California parolees released without proper review | TahoeDailyTribune.com

California parolees released without proper review

Don Thompson / The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO – Nearly 5,000 California parolees – including hundreds of sex offenders and those convicted of violent felonies – have been released from supervision without proper review, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

When ex-cons are approaching the end of their parole terms, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must file what’s called a discharge report. Those reports can recommend that a violent parolee remain under supervision.

If no report is filed, the parole automatically ends.

The Bureau of State Audits found corrections officials failed to file discharge reports for about 9 percent of 56,000 parolees between January 2007 and March 2008.

As a result, about 775 ex-cons who had committed violent or sexual offenses were automatically released from parole. They might have been retained on supervision had discharge reports been completed.

The audit did not address whether any of them committed new offenses shortly after their release.

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Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, said the findings cast doubt on reports done by the corrections department that show improvements in parole programs are keeping more ex-convicts from quickly returning to prison.

“They tried to sell everybody that parole reform was working. How do we know? They weren’t reviewing them,” said Spitzer, who requested the audit. “The department has been fudging the numbers.”

Corrections spokesman Gordon Hinkle said about half the 4,981 convicts in question were deported immediately after their parole ended. He said those parolees were not required to have discharge reviews, although the policy since has been changed.

Over the past year, the corrections department has begun implementing a number of changes to its parole program. Among them is an emphasis on drug, alcohol and other treatment programs that includes providing access even after convicts are released from parole.

The changes are required as a condition of a multibillion-dollar prison- and jail-construction project approved last year by state lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Hinkle said the reforms are working to lower the number of ex-cons sent back to prison. He also said the department is instituting reforms specifically targeting those whose parole terms are about to end.

The department has assigned two administrators to review those cases, and a computer program implemented Aug. 1 alerts officials to parolees for whom a discharge report has not yet been prepared.

“With those changes, I think we’ll see vast improvements in the entire process,” Hinkle said.

The state audit also found that supervisors overruled parole agents’ recommendations and decided to release parolees, often without explanation, in 20 percent of the 156 cases they reviewed in a random sample.

In one case, an administrator was transferred after he improperly altered parole documents using correction fluid.

The department has changed its policies in response to those findings, Hinkle said.