Early inmate release raises second thoughts

April 7, 2010 8:11:12 PM PDT
A new California law that took effect in January allows certain state inmates who have served their time to be released without parole. It means they will only go back to prison if they commit a new crime, but some of them are violent offenders and now there seems to be some second thoughts about loopholes in this law.

In a review of some 2,000 records of prisoners who were released without any parole, hundreds were convicted of violent crimes. Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who is running for California attorney general, couldn't believe what he was reading.

"I was shocked because we have state prisoners being released without parole supervision and now walking the streets for some heinous crimes," said Lieu.

No supervised parole was supposed to apply only to low-risk offenders. More than 250 felons released without supervision since the law took effect in January served time for certain sex crimes, involuntary manslaughter, false imprisonment, explosives or weapons possession, and domestic violence. The California Corrections Department officials say do not blame them, they didn't write the law, the legislature did.

"To be criticized on a penal code implementation that we didn't create is not right and is not fair," said Gordon Hinkle from the California Corrections Department.

"The Department of Corrections is not following the letter of the law. They have a sex offender walking the streets without parole supervision," said Lieu.

The elimination of parole for certain inmates came about last year when lawmakers and the governor had to come up with ways to close a back-breaking budget deficit. Prisons had to cut expenses by changing the mandatory parole policy for every prisoner released.

The new parole law is supposed to reduce the state inmate population by 6,500 and save California $500 million in its first year.

The Schwarzenegger administration supported the plan because it reduced the caseload of parole agents.

"It's allowing us to concentrate our efforts on the more serious and violent offenders, so that those that are more likely to re-offend are getting a higher level of supervision," said Hinkle.

Crime victim groups say this is exactly what they feared.

"There are no non-serious, non-violent offenders," said Harriet Salarno from Crime Victims United.

Until the law is changed, the prison system will continue to release without more inmates, who were convicted of all those same crimes.


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