Tuesday, November 18, 2003

California Parole System Deemed 'Broken'

SACRAMENTO, Calif: California spends $1.5 billion annually on parolees who mostly fail and are sent back behind bars because they are no better prepared for life on the outside than the day they entered prison, according to a report.

The state paroles more than 125,000 inmates, each year, 70 percent of whom will be back in prison within 18 months for new crimes or parole violations.Just 21 percent complete their supervision, half the success rate nationally and worse than any other state except Utah, according to the report released Thursday by the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan independent group.

"They get $200 and a bus ticket home," said Stanley Zimmerman, chairman of the commission's Parole Reform Subcommittee.

If California followed programs similar to those in other states, Zimmerman said, fewer parolees would return to prison. That includes better education and vocational training inside, and more help outside finding jobs and housing and staying off drugs.

The Corrections Department plans to implement many of the commission's recommendations next year, in large part to save money.

Parolees will get more preparation before and after they are released, and California will begin imitating other states that often give parole violators home detention, electronic monitoring, drug treatment or short jail sentences instead of sending them back to prison.

The department projects its parole changes and an increase in early release will mean 15,000 fewer inmates, [prisoners], and as many as five fewer prisons by mid-2005.

"We're on the same page with the Little Hoover Commission in a lot of respects," said Corrections spokesman Russ Heimerich.

However, the department is rejecting a suggestion to turn parole supervisions over to local authorities.

Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera and Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas were among those arguing that locals could do better if they were given the same amount of money as the state spends, and were skeptical the state's program will improve.

"The system is broken," Najera said. "It doesn't work."

Zimmerman said the department ignored two other commission reports over the last decade, and credited the latest commission recommendations for spurring the department to try what has worked elsewhere.

Heimerich, however, said the department began acting with the adoption of the current state budget last summer, but has been considering some changes since last year.

By DON THOMPSON posted 18 November 03


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