Reduced parolee oversight has lawmakers frustrated

Posted on June 3, 2010. Filed under: Crime, Parole, Politics |


Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 12:03 a.m.

Online: Read the Lieu memo and other documents at


Background: State administrators are reducing supervision levels of parolees. Officials say the effort is not deliberate, but documents and data point to a systemic effort to save money.

What’s changing: A state assemblyman is asking the Office of the Inspector General to investigate.

State lawmakers expressed dismay Tuesday that California parole officials appear to be methodically lowering supervision levels for thousands of convicted felons to trim expenses.

Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who in April requested an Inspector General’s Office investigation into the department’s new parole program with no supervision for low-risk offenders, asked on Tuesday that the review be expanded to include “extremely disturbing” e-mails cited by The San Diego Union-Tribune on Sunday.

“It’s outrageous that California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation supervisors are incentivizing the misclassification of parolees,” Lieu said in an interview Tuesday. “CDCR should not be rewarding employees based on how many downgrades of high-risk parolees they can accomplish.”

In a memo, Lieu said the agency should not “unilaterally start misclassifying high-risk criminals” and that to do so is an “abdication of its responsibilities.”

The Union-Tribune reported Sunday that state prison and parole officials for years have been lowering the classification levels of serious and violent felons, at times with an eye to budget considerations such as parole agents’ overtime.

The lower classifications mean parolees are not required to report to agents as often — and in many cases never have to visit their agents.

Dozens of parolees on low supervision or mail-in status committed new crimes after being released from prison, creating additional victims and jeopardizing local police and deputy sheriffs who respond to the calls, the newspaper reported.

Corrections officials deny that there is a policy directing parole administrators to lower parolee supervision levels to avoid agent overtime costs. They said the reclassifications are the result of due-diligence case reviews that could just as easily raise supervision levels for particular parolees.

On Tuesday, they said the department would welcome an inspector general’s review as requested by Lieu, who is running for attorney general.

“CDCR appreciates Assemblyman Lieu’s interest in this complex, parole-related issue,” said Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman for the department. “CDCR requires its parole administrators to review caseloads and classifications of parolees to determine that they are appropriately classified, based upon the unique factors of each case.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed his prison department’s handling of parole cases.

“The reforms passed by the Legislature and the governor last year concentrate the state’s resources on supervising those most likely to re-offend,” spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said. “The administration is committed to continual improvements in managing California’s parolees to better protect the public, and we welcome input from the Legislature and others.”

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, the San Diego Republican working to pass Chelsea’s Law in honor of slain Poway teenager Chelsea King, said that nothing he learns about the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation surprises him.

“This just confirms what we’ve seen over the past few months: Corrections is a broken system,” Fletcher said. “It’s broken on so many levels.”

Before requesting any additional fixes, Fletcher said he is awaiting the inspector general’s review of how Chelsea’s killer, John Albert Gardner III, managed to remain on parole despite seven violations.

He also wants to see findings of a joint legislative audit into how the corrections department and the Department of Mental Health handle sexually violent predators.

Fletcher said he plans to meet with members of the state’s Sex Offender Management Board to consider that panel’s recommendations in light of the Gardner case.

“All of these efforts are designed to see what actions we can take” to improve corrections operations, he said. “Public safety has to be the highest priority.”

But the San Diego lawmaker said no one at the corrections agency has said what is needed to improve the monitoring of dangerous criminals.

“From Day One, we’ve asked them for ideas as far as what they need to better do their job,” Fletcher said. “Not one time have I ever got a single suggestion. They seem highly focused on defending a broken system.”

According to a 2009 memo cited Sunday, parole officials in Los Angeles moved 125 “high control” parolees to a level of supervision requiring them to see an agent once every other month instead of twice a month.

An additional 489 parolees were reduced to minimum service, which means they have to mail in paperwork once a month stating that they are in compliance with their release terms.

Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who is fighting the proposed release of a convicted sex offender into his district, said the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has to do a better job keeping track of dangerous offenders.

“These people have got to be checked,” Knight said. “It’s a difficult situation for them, but the taxpaying citizens of California are going to demand that they are looking after these offenders.”

Former parole administrator Mark Epstein, who wrote one of the e-mails obtained by the Union-Tribune, said Tuesday that “considerations other than public safety” appear to be driving state parole decisions.

“We are asked to ignore the data over the last 20-plus years that shows offenders getting out of prison in worse shape than when they went in,” Epstein said. “They will continue to re-offend, with devastating results.


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