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Orange County Bans Sex Offenders from Parks

It's not the first, nor is it the last, but Orange County, Calif., is the latest high-profile governing agency to adopt a law banning registered sex offenders from being in or near its parks.

It's not the first, nor is it the last, but Orange County, Calif., is the latest high-profile governing agency to adopt a law banning registered sex offenders from being in or near its parks. The law calls for misdemeanor charges for any of the county's 1,832 registered sex offenders - including low-level offenders and those proven more dangerous - if he or she enters a county park, as well as some beaches and harbor areas. Violations could result in fines of up to $500 and six months in jail.

The move comes after the state Legislature last year removed a provision that would have banned all sex offenders from entering parks from a bill that eventually limited the ban to parolees whose victims were younger than 14.

While most states, California included, have well-established laws preventing registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance of school playgrounds where children are likely to congregate - usually measured in terms of hundreds of feet - there's very little consistency at the state or municipal level when it comes to the mere presence of offenders within parks. And when such laws are challenged as unconstitutional, the conclusions held by courts in jurisdictions of all kinds have likewise been inconsistent.

For many people who support such laws, the logic is clear: "We are setting up a safety zone by keeping parks and recreation zones safe from predators," Orange County district attorney Tony Rackauckas told the Los Angeles Times, just after the Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the law.

Others, however, question whether such laws yield tangible results, especially since their constitutionality is often challenged in court, as is expected in Orange County.

"Everyone wants to protect children and act against child molesters, but there is no evidence that such laws make anyone safer," Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and a constitutional law expert, told Times reporters. "In over 90 percent of instances, children are molested by someone they know. Keeping molesters from parks and playgrounds and beaches is unlikely to have the slightest effect in protecting children."

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