SACRAMENTO — Thousands of California parolees, many of them sex offenders, are removing court-ordered GPS monitors, often with little risk of serving time because state prisons are too full to hold them, according to an investigation.
More than 3,400 arrest warrants for convicts who tampered with tracking devices have been issued since October 2011, when the state began referring parole violators to county jails instead of returning them to its overflowing prisons, the Los Angeles Times reported (http://lat.ms/13Dq2Il ).
Nearly all of the warrants were for sex offenders, who are the vast majority of parolees with GPS monitors, and many were for repeat violations, the newspaper said.
"It's a huge problem," Fresno parole agent Matt Hill told the Times. "If the public knew, they'd be shocked."
The shift to county jails comes as part of Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature's "realignment" program, to comply with court orders to ease overcrowding in state prisons. But many counties have been under their own court orders to reduce the populations of their jails.
Some counties have freed parole violators within days, or even hours, of arrest rather than keep them in custody, the Times said. Some have refused to accept them at all.
Before prison realignment took effect, sex offenders who violated parole remained behind bars, awaiting hearings that could send them back to prison for up to a year. Now, the maximum penalty is 180 days in jail, but many never serve that time.
With so little deterrent, parolees "certainly are feeling more bold," Jack Wallace, an executive at the California Sex Offender Management Board, told the newspaper.
Rithy Mam, a convicted child stalker, was arrested three times in two months after skipping parole and was freed almost immediately each time. After his third release, his GPS alarm went off and he vanished, law enforcement records show.
Police say Mam menaced a 15-year-old girl and her 13-year-old sister, getting in their home by giving candy to a toddler, before authorities recaptured him in a local park. He is in custody on new charges of child molestation.
Californians voted in 2006 to require that high-risk sex offenders be tracked for life with the monitors, which are attached to rubber ankle straps embedded with fiber-optic cable. The devices transmit signals monitored by a private contractor.
Arrest warrants for convicts who tamper with their monitoring devices are automatically published online. The Times reviewed that data as well as thousands of jail logs, court documents and criminal histories provided by confidential sources. The records show that the way authorities handle violators can vary significantly by county.
A proposal by Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu would require that parolees who tamper with their GPS monitors be sent back to prison for up to three years. Other lawmakers have similar bills in the works, the Times said.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com