State senator wants to reform parole of sex predators


The Parole Reform Act of 2011 was inspired by the Dugard case, and it's on the fast track with rare bipartisan support.

Because report after report found serious lapses in the way law enforcement supervised Phillip Garrido, a new proposal seeks to make it harder for criminals serving a life sentence to win parole. The hope is to prevent another victim like Dugard who was kidnapped at 11 years old, held captive for nearly two decades and forced to give birth to two daughters fathered by Garrido.

"Let's keep our worst criminals behind bars and keep California safe," said St. Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville.

Gaines' bill requires the state parole board to consider an inmate's crime when determining supervised release. Right now, the board is not allowed to do so because of a 2008 California Supreme Court decision that bans it; prison behavior counts for a lot more.

"In other words, you're a convicted murderer, a convicted rapist, a child molester," said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson. "The parole board has a presumption that you will, in fact, be released,"

The before-and-after statistics are startling. For 30 years, between 1978 and the August 2008 court ruling, only 1,800 lifers were granted parole. In the last three years, the state has already paroled more than 1,300.

"That is unconscionable. It is solely a manufacturing of adventuresome judges and it needs to be stopped here and now," said Assm. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who once served on the parole board.

Some prisoners' rights supporters say it's harder for lifers to win parole when their crimes have to be weighed. But Garrido clearly gamed the system with expert after expert noting in his file he isn't likely to re-offend because of his model behavior in prison. The misdiagnosis outraged Democrats enough they became co-authors of the proposal to prevent more Garridos from getting out.

"We understand that we want our corrections system to be one of rehabilitation and change, but we also accept the fact that isn't going to happen for every criminal," said Assm. Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

Lawmakers are going to have to work fast. The last day of session is Sept. 9. Otherwise, they'll have to wait until next year to act.

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