Crime & Justice

California sees spike in parolees who cut off GPS monitoring devices

State parole officers use GPS to ensure that sex-offender and gang parolees comply with the terms of their parole.
State parole officers use GPS to ensure that sex-offender and gang parolees comply with the terms of their parole.

California prison officials released new data Wednesday that show more than 2,276 paroled sex offenders cut off their GPS monitoring devices last year.  That’s a 20 percent increase from two years ago—before California’s realignment law took effect.

Realignment--a game changer for parole violators.

When the law took effect in October 2011 it changed the rules for people who violate their conditions of parole.

Before realignment, parole violators went back to state prison for up to a year. Now the maximum penalty is 180 days in a county jail, and many are released within days because of overcrowding.

Law enforcement leaders see a correlation between that new reality and the spike in the number of parolees shedding GPS monitors.

Recent statistics on sex offender parolees who escaped:

--California Corrections Department

Glendale Police Chief Ron DePompa says under the old rules, “offenders knew they were going to face certain consequences for their behavior.” Now, he says, “We hear from the crooks that there’s no fear of going to state prison.” 

 No room at the inn

Realignment changed the sentencing laws so that certain low-level felons now serve their time in county jails instead of state prison. Some county lock ups lack the room to house them all. 

Aaron McGuire with the California Sheriff’s Association says “there does seem to be a correlation" between a lack of prison beds for parolees who cut off their GPS and the probability that a parolee will cut off his GPS. The greater the lack of beds, the greater the chance that the parolee will cut off the tracking device, he says.

Steve Whitmore with the LA County Sheriff’s Department says parole violator in his county serve the full 180 days in jail.

San Bernardino Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman says any sex offenders who violate parole will be taken into custody.  But she says making sure that happens has become harder under realignment.

“It goes on all day, every day in the jail,” she says, “because we have to find out which inmate is a danger, has the most serious offenses." She says sex offenders in particular "are going to remain in custody.  We know that they need to be kept in custody, so we have to make adjustments to our numbers and release those that are less of a threat.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation  has worked with the counties to help them assess the risk inmates pose.  In a written statement, CDCR spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said,  “Criminals have been removing their GPS devices for as long as we’ve been using them.  It’s a crime we take very seriously. We aggressively track and arrest convicts who commit this crime.”
CDCR’s data show that the majority of GPS absconders are captured.   Last year, law enforcement apprehended 92 percent of parolees who cut off their GPS monitors -- 167 violators remain at large.