Prison officials blasted for destroying records

March 24, 2010 7:11:56 PM PDT
How to deal with sexual predators was the focus of debate Wednesday in Sacramento. Lawmakers and the governor blasted prison officials for destroying the records of some offenders, including the man accused of killing a girl in Southern California.

The case involving John Gardner, the sex offender who served time for molesting a 13-year-old and is now accused of killing 17-year-old Chelsea King in the San Diego area, revealed serious problems in the California parole system. Gardner is also the focus of another teen's disappearance.

State lawmakers slammed prison administrators for the practice of destroying field parole records one year after parolees are discharged; but corrections officials defended the policy of dumping files that contain parole agents' notes.

"I think it's hard to explain why we would destroy any records of a sex offender, especially in an instance like this where you have somebody who had done something so awful and been warned he is a danger; he will re-offend, he will hurt young girls again," Assm. Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, said.

"Those field notes by the agent have a ton of information that's not really, has any investigative value, would be no value to law enforcement," California Department of Corrections Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan said.

Destroying field parole records has been the state's practice for decades because there is not enough space to store all that paper.

Fletcher: "What do you need? Do you need a scanner; do you need a hard drive?"

Kernan: "We did not have the ability to have our systems automated."

Fletcher: "The fact that we have an agency in 2010 that doesn't have the ability to scan and retain documents electronically is kind of shocking."

Kernan: "The Legislature approved the funding for that and it is a multi-year project."

Fletcher: "When will that be done?"

Kernan: "Well, it's going to take several years."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the Department of Corrections earlier this month to start keeping parole records of sex offenders in the hopes of improving public safety.

"It's outrageous that that happened and something like this fell through the cracks, because a life was lost because of that; that is, you know, devastating," he said.

Corrections points out keeping notes from Gardner's first case would not have prevented Chelsea's murder. But Fletcher would have liked to have seen all of them to judge for himself.


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