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California state senate approves tougher GPS monitoring bill

Inmates at Chino State Prison.
Inmates at Chino State Prison.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The California state senate Tuesday unanimously approved SB57, a bill to increase the penalties for paroled sex offenders who cut off their GPS monitoring devices.  The legislation is one of dozens of bills introduced to address problems caused by prison realignment.

In 2011, the legislature enacted realignment to shift responsibility for the incarceration and post-release supervision of low-level felons from the state to the counties.   They did that to comply with a federal court order to relieve overcrowding in state prisons.

As a result, some counties with crowded jail systems became even more crowded, and released certain offenders after serving little time.  Law enforcement officials believe that's emboldened some criminals.

State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said he authored SB57 after the number of parolees cutting off their GPS monitors spiked to more than 4,000 last year. 

“These are shockingly high numbers of people cutting off their bracelets.” Lieu said.  “If we don’t fix this problem, the integrity of our GPS monitoring system for sex offenders is at risk.”

Lieu’s bill ratchets up the penalty for cutting off a GPS device. The penalty for the first offense  would be 180 days in county jail, and it would be a year in county jail for the second offense.  The third offense would earn a parolee a felony sentence and up to 3 years in state prison. It now moves on to the state assembly.

Senators also unanimously passed a bill that boosts funding for counties to add 2,000 mental health crisis beds to prevent the  mentally ill from ending up in jails,  prisons or emergency rooms.    

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said the new facilities will provide “a place to get better and ultimately to be referred to the right level, appropriate level, of treatment they need.”

Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), who has led his party's charge to repeal the realignment law,  strongly supported Steinberg's measure. 

“One of the consequences of realignment is a lot of individuals who remain a danger to themselves and others are in our communities now,”  he said.  “Those communities are overwhelmed.”  

Nielsen said realignment dumped a huge criminal population on the counties without expanding options for treatment.