LOS ANGELES — California's budget crisis and overcrowded prisons have led to a new reality for thousands of convicted felons: Parole is getting a lot easier — no more random drug tests, travel rules or requirements to check in with an officer.
Restrictions have been relaxed for nonviolent criminals like burglars, drug offenders and swindlers under a new law that aims to shrink the prison population by reducing the number of minor parole violations that send ex-cons back to prison.
About 24,000 nonviolent ex-cons are expected to qualify for less supervision. The number includes many people already on parole and those expected to be paroled over the next year.
Nonviolent offenders leaving prison will still be required to register their addresses with the prisons agency, but a state parole officer won't check up on them. Unannounced home visits and searches will be left to local law enforcement, if anyone at all.
Local law enforcement agencies and community groups are worried. They claim less supervision will lead to a spike in crime, compounding the exact problem state officials are trying to remedy.
"It's a pretty significant concern from the public safety standpoint," said Cmdr. Todd Rogers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "There's a really good chance these guys are going to go out and caper again."
The rules, which took effect Jan. 25, come as the state desperately tries to close a $20 billion budget gap. Nearly 11 percent of the state budget goes to prisons — about $8.6 billion this year. Officials estimate the measures will save the state about $500 million its first full year.
California, which has the nation's largest prison population, hopes dropping the restrictions, coupled with an early release program that will free 3,000 current inmates under new rules that allow them to shave time for completing rehabilitation and vocational programs, will cut California's 167,000-inmate prison population by 6,500.
The changes will also free up state parole officers to focus on ex-prison gang members, sex offenders and violent criminals, whose 70 percent recidivism rate is more than double that of the nonviolent ex-cons.
"Our supervision will be higher on those more likely to re-offend," said California Corrections spokesman Gordon Hinkle.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Sunday, March 28, 2010