Lawmakers Interrogate Prison, Parole Officials

Reforms sought for controversial release guidelines, supervision levels

The state's management of sex offenders came under sharp attack Wednesday as lawmakers focused on cracks in the system that may have led to the murder of Chelsea King and the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard.

Prison and parole officials struggled to explain a system they admit is overworked and underfunded -- and which operates under many subjective guidelines, in ways that some say appear too lenient on paroled child molesters.

State Rep. Nathan Fletcher, (R-75th District), the assemblyman who's crafting Chelsea's Law, isn't buying most of those rationales.

"I want to know, What solutions do they need?" Fletcher asked at a hearing convened Wednesday by the Assembly Select Committee on Prisons and Rehabilitation Reform. "Do they need more resources? They destroy records because they don't have filing cabinets. Do they need a scanner? I mean, tell me what it is they need, because our goal here is not to beat up on a bunch of bureaucrats. Our goal is to fix the system to protect kids."

Those "bureaucrats" -- top officials of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- appeared Wednesday at the hearing in Poway.

They were full of condolences for the family and friends of Chelsea King and the community at large, noting that her accused murderer, registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III, was described as only a "moderate" risk to commit another sex offense -- a Level 2 on a scale of 10. They said they would need $1 billion more each a year to return every paroled sex offender back to prison on the basis of the red flags Gardner had in his file.

The chairman of the committee said the system needs a better scale of priorities to streamline heavy caseloads and that it must listen more closely to the concerns of agents on the street.

"Having parole agents have 150 cases, which is typical, is not going to work," said State Rep. Alberto Torrico, (D-20th District). "I'm here to tell the public that's not going to work, that's not acceptable. So we've done that by statute. It's time to enforce that. Make sure that we pick the ones that are the most dangerous, the ones most likely to re-offend, to make our neighborhoods unsafe. And the ones that are going to hurt our kids."

Nina Salarno Ashford, a board member of Crime Victims United, also addressed the Assembly comittee. She called for strengthening -- if not repealing -- the new "non-revocable" parole law that allows for the early release (without any real supervision) of 25,000 "nonviolent, nonserious" felons statewide over the next year.

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