More parolees tamper with ankle monitoring bracelets

February 13, 2013

Photo: Marc Soller/Flickr.

By Heather Tirado Gilligan
California Health Report

Ex-convicts on parole are increasingly removing GPS ankle bracelets that are supposed to allow authorities to track their movements, according to data released by a state lawmaker.

State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) blamed the increase on a new state law that shifted parole violators to county jails rather than state prison.

According to information that Lieu requested from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in the 15 months before the law took effect, 221 parolees tampered with or cut off their GPS monitors. After the change, between October 2011 and the end of 2012, 482 parolees tampered with or cut their GPS bracelets.

The prison reform law is known in the Capitol as “realignment” because it transferred criminal justice responsibilities and tax dollars from the state to the counties.

“No law is perfect, and realignment, which has largely been successful, has created unintended consequences in the area of GPS monitoring,” Lieu said in a press release.

Before the reforms, removing, tampering with or failing to wear a bracelet, which is considered a technical violation of parole rather than a new crime, was punishable by up to a year in prison. The typical punishment was a 75 to 100 day sentence. Now technical violations of parole are met with a maximum of 180 days in jail. Lieu has proposed a new law that would make tampering with a GPS bracelet a felony, punishable by prison time.

People cycling in and out of prison for technical violations of parole were one cause of the overcrowding that prompted the court-ordered reduction in the prison population. Sending people who violate their parole to jail rather than prison has helped reduce prison overcrowding.

But as healthycal.org has reported, parole agents sometimes find it challenging to punish technical violators with jail time. That’s because many county jails are overcrowded, with mandatory population caps. People in jail for parole violations may be among the first to be released, as opposed to people behind bars for committing a new crime.

Most of the parolees on GPS monitoring are sex offenders, according to information that Lieu requested from the CDCR in December.

Nearly 7,500 parolees are currently tracked by GPS monitoring, and all but 343 of those are sex offenders.

All sex offenders are required to wear the bracelets by law. That’s true even if they have been determined to be at low risk of reoffending by the CDCR, which was recently praised for its ability to accurately determine which offenders are at high risk for committing another crime.

About 2,700 sex offenders on parole were considered high risk as of December 2012, according to CDCR spokesman Bill Sessa.

Tom Tobin, the vice president of California’s Sex Offender Management Board, notes that a lack of consequences for high-risk sex offenders could put public safety at risk.

Community supervision is very difficult without the ultimate threat of incarceration for parolees who don’t follow the rules, he said. Since almost all sex offenders are released eventually, effectively managing people who have been released is crucial to public safety.

Appropriate sentences for violations, Tobin noted, range from a week to a month in most cases.

An initial hearing on SB 57, Lieu’s proposed bill, has not been set yet.

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