17 News Special Report: Out of jail early

17 News Special Report: Out of jail early

Hundreds of criminals wear ankle bracelets in Kern County to help law enforcement keep track of parolees and other offenders. However, some of these monitored offenders cut off their bracelets and don't give it much thought.
Hundreds of criminals wear ankle bracelets in Kern County to help law enforcement keep track of parolees and other offenders. However, some of these monitored offenders cut off their bracelets and don't give it much thought.

With prison realignment came a lesser punishment for removing monitors, leading some to believe it's happening more often.

Prior to realignment, if an inmate cut off his or her ankle monitor, offenders were sentenced to one year in state prison.

Now, if an offender cuts it off, the maximum sentence is about six months in county jail. And, because Kern County jails are overcrowded, offenders usually only serve a very small fraction of that sentence.  

"I got tired of it so I cut off the monitor and ran," says David Charris, Kern County inmate. 

Before he was arrested, David Charris wore a GPS ankle monitor as part of his state parole.  "It's not the same as regular life. It sucks," he continued.

So he cut it off, violating his parole. "I was only free for about three or four days," he said. 

This happened in mid-October. Charris could be sentenced up to 180 days in jail, but he suspects he'll be let out early. "That's the word that's going around. They kick them out quickly now."  

The word is based in truth, and here's why it's happening. Prior to prison realignment, if an offender violated parole, they were sentenced to a year in state prison. Now the maximum sentence for a parole violator is six months in county jail. According to the Kern County Sheriff's Department, on average, these offenders are serving 25 to 30 percent of their sentence.

But, some inmates tell us they get out much quicker than that.

"By the time they go to their parole revocation hearing their time is up," says Chief Deputy Francis Moore, Detentions, Kern County Sheriff's Department.  

The Sheriff's Department says that's because county jails are overcrowded. The county jail system can hold up to 2,700 inmates at one time, but according to the Kern County Sheriff's Department they're shuffling 4,500 extra inmates in and out due to realignment.

Moore says this forces the jail to release about 75 inmates a day, most before they've served their full sentence. Charris knows this and says he doesn't mind violating parole much anymore.

Would you ever cut off your ankle bracelet again? "Yeah," he says. "Because I don't want to live like that. So, I am going to cut it off, and I am going to do what I want to do."

Others on parole feel thankful for the lesser punishment.  "That's awesome, and I'm really blessed to have something like that because I just have to do 19 days of 135. That's better than doing six months a year of my life," says inmate Micah Howard.   

"I would rather spend three weeks in jail as opposed to a five-month sentence, of course," says inmate Jason Carter.   

The numbers suggest many inmates feel the same way. According to the Kern County Sheriff's Department, of the parole violators they've handled since realignment, nearly 20 percent are repeat offenders, meaning they've violated parole two or more times in the last year.

"If they can commit a crime, and committing that crime has a greater value to them than doing the time, then they are going to continue to do that," adds Moore.  

Like Jason Carter, who says this is his tenth time in jail.  "I just got out of jail last Tuesday, and I am back already."

The Sheriff's Department has its own ankle monitor system. But, their punishments are more severe. If a county inmate cuts off a bracelet, they could be charged with escape and sent back to prison.

"I believe we have far less people cutting their ankle bracelet off that parole does," said Moore. 

And, they do. According to the Kern County Sheriff's Department, of the 200 offenders they monitor electronically, five-percent have violated, compared to 40 percent of the parolees who've violated.

"It's because the laws have changed."

For the parolees, the lure of freedom, even though it's short-lived, is something prisoners say they'll choose as long as the punishment is so lenient.

"I don't want to have it on, and I won't live like that."

17 News contacted State Parole for this story. They declined an on-camera interview. However, the California Department of Corrections did issue statements to our questions Thursday morning.  

They say parole violators are now sentenced to 180 days in county jail, because "Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to dramatically reduce its prison population."

As for parole violators not serving their full sentences, Parole says "The decision to place an offender in jail rests with county personnel."

The Sheriff's Department says once its new jail is built they'll have about 800 extra beds to help with the problem.  

However, that project won't be completed for four to five years.

17's Katey Rusch asked the Parole Department is why they think this is happening.

Last year, the US Supreme Court ordered California to dramatically reduce its prison population.  Realignment was implemented to help the State comply with this order without releasing tens of thousands of inmates onto the streets. Realignment established and funds a correctional program in which lower-level offenders remain under the jurisdiction of county government. When serious offenders—including many sex offenders—complete their sentences and must be released, they are monitored on state parole. Those who violate the terms of their parole are now incarcerated in county jails rather than state prison.  The State provides all 58 counties with funding for realignment.  Each county allocates this funding based on its own law-enforcement, rehabilitation and funding priorities.  And each county maintains discretion over whether to accept and retain parole violators in county jails.

If parolees violate, how does that affect their parole? Is there an alternative way? 

Parole violations do not always require a return to custody. Sometimes violations are more effectively dealt with through a referral to an alternative sanction in the community that is intended to address the offender’s long-term needs. Examples include substance abuse counseling, anger management, increased drug testing, enhanced conditions of parole, etc. A return to custody is reserved for behavior that rises to the level where public safety would likely be compromised if the offender were to remain in the community, and not all parole violations meet that threshold. In determining how to best address parole violations, the long-term reintegration of offenders through alternative means is often the most responsible approach.

It must be noted that parole agents have several tools and deterrents at their disposal.
  • Sex offenders are monitored by parole agents and are tracked by GPS.
  • Agents have the ability to search, detain and arrest sex offenders who violate the law or their conditions of parole.
  • Agents have been reminded of their responsibility to address sex offender misconduct, including arresting the offender and filing new charges if warranted.
  • CDCR and the counties work together to address realignment challenges. Specifically, CDCR participates in sex-offender task forces to better supervise sex offenders, and helps to triage parole-violator jail placements in counties with limited jail space.
  • Realignment provides funding for counties. Counties are responsible for deciding how to spend these funds.
  • If passed by the voters, Proposition 30 will provide permanent, constitutionally-protected funding for realignment. 

How many parolees are there in Kern County? How many wear ankle bracelets?
  • -As of June 2012, there were a total of 70,760 parolees statewide.  Of those, 10,295 were required to register as sex offenders and thus required to wear a GPS monitor.
  • -In Kern County there are a total of 2,520 parolees who were convicted of crimes of all types.  Of them, 303 (as of October 16) are required to register as sex offenders and wear GPS monitors.

How many registrants have been violated and/or returned to state custody since AB 109 was implemented?

Statewide from October 1, 2011 to date, 481 sex offenders have been arrested 862 times (i.e. some were arrested multiple times) where the arrest did not result in a revocation by the Board of Parole Hearings. In addition (i.e. above and beyond the 481), 4,086 sex offenders were arrested and returned to custody (their parole revoked) either once or multiple times.

Why do parolees violate their parole?

The majority of state parolees are former inmates who have served their determinate time in state prison and CDCR no longer has any authority to hold them in prison for their original offense. As you know, judges set the sentences and CDCR must comply with the orders of the court.  Parole violations occur for a great variety of reasons. When someone is released from prison, individual conditions are set on each prisoner in an effort to keep them from returning to the conditions they lived in when they committed their crime in the first place.  That’s why, in general, sex-offenders are not allowed to be in the presence of people who are similar to the persons they victimized, nor are they allowed to be in the environment in which the crime occurred.  By their very nature, the conditions of parole –while necessary to help prevent the offender from committing another crime-  are often unpopular with the parolee. Violating the conditions of parole is the most common reason that a parolee’s conditional liberty is revoked.

Why do parolees cut their GPS bracelet?

GPS monitors help CDCR keep track of where a sex-offender parolee goes.  The electronic monitoring of a parolee’s whereabouts through the GPS device often deters them from going into places where they may be prone to commit another offense.  California is the largest user of GPS devices to monitor sex-offenders in the country.  A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that sex-offenders are three times more likely to receive a violation if they break the conditions of their parole and twice as likely to get arrested if they commit another sex offense, than parolees elsewhere who are not monitored by GPS.  But it must be noted that only incarceration can for sure keep a person from committing a crime in the community. GPS monitoring was never promoted as a fail-safe way to block a person from committing a crime.

Here's a link to the press release by the DOJ.  It includes a link to the full report: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/2012/ojppr051012.pdf

What's the punishment ? 

The great majority of sex offenders who commit serious violations of parole are arrested and returned to custody.  Since the start of Realignment, these offenders are returned to county jail and/or an alternative custody sanction under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff when they violate parole. In a handful of California’s 58 counties, there have been isolated cases of some offenders who were not incarcerated because the Sheriffs were not accepting technical violations at certain times.  It’s important to note that currently that is not the case in Kern County.

Does AB 109 let these offender out prior to the completion of their sentence?

It’s important to understand that prisons are run by the state and jails are managed by the counties.  No state prisoners have been released from a state prison before completing their sentence. as defined by law.  As for sex-offender parolees who violate conditions of their parole and are sent to county jails, when CDCR learned that not all sex offenders were being jailed for parole violations in a handful of counties, CDCR supervisors reached out to these counties to discuss concerns and find solutions.  CDCR believes that the state and counties have found a working resolution to this issue and CDCR is committed to continue collaborating with the counties.   However, ultimately, the decision whether to place an offender in jail rests with county personnel.

What is the cost to replace a bracelet if it is cut or lost?

It costs $8.51 per day to monitor a California Parolee through the GPS system. The straps are supplied by the vendors for a nominal fee.
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