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California freed 450 high-risk parolees

California improperly freed more than 450 dangerous criminals without supervision last year as part of a controversial parole program designed to reduce prison crowding and cost, according to a report released Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

California improperly freed more than 450 dangerous criminals without supervision last year as part of a controversial parole program designed to reduce prison crowding and cost, the California prison system's independent inspector general said in a report Wednesday.

A faulty computerized risk-assessment program predicted the offenders could be released under the state's non-revocable parole law that took effect in January 2010.

The inspector general found that about 1,500 offenders were improperly released, including 450 who "carry a high risk for violence."

The law was designed for less-serious offenders. Under non-revocable parole, offenders don't report to parole agents and can't be sent back to prison unless they commit new crimes.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it relies heavily on a computerized program because it needed to review the criminal histories of more than 160,000 inmates and more than 100,000 offenders on parole.

Auditors found the risk assessment was wrong for 23.5 percent of more than 10,000 offenders who were considered for non-revocable parole between January and July 2010. Some were scored too high and others too low, with the lower-scoring inmates eligible for unsupervised release.

Even after the computer program was fixed, analysts determined it was wrong in 8 percent of cases.

"CDCR should not compromise public safety ... by understating offenders' risk of reoffending and releasing high-risk offenders to unsupervised parole," the report said.

The department disputed the inspector general's analysis and conclusion.

"Alleged 'errors' ... have in large part been corrected," Lee Seale, the department's deputy chief of staff, wrote in a rebuttal letter. "We reject the notion that the California Static Risk Assessment is flawed and dispute the evidence the OIG cites in support of this claim."

The version of the assessment reviewed by the inspector general has now been obsolete for over a year, Seale wrote, and the department will keep working to improve the program developed by the University of California, Irvine, Center of Evidence-based Corrections.

Seale said the program has saved money and cut prison crowding by keeping many parole violators from returning to prison — important developments given current events.

The report comes as the state struggles to safely release less-dangerous convicts and parolees to help combat a lingering $10 billion budget deficit. Compounding the pressure, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state must reduce its prison population by about 33,000 inmates over the next two years to reduce crowding and improve care for mentally and physically ill inmates.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law this year shifting responsibility for tens of thousands of lower-level criminals to the jurisdiction of counties, though the shift can't take place until legislators or voters approve funding for local governments.

Non-revocable parole would end under the new law, but the inspector general's report left state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who requested the report, wondering if California can accurately predict which criminals are less dangerous.

"The report, to me, confirms my worst fears," he said. "They have dangerous parolees running around who should not be."

Lieu has repeatedly called for the department to end unsupervised releases, most recently two weeks ago when an ex-convict on non-revocable parole was charged with murdering two people in Southern California. He reiterated his plea based on the inspector general's report.

The report is the latest in a series of reviews questioning California's parole practices. The inspector general previously found the state failed to properly supervise paroled rapist Phillip Garrido, who pleaded guilty last month to kidnapping a young Jaycee Dugard and holding her captive in a backyard compound for 18 years.

Another report said the department should have sent a paroled San Diego County child molester back to prison before he raped and killed two teenage girls.