI). The assessment itself is conducted using tools that predict future outcome based on past behavior or a set of existing circumstances. The risk assessment process identifies which risks are worth protecting against by answering the following questions:

• What could happen?
• How likely is it to occur?
• What is the impact?

A risk assessment is undertaken to determine if the calculated “loss” is outweighed by the calculated “gain”. In order to conduct a risk assessment that has meaning, potential losses and gains must be measured in the same units (dollars, lives, injuries, value of legal judgments). Mortgage companies routinely use a quantitative model to determine default rates on new mortgages based on credit scores and past financial behavior. The National Cholesterol Education Program utilizes a Risk Assessment Tool to estimate a person’s 10-year Risk of Having a Heart Attack based on an individual’s behavior.

Static-99 is administered to sexual offenders upon their release to establish their risk of reoffending. The level of monitoring on parole is determined by their score ranging between ‘0’ and ‘10’. Sexual offenders scoring above a ‘4’ are more actively monitored upon release from prison. John Gardner scored a ‘2’. For subjects scoring a ‘2’, it is expected within the next 5 years that between 4.3% and 12.8% will commit a crime with a confidence of 95%. So 95% of the time, within an interval of 5 years, between 4.3 and 12.8% of convicted sex offenders will sexually violate another innocent person. Static-99 predicted with accuracy, that Gardner would find another victim. However, while the parole board is willing to assess a “risk” they do not take responsibility for the “loss”. In this case the loss is a child’s innocence or worst yet, life.

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher has argued that the cornerstone of any sexual-offender legislation designed to protect our children must begin with the premise that “a sexual offender that targets a child is not someone who can be rehabilitated”.
The reality is that California has adopted a quantitative measurement tool that was created by individuals who support rehabilitation for sexual abusers. The academic and clinical research for the adoption of Static-99 was led by Dr. Karl Hanson and Dr. David Thornton. In 2002, Dr. Hanson was the recipient of the Significant Achievement Award from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Dr. Thorton is a member of the British Psychological Society and the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). In 2009, Dr. Hanson and Dr. Thorton published results regarding recidivism norms in the newsletter for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

It is now clear that California has diminished the innocence of a child to a statistic, and the measurement tool is grounded in research and awards based on the assumed rehabilitative potential of sexual abusers. However, risk assessment is based on the assumption of loss, and that the organization or individual who is responsible is completely liable for that loss. When a bank makes a loan that defaults, the bank suffers the loss. When the state of California releases a sexual offender based on a quantitative evaluation, no one takes the responsibility, but the parents and community suffer the predicted loss.

We allowed legislation to determine an acceptable level of sexual offender recidivism measured against money saved by putting these offenders back on the street in the hope that just maybe the known statistics are wrong. There is no acceptable loss when that loss means the loss of a child. This has to stop.