Parole agents backing off, critics claim
Crowded prisons cited as motivation
Originally published March 21, 2010 at 12:04 a.m., updated March 21, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.
Latest updates and developments:For at least 11 years, the percentage of felony ex-convicts sent back to California prisons for parole violations has dipped.
Last year, 15 percent of 106,355 parolees were put back behind bars, a new low. That’s down steadily from 25 percent in 1998, according to a data analysis by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
It may be that ex-cons are behaving better. But critics of the overburdened state corrections agency say the phenomenon is a systematic effort by parole officials to move their charges through the system, to keep from making crowded prisons worse.
The criticism rang anew last week with the release of the corrections file of John Albert Gardner III, the sex offender accused of raping and killing Chelsea King, 17, of Poway. Gardner is also being investigated in the death of Amber Dubois, 14, of Escondido.
Gardner’s case file showed seven parole violations from a previous molestation sentence that could have resulted in a return to prison and stricter post-release supervision.
“The whole concept of parole is prevention,” said Graham McGruer, who spent more than 20 years as a parole agent and manager and is now a private consultant. “There’s a greater possibility that these girls would be alive today if parole had been watching.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation attributed the declining numbers to normal fluctuations in prison operations. Officials rejected any notion that they are deliberately lowering their caseload.
“We are not telling agents not to ‘violate’ offenders because of prison overcrowding,” said Terri McDonald, a chief deputy in the parole division.
The agency on Friday released new directives calling on its officers to more aggressively monitor sex offenders. Critics say the department’s practices have needed reform for years, as convicts such as Gardner are routinely classified as lower-level risks than they should be and are pushed through parole instead of being returned to prison.
“They are doing this by design because they want to be able to report a lower recidivism rate,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Yuba City, who once chaired the board that determines most parole cases. “They’re more worried about bed count than justice.”
The Mira Monte Apartment Houses in Mira Mesa offer gated entries, multiple swimming pools, outdoor barbecue areas and a private fitness center.
With the knowledge of parole agents, Gardner lived there for more than a year, within a half-mile of Miramar College, Wangenheim Middle School and Scripps Ranch High School.
Gardner, 30, had admitted molesting and beating a 13-year-old Rancho Bernardo neighbor in 2000 and served five years in prison and three years on parole for those crimes.
His proximity to the college day-care center and the middle school while on parole was an apparent violation. Had parole officials followed through, Gardner could have been back in prison in 2006. Instead, they let him live at the apartments for 16 more months.
The complex’s owners typically require an income equal to 2½ times the monthly rent to sign a lease. They also call for a credit and rental history, renter’s insurance and a verifiable employment record.
No one from Essex Property Trust, the Palo Alto company that owns and manages the Mira Monte complex, would discuss how Gardner qualified for a lease months after he was released from state prison.
Residents were upset to learn that the man accused of taking Chelsea’s life had been living among them.
“Didn’t the leasing agents know about this?” Mohammed Qayyum, a systems engineer who lives in the same building Gardner leased, wanted to know. “Right now, I’m definitely concerned. What if there’s another one? I have a wife, and she stays home all day.”
Records show that Gardner already had signed a lease in May 2006, when he was informed by his parole agent that the location was not allowed by law or under terms of his condition.
Gardner pleaded to stay at the Mira Mesa complex until his lease ran out that August, and a parole supervisor approved the request. But when the lease expired, no one from parole followed up, and 13 months passed.
Officials acknowledge that the agents supervising Gardner could have been more diligent.
“There was a lot going on with changes in the law, and the agent acted in good faith, but we believe he may have erred in his interpretation of whether or not Gardner was in violation of the law at the time,” McDonald said.
When parole officials did act, in September 2007, they gave Gardner $250 to relocate and discharged him completely 12 months later.
Amber went missing in February 2009, barely four months after Gardner was cut loose. At the time, he lived two miles from Escondido High School, toward which the freshman was walking when she was last seen.
When California voters passed Jessica’s Law in 2006, they expected tougher prison sentences for sex offenders and stricter supervision of convicts after their release.
But the ideals of the measure ran into the reality of the troubled California prison system.
The state was struggling to house offenders under the 1994 “three strikes” law, and was facing a federal court order to improve medical care for inmates. Another group of prisoners had sued to force the state to address persistent overcrowding, which has some prisons operating at more than double their designed capacity.
In May 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act, which sought to prevent thousands of convicts from bouncing in and out of the system by steering money to education, training and treatment.
“We have made the commitment to provide the infrastructure we need to relieve overcrowding, and now we must follow through,” Schwarzenegger said then.
But money for those ambitious programs dried up as the state sank deeper into debt.
Crowding worsened. In 2007, the system housed 162,841 at prisons designed to accommodate 82,936. In 2009, it was 168,905 at prisons designed to house 84,056.
Amid that spike in prison population, the percentage of parole violations resulting in a return to prison fell off 18 percent.
Thousands of parolees were classified as low-level risks, even though one of them, Charles Samuel, now stands accused of killing 17-year-old Lily Burk of Los Angeles in July.
The next month, a three-judge court ordered California to release up to 40,000 inmates. Schwarzenegger appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he also submitted a plan to reduce prison congestion. Tops among those steps: discharging low-risk offenders from custody and parole.
Todd Spitzer, a former Republican assemblyman from Orange County who chaired a prison oversight committee, said discharges must be done carefully.
“You don’t play Russian roulette with your parolee population,” Spitzer said. “There’s a significant number of those parolees who will be discharged and go on to commit serious felonies.”
Paul Sutton has studied the California prison system for more than 20 years. Sutton, a San Diego State University criminal justice professor, has toured practically every lockup in the state. The parole trends are no accident, he said.
“It’s happening whether anybody admits it or not — releasing people early, not supervising them as closely or not supervising them at all,” Sutton said. “Everyplace we go, they complain about the fact that parolees are not going to be revoked back to the prisons.”
Lowering the number of inmates and parolees can be effective if done smartly, Sutton said. He blamed election-minded politicians for devising a mishmash of rules that are applied sweepingly, when more surgical fixes are needed.
“The right way to do it is in the cool, calm light of day,” Sutton said. “When we create public policy with an eye toward avoiding tragedies, we don’t usually end up with very good public policies.”
Staff writer Michael Gardner contributed to this report. Jeff McDonald: (619) 542-4585; email@example.com
There are still also other factors which really need attention:
1. Raise taxes and get rid of the Two-Thirds requirement. If we are going to raise money, we got to get rid of the stupid and divisive two-thirds vote requirement in the State Legislature for tax and spending bills. The minority Republicans believe that they have more than a third in the State Senate and Assembly, they can act as a "Second Governor". The result-budget crises year after year. If we are going to enforce stupid laws, we need to get rid of the Two-Thirds requirement, and pay for what we need.
2. Build more prisons. I rather see more COMPETENT Public Defenders, but until we can get the still stuck on stupid 80% of the State Bar population, we have to build more prisons to accommodate the predators we already got.
3. Repeal stupid initiatives. The initiative process in California started in 1911 to help stop the corporate influences that were literally bribing the State Government. What we got are initiatives that cut taxes when we can't afford to cut them, require spending with no provision for new taxes or funding sources, and laws full of loopholes that can't be enforced, because they were poorly drafted in the heat of the moment and might as well be written during an orgasm. Jessica's Law qualifies as the last two. It doesn't stop the offender from "visiting" a relative or prevent the offender from trolling for victims. It was sponsored by the fucked up San Diego D. A. Bonnie Dumanis who was also running for election as D. A.! Her office shouldn't be prosecuting the Gardner case at all. In fact, the law wasn't enforced in the Gardner case. Gardner could have been sent back to prison for Parole violations and then sent to Atascadero State Hospital indefinitely, but he wasn't. In the Phillip Garrido case, it wouldn't stop him from going across the State, kidnap Jaycee Dugard, and keep her prisoner for 18 years in complete deception of Garrido's Parole Officers. After what happened in the Garrido case, the bull shit didn't stop, but it looks like we have a California Department of Doughnut-heads and Retards. Stupid Initiatives are no substitute for "failure to train".
4. Fund Inmate healthcare. California faces a possible Federal Court order that could bankrupt the State. In compliance with the Eighth Amendment, the state is supposed to treat the inmates. Unfortunately, it will have to take more taxes to pay for it, and more prisons may have to be an option.
5. Nonviolent offenders and the Three Strikes Law. We put people in prison doing time for drugs, shoplifting, and other offenses that could be spent in County Jail or on Probation. That only increases the size of prisons, and the reason why we need more prisons, and raise taxes for them. The Three Strikes Law was proposed in part due to Richard Allen Davis killing Polly Klaas.
IF WE NEEDED THE HYSTERIA, WE SHOULD GO FUCK A WOMAN, AND HEAR HER HAVE AN ORGASM!!!!!
6. Stop begatting abuse. We need to help the victims, before they become abusers. Gardner was abused, and instead of helping him when he was young, Gardner was left to fester.
Chelsea King said in her last essay of her life in part:
“'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' and 'Hadji Murad' forced me to question the values of my own life thus far, and at an age where frankly the looming presence of death hardly crosses my mind, and compels me to seriously think about my eventual fate.
"I found that while pondering death, the same mind-numbing fear experienced by Ivan Ilyich grasped me as well. Although written over 100 years ago, Tolstoy writes with such psychological precision that the themes addressed and feelings expressed in the two novels remain lucidly relevant. Not only does Tolstoy make it vividly clear that we all die, but he also attests to the fact that life continues callously on after death.
"So if we essentially are born merely to die, how does one possibly live a life of meaning and significance? In response to this enigma, Tolstoy largely prescribes a cure of brotherly love, and honesty. Fundamentally, I agree with him on these terms.
Unconditional respect and honesty with oneself and others ensures that life remains free of poisonous superficial illusion, thus curing the disease of stagnation and hypocrisy. Yet I also believe that the cure includes a daring dash of joie de vivre — a fearless spontaneity and full embrace of life’s small joys, whims, and the pursuit of what one truly loves to do.
"Thus I believe that a truly noble existence is comprised of living for the sheer thrill of living, maintaining an objective honesty with oneself, and upholding an unconditional positive regard for all.
"I stand at a major turning point in my life as I begin to prepare myself to leave for college. As I embark for the first time out into the world truly on my own, I must not live in fear of my own mortality and succumb to the complacency of society, but rather sap each ounce of life out of my own fleeting existence and live what I believe to be a noble life."
We can all "go on living after [our] death" as Anne Frank said in her Diary in April 1944 (Not on August 4, 1944, in the movie, "The Diary of Anne Frank".), but until we stop begatting abuse, we will lose more children to predators. If these were Nazis, they be taken out and shot already.