Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dugard Case: Is California's Parole System Overstretched?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dugard Case: Is California's Parole System Overstretched?

Article excerpt

Criminal charges against a parolee in the abduction of Jaycee Lee Dugard have added fuel to arguments from some California Republicans and law enforcement groups opposed to changes in the state's parole system.

But criminal justice experts say the arrest of Phillip Garrido, a registered sex offender who was under GPS monitoring, for Ms. Dugard's 1991 abduction is just one example of why the state's parole system needs to be overhauled.

"Those cases are proof of why you need greater supervision for high-risk people. The system is too lenient on the most violent and too harsh on people who would literally not be on parole at all in other states," says Joan Petersilia, a professor of criminology at Stanford University and author of "When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry."

On Monday the California State Assembly passed its version of a prison reform bill designed to reduce inmate populations in the state's overcrowded penitentiaries and cut prison spending. While the Assembly removed some of the provisions in the Senate bill, parole reform remained intact.

"It's pretty monumental what California is doing to its parole system," says Professor Petersilia. "Everyone will continue to go on parole but only 40 percent will go on real parole," she says. The rest would get what she calls 'parole-light.' "

That change promises to reduce the average caseload of California parole officers from 70 parolees to 45 parolees. Seth Unger, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), says that some case officers oversee as many as 100 parolees and are stretched too thin to "spend enough time" monitoring the most serious cases.

But Senate Republican Tom Harman railed against any reform to the existing parole system.

This is what he told the Sacramento Bee:

"Here was a prisoner who was a very great danger to the community. The parole people knew it, he was supposedly being checked three times a month, and still he was able to perpetrate this crime that lasted over 18 years."

What's more, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is calling for tougher parole supervision. …

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