Thursday, September 3, 2009
Garrido among many sex offenders in Calif. town
ANTIOCH, Calif. — At least three other registered sex offenders live within a block or two of the Northern California home where Phillip Garrido allegedly imprisoned Jaycee Lee Dugard for nearly two decades.
More than 100 sex offenders in all share his ZIP code in the hardscrabble, working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of this town about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco.
The kidnapping case has put a spotlight on the concentration of sex offenders and heightened concerns that laws to control some of the nation's roughly 686,000 registered sex offenders are pushing them to smaller communities such as Antioch
"We've got plenty of 'em around here," said Charles Mickelson, who lives a block from Garrido, next door to two other registered sex offenders.
Criminal justice experts say relatively isolated communities with low housing prices tend to attract sex offenders who are living on thin budgets and looking to keep a low profile.
"They want to operate under the radar, so that's another reason they move out there," said Joan Petersilia, co-director of Stanford University's Criminal Justice Center.
Smaller, less dense communities also tend to have more sex offenders because it's easier for them to comply with laws in many states that prohibit sex offenders from getting too close to schools, parks and other places where children gather.
Before the Garrido case made news around the world and TV trucks showed up in the neighborhood, residents knew from a state Web site of sex offenders and word of mouth that Garrido was one of many in their midst.
Mickelson said he and his wife have been monitoring the Web site since their boys, now 10 and 13, were babies. They also receive e-mail notifications when a new offender moves into the area and take precautions such as not allowing their boys to roam alone.
All 50 states have such databases. In California alone, under Megan's Law, information about the crimes and whereabouts of more than 67,000 sex offenders is accessible through the state attorney general's Web site. That information includes the full addresses of about half the group.
While such sites help alert residents, criminal justice experts say the listings may also be contributing to the movement of sex offenders to less populated areas as they search for places where community scrutiny may not be as great.
State officials said they do not know whether the concentration of sex offenders in Antioch is higher than elsewhere. The city does have more registered sex offenders per capita than San Francisco and at least several other San Francisco Bay area communities.
Contra Costa County sheriff's Capt. Daniel Terry says the concentration of sex offenders in eastern Contra Costa County, where Antioch is located, is significantly higher than other places.
Residents of Garrido's neighborhood have always known about the sex offenders nearby, but Garrido's arrest and the heinous nature of the allegations against him were too much to handle for Karen Walker, who lives two doors away with her daughter and four grandchildren.
"It was so close to home," she said. "We were thinking about moving before, but now there's no doubt about it."
In California, voters in 2006 approved Jessica's Law, which bars sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park and requires them to wear satellite tracking devices for the rest of their lives. The law is named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was kidnapped, raped and buried alive by a convicted sex offender near her Florida home in 2005.
Experts, however, say such laws alone will not prevent offenders from committing other sex crimes.
"To be effective, legislation can't be the only strategy that we use," said Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. "It would be nice to have some more preventive kind of measures ... We need to tailor our strategies, based on risk factors."
Garrido, who was convicted of kidnapping in a Nevada rape case in the 1970s, was not subject to Jessica's Law, which state corrections officials say does not apply retroactively.
But he was registered as a sex offender in California. His name, address and offense were posted online. He also was under lifetime parole supervision, wore a tracking device, regularly reported to his parole agent and received parole visits at his home.
Authorities say he still managed to conceal Dugard and the two children he fathered with her for years behind a series of fences, sheds and tents in his backyard.
Garrido and his 54-year-old wife Nancy Garrido were charged with kidnapping Dugard from a bus stop in South Lake Tahoe in 1991 then raping and falsely imprisoning her. They pleaded not guilty.
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