Hundreds of felons serving as caregivers

September 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The most vulnerable members of society - the elderly and disabled that utilize state-subsidized in-home care - could be at risk because of loopholes in state law that allow caregivers to be hired even if they have a criminal past.Last year Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger successfully pushed through legislation that would require background checks for In-Home Support Service workers.

Since then nearly 1,000 convicted felons were identified either seeking jobs or working in the program. 800 were fired, but 200 continue to work because a court subsequently ruled the state can only disqualify those who had committed just three specific crimes: physical abuse (not sexual), elder abuse or defrauding public assistance programs. About 700,000 still await background checks.

"It's concerning that people with serious criminal backgrounds could have contact with these people," said Laura West, a Sacramento County prosecutor.

But the union representing in-home workers said 200 out of the 400,000 workers is a relatively small number and some who received care from former criminals said they did a good job.

"Someone's criminal background does not prevent them from providing care to an individual like myself," said John Wilkins.

But many receiving care from those with criminal backgrounds might not even be aware. Privacy law prevents authorities from warning the care recipient if their caregiver has been convicted of a violent or financial crime.

"It's the equivalent of saying to a rapist or murderer: 'Come into my grandmother's home and take care of them,'" said Rachel Arrezola, a spokeswoman for the Governor.

The Governor has already sent a letter to the legislature demanding a fix to the system. Until then, program administrators cannot legally fire or deny employment to those they know have a violent criminal past.

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