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California having trouble tracking parolees

August 18, 2010 5:28:26 PM PDT
California is having trouble keeping track of its prison parolees and it is creating an alarming problem. They are cutting off the GPS devices designed to let officials keep tabs on them.

Fortunately, authorities can still find out where they are, sort of. After an order issued by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger months ago, a new website was created for the California Department of Correction to give the public more tools to protect themselves against dangerous felons.

The information the site provides is very revealing. It already lists the names and faces of 45 parolees who have cut their GPS anklets off just in the 2.5 weeks since the listing started. Anyone who signed up to get Facebook, Twitter and email alerts was notified 45 times in that short span.

"We've never disputed the fact that they can be cut off. That's part of the benefits of having GPS. If somebody does cut them off, we know exactly the point and location where they're at, at that point," says Gordon Hinkle with the Department of Corrections.

The question is, how fast can they be re-arrested? Much of the listings still say "at-large." While the 8,000 statewide ordered to wear the GPS are mostly sex offenders, the state says the latest wave of parolees abandoning them is largely gang members.

The state believes they are cutting them off to avoid arrest during the recent statewide stings.

"If they do cut off their bracelet, that's a violation of their parole terms and they go back to prison," Gordon says.

Robert Coombs is Chairman of the California Sex Offender's Management Board. As an experiment, he wore the GPS. The strap is made of rubber that household scissors can easily cut through.

"If you're going to cut it, you can cut it right here," he explained.

That is not comforting to a public that thinks tracking the most dangerous parolees will make them safer.

"Once this device is cut, there's nothing to stop the guy from just simply walking away and that does pose a real problem. I think the public has certain expectations of this technology that the technology itself can't bear out," Coombs says.

Still, tough-on-crime supporters think GPS monitoring is worth the millions of dollars California spends on the program. State Senator George Runner led the fight to require GPS for sex offenders under Jessica's Law.

"There's no perfect solution." Republican Sen. George Runner of Lancaster says. "Anything that we do is going to have some kind of challenge to it because we are dealing with, I think, evil people."

The Corrections Department points out that on any given month, dozens of gang members and sex offenders cut off their GPS, so this is nothing new. However, the department has not gotten back to ABC7 News regarding exactly how many of them are later found.


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