California's online sex-offender registry is full of information about Phillip Garrido of 1554 Walnut Ave. in Antioch - a 6-foot-4 white male, born April 5, 1951, with blue eyes, brown hair, a scar on his abdomen and a rape conviction. But in the 18 years that Garrido dutifully met his obligations as a registered offender - checking in with the state every year - authorities charge that he kidnapped and held Jaycee Dugard, fathering two children with her and imprisoning them all in his backyard.
His case is a reminder that the solutions to sexual predation are not solutions at all, but frustratingly inadequate, and often ethically and legally murky, tools.
Continuing to hold offenders, after their prison sentences are completed, under the guise of "treatment"? This punishes people for crimes they have not committed, awaiting cures that never happen, at huge expense. Following them around forever? All states require offenders to register, but few have the resources to constantly monitor everyone.
In some places, "monitoring" only means an offender has to mail in a yearly postcard. Tens of thousands move away to who knows where. Authorities are often less likely to keep close tabs on offenders whose addresses they know - as in the case of Garrido.
None of these efforts, of course, address the reality that the overwhelming majority of victims are assaulted by people they know, who never appear in any database.
Meanwhile, an attempt to create a national registry - part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed in 2006 - has faltered badly. States fretting about the costs and legal complications all missed the deadline to comply, which was then extended to July 2010. They worry that the registry would create an overwhelming monitoring burden and that it uses crude means of assessing the likelihood that offenders might repeat their crimes. The list of offenders is so large as to be almost useless. It is supposed to include not only rapists and kidnappers but also flashers and teenagers who had consensual sex.
While officials ponder what to do, many states and cities have adopted another flawed and dangerous strategy: severely limiting where offenders may live. The idea is that children in schools, parks, playgrounds or libraries will be safer if offenders are not allowed to live more than a specified number of feet or yards away.
That faith in buffer zones ignores the fact that offenders move around and that zones drive predators into ghettos or homelessness. Sick people living marginal lives, away from the stability that jobs, medication and parole officers can ensure, are more likely to offend again, not less.