Budget Crisis Leads to Parole Reforms

July 9, 2009 8:01:25 PM PDT
Under a new Corrections Department policy, over-crowded state prisons and a daunting budget deficit could mean less prison time for low-level parolees who are arrested for technical violations, a move critics call "early release."Each year, 70,000 prison admissions are due to technical violations -- more than admissions for new crimes.

"They call it "doing life on the installment plan" because they come back, on average, of three-month violations, sometimes three times a year," Corrections Department spokesperson Seth Unger said. "In and out so many times, there's really no public safety to that."

If the offense is minor and committed by a low risk offender, like missing a meeting with a parole agent or having alcohol in the house, the state parole board can now grant alternative sentences, like rehab, house arrest or just go back on parole instead of prison time.

The lack of dollars is the guiding force.

"Right now we're trying to implement parole reform, making better use of our taxpayer dollars while at the same time improving public safety," Unger said.

Because the alternative sentences do not always result in prison, critics warn the streets will be more dangerous.

"If you haven't learned your lesson in prison and you misbehave on parole, well come on, something's wrong; these are excuses," Crime Victims United spokesperson Harriet Salarno said.

The move will also help county jails, which used to be able to handle the parole violators for the state, but are currently over-crowded.

Law enforcement says the new policy may save money now, but will cost more in the long run.

"If they're violating the simple rules, what else are they doing; the fact is, over 70 percent of the prisoners released in this state end up back in state prison," Paul Weber of the Los Angeles Police Protective League said. "They've chosen a career in crime and I think it's a mistake to give these people an opportunity to be out among the public."

About 100 parolees from San Diego, Chino and Shasta have already been approved for no additional prison time. They were screened to make sure they had never been convicted of serious crimes.


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