Parole Articles



Dan Walters: California is toughest state on parolees
By Dan Walters 
Published: Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008 | Page 3A 

We like to think that people are locked up for committing crimes, but an otherwise dry statistical report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice reveals a dirty little secret of California's prison dilemma – the vast majority of those going to prison these days are there because a parole officer decided they deserved more time behind bars.

That wouldn't be so bad, perhaps, if the statistical report also didn't demonstrate that California is very much alone among the states in sending huge numbers of parolees back to prison.

Nationally, judges committed about a half-million felons to prison last year after they were found guilty of crimes, while about a quarter-million were parole violators, a 2-1 ratio. But in California, that ratio was reversed, with 46,980 being imprisoned by judges and 92,628 locked up as parole violators. 

The national pattern was reflected in most other states, including Texas, which trails California slightly in the total number of inmates. Judges sent 44,641 felons to Texas prisons last year, and 26,199 were jailed for parole violations.

In some states, the disparity is stark. Florida, for example, sent 32,253 felons to prison on judges' orders last year, and just 246 parole violators. In only one other state, Washington, did parole violators outnumber newly sentenced inmates, and that was by just 126.

California, therefore, stands virtually alone in re-imprisoning so many parole violators, which should raise red flags.

It's possible, but highly unlikely, that our parolees are more crime-prone than those in other states. It's more likely that the state's prisons are doing a lousy job of preparing parolees for release – especially drug treatment and job training – thus making them more likely to violate parole. It's also true that California voters tend toward tough-on-crime policies, as demonstrated last month when they passed Proposition 9, which toughens parole policies even more.

However, the most likely reason for the immense disparity between California and other states is that parole agents enforce a virtually zero-tolerance on parolee behavior, either because that's what their overseers in the state prison agency want, or because – and this may be the nut of the situation – they're serving the interests of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union that represents both prison guards and parole officers.

Clapping more parolees behind bars for longer terms means the state needs more guards, or guarantees more overtime pay for guards.

California spends more than $10 billion a year on prisons, a major contributor to the state's budget crisis, while Texas, with only a few thousand fewer inmates, spends about a quarter as much. Were California to mirror the national ratio of parole violators to newly sentenced inmates, intakes would drop by about 70,000 a year – and it would save the $45,000 it costs to house an inmate for one year. 

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, .


What is a life sentence? The meaning of life 
Chances of release dismal 
Herald Staff Writer
Monterey County Herald 

It was 1979. No one could figure out why a Fort Ord soldier from a good family would agree to murder another soldier's wife — not even the killer himself. But 19-year-old Mark Watts was offered a hundred and fifty bucks and a set of tires to do the job. 

"I was a kid from a small town. I got caught out here in California, and I just didn't know how to deal with the situation," Watts says, speaking by telephone from Mule Creek State Prison in Ione. His South Carolina accent is still with him. "I was just so confused by what was going on around me." 

He was a first-time offender and has been in no trouble since. But for reasons he says he didn't understand, he committed murder at the behest of Dale Gibson, another Fort Ord soldier. 

"Maybe he wasn't a real sophisticated person and this Gibson was a real fast talker, a real manipulative kind of individual," says John Phillips, now a retired Superior Court judge who as a prosecutor with the Monterey County District Attorney's Office handled the case against Watts. 

Watts backed out of the murder plot, but Gibson never dropped his plans to have someone else kill his wife, Darlene. According to case records, Gibson eventually asked Watts to take a drive with the two of them. Watts had been drinking and he brought his rifle along. 

After picking up Darlene outside her job at McGraw-Hill in Monterey, Gibson attacked his wife with a pipe while Watts drove. At a Big Sur cliff, Darlene managed to escape and began running down a cliff. Gibson screamed at Watts to use his gun. 

"Gibson kept yelling 'Shoot her, shoot her, shoot her!' as she was running down the hill, and he shot her in the back of the head," Phillips said. 

Watts says he never planned to kill the woman and had only been playing along until that point, thinking Gibson would back down. But somehow, Watts says, he lost control of the situation. 

"I just got caught into something that I couldn't — I didn't know how to handle," he says. 

When investigators caught up with Watts, he surprised them. After taking a polygraph test, he admitted to his role in the killing and offered to help in the investigation. 

"It was like he was waiting to talk to someone about this," Phillips said. "He always maintained that what he did was wrong and he felt bad about it and he wanted to go make it right the best he could." 

Phillips suggested Watts plead guilty to first-degree murder, with a sentence of 25 years to life. 

"I told him when he came up for parole, I would be there and speak on his behalf and tell them what he'd done for us," Phillips said. 

Watts took the plea. Later, ignoring the advice of his lawyer, he testified for the prosecution against Gibson, who got life without parole. 

It did nothing to alter his own sentence, but because of his testimony, Watts would spend years in isolation — in those days prison inmates who testified had to be kept completely apart for their protection. Phillips knew this was a hardship and kept his promise to speak on Watts' behalf when he came up for parole. 

"At that time, with a prosecutor coming in and recommending that, (he) had a strong chance of being paroled early on. Which would have been 16, 17 years," Phillips said. 

Things didn't turn out that way. 

Model inmate| 

Twenty-eight years later, Mark Watts is still in prison. That's despite years of being a model inmate with an excellent psychiatric report. 

"It says I have less violence potential than that of someone on the streets," Watts says, speaking between warnings that his call is being recorded and monitored by prison staff. "Everything's been clear for 20 years, I've had no kind of problems." 

He's had no disciplinary write-ups since 1987. Phillips has spoken on Watts' behalf ever since he first came up for parole in 1995. 

"Prosecutors are usually the ones there saying 'I don't care how well he's done, remember the victim,'" Phillips says. "But in this case, I think he did everything in his power to make it right after doing a terrible wrong." 

Like the vast majority of California's life inmates, Watts' chance of being paroled appears dismal. Less than 1 percent of lifers with a possibility of parole ever actually receive it. That's a big change from 30 years ago, and criminologists say the shift comes from parole boards appointed by governors who increasingly want to appear tough on crime. And when boards do approve parole, governors often veto it. 

In California, there are many who feel that stance is what's best for public safety. 

"To get a sentence of life, you have to have caused a tremendous amount of damage," says Christine Ward, the executive director of the Doris Tate Victims Bureau in Sacramento. 

"The way we understand it is that this person is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole," she says. "Those are the worst of the worst ... So we need to be really careful." 

Ward is a neat, well-spoken woman who is clearly passionate about her work. She says her nonprofit organization makes sure that everyone in the Capitol knows where her group stands on paroling murderers. 

"Taking somebody's life ... as far as I'm concerned, you don't get a do-over. That's a done deal," she says. "That victim doesn't get a second chance." 

But victims and their families, Phillips says, can't be the only voice in the matter. 

"I wouldn't have any trouble looking a victim in the eye and saying, 'Look, this person's been in 27 years.' I met the mother of the victim in the Watts case when she came out to testify ... I wouldn't have any trouble saying I went and I recommended that he be released." 

After he prosecuted Mark Watts, Phillips went on to become a Monterey County judge. He's spent his career listening to both sides of the story. 

"I don't think a lot of times you're ever going to make a victim's family right," he says. "That's why you don't have the victim being the judge. You have some objective person being the judge." 

Which is where state parole hearings are supposed to come in. 

This May, Watts came up for a new hearing. As before, Phillips planned to testify on his behalf. For unexplained reasons, the hearing was abruptly moved ahead a day with no notice. Instead of testifying in person, Judge Phillips was forced to fax a letter on Watts' behalf. 

"As to your prison institutional behavior, it's commendable," parole board commissioner Sandra Bryson told Watts that day. 

But despite earning certificates in plumbing and building maintenance and repair, Bryson pointed out that Watts hasn't "upgraded educationally" since graduating high school. It was a surprising allegation, because California prisons have all but done away with college programs. Only one community college in the state offers prison correspondence courses, and the textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars per semester. 

Still, with his clean record and several job offers in his home state of South Carolina, Watts held out hope that this time he'd be approved. 

"They gave me 25 to life with some hope of getting out if I did my part while incarcerated. I felt that I've changed my life and I've done my part," he says. 

Once more, the answer came back: parole denied. 

"This offense was carried out in a cold, callous manner," Bryson told Watts after she read the announcement. 

That summarized the first reason given for denial: the nature of the original crime. It's a criteria that's been challenged in federal courts and now by a Santa Clara County judge, but is still common parole board practice. 

"My attorney argued that you can't use that against me anymore. But they do it anyway," Watts says. 

The second reason given was that the commissioners wanted him paroled to Monterey County because that's where he committed his crime. But Watts was only here as a teenage soldier, and Fort Ord is all but gone. He has no friends, family or contacts in Monterey County. 

"If I parole here," he says, "I have nothing. But if I go home ... I have family support, land, a house and jobs to make it easier to get back into the community. They didn't want to hear that. I don't understand why." 

He explained to the board that he would live near his brother, who is a corrections officer in South Carolina. He produced letters signed by family and residents saying they would welcome him into their community. 

Bryson still insisted Watts needed parole plans for California. 

"That's the only two things they denied me for," Watts says. "And that's two things that will never change." 

Phillips wonders why the board seemed to ignore Watts' good record during all the years he's been behind bars. 

"I'm not obviously a bleeding heart for people in prison," he says. "But it's not fair to tell them we want you to do these things, take educational classes, take psychological classes, to get job training — and the only factor we're going to consider is the crime and you're not going to get out." 

Watts says by repeatedly denying him, the board is in effect re-sentencing him to life without parole. 

"If they had intended me to do life without ever getting out, they would have given me 'life without,' or the death penalty," he says. "They didn't." 

Phillips believes "life with a possibility of parole" has become a misnomer. 

"I think we ought be intellectually honest with people and say that's the reality, you're never going to get out," he says. 

California's Senate rules committee is now investigating parole board practices, and several state and federal courts have taken a harsh look at the state's de facto "no parole" policy. 

Mark Watts plans to take his case to the California Supreme Court. Whatever happens, he says he's going to keep going, as he has for nearly 30 years. 

"Whether I'm released today or tomorrow or stay in, I'm going to live my life how I'm living it each day now," he says. "I do the best I can and help the people around me the best I can. There's a reason why I'm here ... but hopefully one day I'll be able to get out and take care of my family and my mom." 

Several weeks after he was last interviewed by The Herald, Watts was abruptly transferred to another prison facility in California. 

Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or . Listen to radio reports from this series starting today through Thursday during Morning Edition on KAZU at 90.3 fm, or go to:


Daniel Weintraub: Gov. Schwarzenegger tries parole reform -- again
By Daniel Weintraub - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Schwarzenegger administration, which has been cautious to a fault when it comes to prison reform, is tiptoeing back toward the idea of loosening restrictions on parolees who are good bets to stay out of trouble.

The program is starting with a trial run in Orange County, where ex-cons who are considered the lowest risks and then meet a series of benchmarks will be cut loose from state super- vision after six months instead of three years.

The idea is to give those parolees an incentive to get their lives back on stable ground shortly after they leave prison, which is when most felons return to a life of crime. Then, by letting them off parole early, the state figures it will be able to concentrate more resources on more-dangerous felons who need the most attention.

Although no one in the Schwarzenegger administration will concede publicly that the plan is intended to save the state money, that's also a possibility. If fewer parolees return to prison for either minor violations of the conditions of their parole or for committing a new crime, it could have major effect on the number of inmates behind bars.

The changes are a long time coming. They were recommended years ago by Professor Joan Petersilia of the University of California, Irvine, a criminologist now on leave to serve as an adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and by a nationwide panel of prison experts earlier this year. Former Gov. George Deukmejian, a law-and-order conservative whose administration began a building boom and sentencing surge that helped increase California's prison population from 22,000 to 170,000, endorsed an even more aggressive recommendation to end parole for some convicts after only three months.

The reason is clear: Parolees who are sent back to prison are a major cause of the overcrowding that has prompted a federal three-judge panel to consider capping the number of inmates the state can keep behind bars. And there is little evidence that the brief time parolees spend in prison when they are sent back -- an average of four months -- does anything to make the public safer. In fact, by providing a link between the streets and the prisons, that kind of revolving door might even make us less safe.

Schwarzenegger tried one approach to loosening parole in 2004 but abandoned it a few months later amid criticism from parole agents, correctional officers and victims rights groups, which are all connected through the state's powerful prison guards' union. That plan called for alternatives to prison for parolees who committed minor violations, but since those alternatives, including house arrest with electronic monitoring, were not available, the ex-cons were essentially running free, even if they had failed a drug test or skipped reporting to their parole officer.

Petersilia argues that the new plan will actually make the public safer, for two reasons. First, it will give parolees incentives to stay straight rather than re-offend. And second, it gives parole officers more time to spend on hard-core cases.

"We're saying, 'If you can demonstrate that you can do these things, we are willing to reward you,' " she said. "It's about rewarding people for doing the exact things we want them to do."

The early release from parole supervision will be offered only to the lowest-risk offenders. Registered sex offenders, parolees whose crimes were either serious or violent, parolees who have already committed a violation of the terms of their release, and parolees who are about to be deported will not be eligible. Those who remain will be screened with a scientific assessment that predicts their chances of re-offending, and some will be disqualified by that test.

Finally, the ones who are left will have to show that they have a stable residence, employment or other means of financial support, a history of successful completion of education, vocational or community service programs and compliance with victim restitution orders.

Even then, their release will not be automatic but can be vetoed by parole officers, supervisors or district administrators if the parolee is considered a continued threat to public safety.

None of that, however, is enough to satisfy some critics. Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels, who has been a strong supporter of the governor, called the plan "one of the dumbest policy decisions" to come out of Sacramento in a long time.

Writing on the conservative Republican Web site, Jagels said that even some of the lowest-risk parolees will eventually commit new crimes. He recommended that the governor modify the plan so that parolees who are released from active supervision are still kept on a legal leash for three years so that police could search them or their cars without a warrant.

But that would defeat the goal of the proposal, which is to give the small fraction of ex-cons who have the ability to turn their lives around a reason to do so. Some parolees will always commit new crimes. They do so in huge numbers even under our current, more restrictive system. It makes sense to focus on those most likely to re-offend while slowing the turnstile that is filling the prisons and bleeding the taxpayers dry.


California May Ease Parole Rules 
By DON THOMPSON – 1 day ago 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California, struggling with a burgeoning prison population, could soon give early freedom from supervision to thousands of nonviolent parolees by ferreting out those least likely to commit new crimes, prison officials told The Associated Press on Friday.

The policy would remove qualified parolees from supervision after six months instead of the usual three years. Ex-convicts who are no longer under supervision can't be sent back to prison for parole violations, which further taxes the burdened system.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is to announce the new policy Monday, a day before the state Board of Prison Terms considers the new regulations at its meeting in Sacramento.

The politically risky policy is to be tested in mid-November, in a single parole district in conservative Orange County. If it works as expected, the policy could be adopted statewide by mid-2008, officials said.

A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger argued that selectively freeing low-risk ex-convicts from parole is better than risking the release of more dangerous inmates. A federal three-judge panel is considering whether to limit the state's prison population, potentially forcing inmates to be released before they have completed their full sentences.

"If we don't make significant reforms, the public safety dangers are grave," said Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's spokesman.

Nearly 70 percent of ex-cons in California commit violations during their three-year parole. Last year, about 68,000 parolees were sent back to crowded prisons for violations.

The goal of the new policy is to select ex-cons who are unlikely to re-offend anyway and to encourage them to complete programs that make it even less likely they will commit new crimes, said Corrections Secretary James Tilton.

Weeding out the low-risk offenders would let parole agents concentrate on dangerous ex-convicts, such as sex offenders and gang members, Tilton said.

Criminologists have for years recommended easing California's parole policy. In 2004, a Schwarzenegger-appointed committee led by former Gov. George Deukmejian recommended releasing "very low risk" parolees after three months.

Sex offenders, gang members or those with a history of violent or serious offenses going back to their juvenile record would be ineligible. Those in the two lowest supervision categories — about 87,000 of the state's 127,000 current parolees — would be given a new questionnaire to gauge their criminal and drug-use history, job and housing status, relationships with family and the community, and other factors.

Ex-cons who are released from supervision early will be tracked to see how many commit new crimes. If the program proves successful after a few months, the procedure will gradually be introduced statewide.

"The arguments seem to make sense. Some people aren't being supervised enough. Some people, they're arguing, don't need to be supervised as much," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, a Republican who represents the trial area.

Ryan Sherman, spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, pointed out some problems he sees with the proposal.

"It will ultimately threaten public safety by allowing thousands of parolees to avoid monitoring by law enforcement officials," Sherman said.

Former parolees also do not have access to state-sponsored drug treatment, housing and other programs to help them stay clean, he said.

On the Net: 
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation:

Judge slams state parole board, demands changes 
By Howard Mintz
Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News 
Article Launched:09/13/2007 01:33:24 AM PDT 

A Santa Clara County judge has ordered the state's parole system to change the way it does business, setting up a major legal clash over the parole board's routine refusal to release convicted murderers.

In an unprecedented 34-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Linda Condron recently called the current parole process "malfunctioning." The parole board's approach to thousands of cases each year is so flawed, she ruled, that it violates the constitutional rights of California's inmates during parole hearings. Her harshly worded opinion, which stemmed from the cases of five local murderers seeking parole, took the extraordinary step of ordering the state agency to revise its procedures and undergo training within 90 days to fix the system.

State lawyers are fighting Condron's order, filing court papers this week saying they are appealing to the 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose. If upheld, Condron's ruling could entitle thousands of convicted killers to new parole hearings and give them more leeway to argue for release if they have, among other conditions, shown remorse for their crimes and demonstrated they have reformed in prison.

"This system is malfunctioning and must be repaired," Condron, a longtime former prosecutor before joining the bench, wrote in an Aug. 30 order. "The solution must begin with the source of the problem. The Board must make efforts to comply with due process."

Given the broad reach of Condron's decision, lawyers following the case expect the issue to eventually reach the California Supreme Court, which over the past 10 years has dealt with several cases challenging the state's general reluctance to grant parole to murderers.

"I'd say they are going to have to give a level playing field now, which they haven't had," said Jacob Burland, a Del Mar lawyer representing the five inmates. "A lot more will get out because they haven't been treated fairly up to now."

Deputy Attorney General Scott Mather, who is handling the case for the state, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Seth Unger, a spokesman for the prison and parole system, said he could not comment because the issue is being litigated.

Condron's ruling arose from a lengthy evidentiary hearing she conducted earlier this year in which she reviewed statistical evidence from nearly 2,700 board decisions denying parole to murderers. In general, the judge found that the board used boilerplate language regarding the heinous nature of the original crime as justification to deny parole without providing the specific evidence required by the law.

Out of about 3,000 decisions each year, the Board of Parole Hearings grants parole to only about 5 percent of eligible inmates who are serving potential life terms. The board is denying parole with "formulaic decisions" that "do not contain any explanation or thoughtful reasoning," Condron concluded.

In particular, Condron found the board is ignoring a state Supreme Court ruling two years ago that established new guidelines for how the parole board reviews so-called "lifer" cases. Her ruling, legal experts say, provides the Supreme Court with an opportunity to revisit that decision, in which the justices were divided 4-3 over whether a convicted Los Altos Hills businessman serving time for killing his wife was entitled to parole.

The five cases before Condron involved convicted Santa Clara County murderers who have been in prison anywhere from 19 to 28 years. Under the terms of Condron's order, those inmates - Morris Bragg, Viet Ngo, Donnell Jameison, Arthur Criscione and Donnie Lewis - would be entitled to new parole hearings under revised board procedures for reviewing their bids for release.

Contact Howard Mintz at  or (408) 286-0236. 

Editorial: Blundering toward parole reform 
Mercury News Editorial
San Jose Mercury News 
Article Launched:07/18/2007 01:33:09 AM PDT 

Fearing a court takeover of state prisons, the Schwarzenegger administration is adopting the right policies for the wrong reasons. It's also exposing the wastefulness of the state's massive prison expansion program. 

As reported by Mercury News writer Edwin Garcia, prison administrators are easing overcrowding by sending fewer parole violators back behind bars. The Department of Corrections has acknowledged that 10,000 more parolees are on the street this month, for a total of 127,000, compared with a year ago. It's not clear how many have actually committed violations. However, the department insisted that those left at large have committed only technical violations, like failing a drug test or refusing to show up for a meeting with a parole officer. They say the parolees pose no danger to the community. 

That may be true. For years, prison experts and oversight organizations like the Little Hoover Commission have castigated the state for failing to distinguish between minor and major parole violations and for clogging prisons with people who can be dealt with more effectively in community-based programs. 

The problem is that the state is heading in the right direction impulsively, to placate judges threatening to impose a cap on inmate population, and not deliberately.

It doesn't yet have sufficient parole officers to deal with additional violators left at large. It doesn't have an inmate risk evaluation system to determine levels of risk. And it doesn't have sufficient training and therapy programs yet in place.

California is years and several hundred millions dollars away from being able to handle massive numbers of new parolees. Meanwhile, there's the risk that a poorly supervised parolee will commit a violent crime, scaring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislators into abandoning parole reform and reverting reflexively to incarceration.

Parole reform is critical to cutting the prison population and reducing rates of recidivism. Last month, a report by a panel of experts commissioned by the Legislature concluded that effective rehabilitative programs inside prisons, combined with smart parole strategies, could reduce the need for between 42,000 and 48,000 prison beds - about a quarter of the current 173,000 inmates. Even after substantial spending increases for job training, housing and drug and alcohol programs, the state would save as much as $684 million per year.

And yet earlier this year, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature largely ignored probation and sentencing reforms. Instead, in passing AB 900, they agreed to spend $8 billion to build 53,000 more cells.

Some construction is needed for medical and nursing home facilities and transitional housing in locally based jails. But comprehensive probation reform offers the smarter and cheaper approach. The state must pursue it, with or without pressures from the courts.

Parole policy change pushed
Panel to urge that fewer violators be returned to prison.
By Andy Furillo - Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Seeking to free up space for inmate rehabilitation, a state panel reviewing prison school and job-training programs will recommend that California stop re-incarcerating some low-risk parole violators, the group's chairwoman said Tuesday.

The panel chairwoman, Joan Petersilia, a consultant to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration on prison rehabilitation policy, said the proposed change would reduce the state's prison population by as many as 5,000 to 7,000 inmates over the next year and make more room for inmates who would get more out of the programs.

"We need to stop systematically sending low-risk parole violators back to prison," Petersilia said in her testimony at the inaugural meeting of the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board.

Petersilia said offenders who only violate technical terms of their release, such as missing meetings with their parole agents, should be directed to community programs outside the prison system.

"We don't want those people going back," she said.

Petersilia is the chairwoman of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Expert Panel on Recidivism Reduction. The panel was created in last year's budget to assess the prison system's educational, vocational, drug and other programs designed to redirect the lives of the state's 172,727 inmates.

Her testimony Monday highlighted the first meeting of the rehabilitation oversight board that was established under this year's $7.9 billion prison construction package. The board is charged with making sure that the state incorporates rehabilitation into the fabric of the prison system.

Petersilia said the panel will forward the full list of its recommendations today to Schwarzenegger. They will also be sent to the Legislature by the end of the month. Copies of the panel's report were not available Tuesday.

At least one of its recommendations has already been put into practice, however. Marisela Montes, the corrections agency's chief deputy secretary for adult programs, told the oversight board that a pilot program to assess the rehabilitation needs of inmates, as well as the risks they present to society, got under way last week at four reception centers for incoming offenders.

"The goal is to ensure that we get the right inmate into the right program," Montes said in an interview.

The oversight board is scheduled to meet quarterly and report to the governor and the Legislature twice a year on the status of prison rehabilitation programs.

Matt Cate, the inspector general over the prison system and chairman of the oversight board, said in an interview he wants his group "to hold Corrections accountable for actually making progress" in improving its rehabilitation effort.

"It's a way of making sure they get traction and that the community knows, that the taxpayers know, they are moving forward in this area -- finally," Cate said.

Petersilia said while her panel found that some of the state's prison rehabilitation programs are "incredibly good," it also determined that they can't be sustained or expanded amid the prison system's seriously overcrowded conditions. Inmates are living in spaces designed for about half the current population.

The prison construction bill included money for 16,000 re-entry beds for short-term inmates, including parole violators. The locally based prisons are due to come on line over the next 18 months or so.

But even the re-entry space, Petersilia said, shouldn't be used to house technical parole violators. Offenders who only violate the technical terms of their release -- but don't commit new crimes -- shouldn't be returned to prison, according to Petersilia. Instead, they need to be put on "a separate track" in community programs with intermediate sanctions, she said.

Corrections Secretary Jim Tilton said in an interview that short-term parole violators make up "a population we think we can serve with re-entry." He said the Schwarzenegger administration is not prepared to offer a wholesale endorsement of a plan to cut back on the reincarceration of low-risk parole violators.

He added, however, that "we do want to ask the question, before we ... send them back on a bunk for five months, whether we can be better served by putting them in a program" outside prison.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, the chairman of the Select Committee on Prison Construction and Operations, said it is too soon for him to react to the panel's parole return recommendation.

"Everybody's kind of looking forward to what the recommendations will be," he said of the expert panel. "They're allowed to make all the recommendations they want, then it will be the Legislature that will decide."

Corrections officials in 2005 put what they called a "new parole model" into place that also sought to reduce prison returns for short-term violators. But a failure to gear up beforehand with intermediate sanctions such as electronic monitoring, drug treatment, halfway houses and other programs resulted in thousands of the offenders committing new crimes and coming back to prison with new criminal convictions instead of revocations.

Petersilia said the state is in the process of creating a new parole matrix in which prison returns would be based on the underlying offense, the nature of the violation, the offender's past history and other factors. She said it would be a mistake to start using the matrix until the incarceration alternatives are put into place.

"You cannot roll out a parole violation matrix if you don't have the programs," she said. "Right now, we don't have those programs."


At 94, California's oldest inmate still a 'lifer'
Even for the state's elderly and infirm prisoners, parole can be elusive.
By J. Michael Kennedy, Times Staff Writer
April 10, 2007 

"Looking at the inmate right now sitting in a wheelchair, he looks like everybody's grandparents."
-- Lawrence Morrison, an L.A. County deputy district attorney, in his argument last year against John Rodriguez's release

At 94, John Rodriguez has the dubious distinction of being the oldest inmate in the California prison system.

He looks the part, with his snow-white hair and unsteady gait. But given the crime that put him in prison, he's hardly a sympathetic character.

Rodriguez murdered his wife during a drunken rage on a December day in 1981. He claimed she'd been cheating on him. For that, he stabbed her 26 times with a paring knife. His punishment was a sentence of 16 years to life, and he's spent most of it at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.

He's been recommended for parole six times, all of which have been rejected by the last three governors, who characterized him as a threat to society.

Rodriguez isn't alone in his inability to get parole. Since 1988, when California voters gave the governor the power to overrule parole board recommendations for "lifers," the number from that category who have been freed has slowed to a trickle.

Gov. Gray Davis released only six lifers during his five-year tenure. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's numbers are higher but dropping steadily. In 2004, he released 72 lifers, but only 23 last year.

In today's era of stiffer sentences, California politicians are less likely to let convicted murderers go free. But pressure to release the elderly and infirm is increasing, given the state's overflowing prisons. In Sacramento recently, demonstrators urged lawmakers to start thinning the inmate population by releasing geriatric and incapacitated prisoners such as Rodriguez.

Don Specter, whose nonprofit Prison Law Office offers free legal services to California prisoners, said the Rodriguez case "shows how irrational the parole process is."

"The law says you should pay a price for this kind of crime, but not your whole life," he said. "The question becomes, what does the state gain by keeping this man in prison?"

Rodriguez uses a walker and is hard of hearing. He has arthritis and is often forgetful. He's taken some hard falls over the years, breaking his arms and severely bruising himself. He's lived in the prison hospital for two years, sleeping in a dormitory setting rather than a cell.

He's become a fixture around the low-security hospital, where his normal daytime attire is pajama bottoms and a blue prison shirt. Part of his routine is a Sunday visit to the Indian sweat lodge on the prison grounds. And he is a regular at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, an important facet of his life if he ever wants to be released.

For the moment, though, his chances don't look good.

His latest parole hearing is set for June, a few weeks after he turns 95. But Schwarzenegger has already turned him down once, saying that the "gravity alone of the murder" is enough to conclude that Rodriguez would pose an "unreasonable public safety risk."

Rodriguez's lawyer, Michael Beckman, contends that a crime that took place more than a quarter-century ago does not equate to the feeble man in prison today. Since he was sentenced, Rodriguez's most flagrant violations involved phone privileges. Larry Vizard, a prison spokesman, said Rodriguez's last infraction of any kind was in 1992.

Besides his clean prison record, Beckman also points to the Bronze Star that Rodriguez won during World War II and the fact that he has a family willing to take him in.

The office of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) has taken an interest in the case because of Rodriguez's veteran's status.

There is no organized opposition to his release except from the Monterey Park Police Department, which investigated the murder of his wife, Alicia Trejo.

"The victim is not here, and we're still the advocate of the victim," said Capt. James Smith, a department spokesman.

Rodriguez says he has remorse over the murder, that he was insane with jealousy because his much younger wife had taken up with a man closer to her age.

"I just want to get out and be left alone," he said. "I'm sorry for what happened and I shouldn't have done it."

He's been saying that for a long time. The reasons the governors have given for denying parole focus largely on the heinous nature of the crime and concern that Rodriguez would hurt someone else if freed. According to parole hearing documents, much of that centers on the possibility that he will get drunk and go on a tear.

Beckman said Rodriguez has done 10 years more than his minimum sentence for second-degree murder, has never been a disciplinary problem and should be released.

As far back as 2002, Tom Bordonaro, then the parole board's presiding commissioner, said that if anyone was eligible for release, it was Rodriguez. "He's clearly done his time," Bordonaro said after the hearing. "He's clearly beyond his matrix."

Words to that effect have been spoken five other times, and Rodriguez responded with gratitude — only to be told later that the parole had been reversed.

The story of John Rodriguez is set against the backdrop of a prison system in which the population is getting dramatically older, facilities are overcrowded and the mechanism to parole inmates is weighted down by bureaucracy and antiquated procedures — so much so that California is under federal court order to speed up the process to resolve the backlog.

The problem facing the prison system was perhaps summed up best — if inadvertently — by Lawrence Morrison, an L.A. County deputy district attorney, in his argument last year against Rodriguez's release: "This is a difficult case of the type of which the board and governors and prosecutors are going to be facing with an increasing aging population," he said. "Looking at the inmate right now sitting in a wheelchair, he looks like everybody's grandparents."

More and more will be looking like Rodriguez in the coming years. One recent projection is that by 2030, California will have 33,000 geriatric prisoners, compared with about 9,500 now. The increases are attributable to longer sentences, mandatory minimum-sentencing laws and tighter parole policies.

According to one study, the average cost of housing a geriatric prisoner — defined as 55 or older — is about $70,000, two to three times the cost for a younger inmate. The bill climbs even higher for those with serious physical and mental disabilities.

No one, including Rodriguez, tries to downplay the murder that sent him to prison.

As Rodriguez recounted to police, he began drinking early that morning in 1981 and, by about 5 p.m., had consumed an estimated 18 beers.

He then went to Trejo's home and struck her when she opened the door. He began stabbing her with a paring knife, chasing her from room to room as she tried to escape. After he killed her, Rodriguez walked to his own home, where he was waiting when police arrived to arrest him. He was 68 at the time.

When his parole was rejected last year, Linda Shelton, the presiding parole board commissioner, said she wanted to help him avoid having a board decision again reversed by the governor. She suggested that he become a regular at AA meetings.

"You don't have to talk in there," she said. "You just have to go to meetings and listen and you might be able to help other people too."

He does attend meetings, but Beckman contends his client wouldn't present a problem even if he did drink: "If he drank a beer, it would probably put him to sleep."

Beckman also said the aging inmate has been offered a place to stay on the outside.

It comes from Dolores and Antonieta PonceDeLeon of Los Angeles. Dolores said her husband, Fernando, met Rodriguez in prison, liked him and wanted the family to offer him a place to stay when he was released.

Fernando PonceDeLeon died of a heart attack 10 years ago, after his own release from prison. But mother and daughter feel duty-bound to offer Rodriguez a place to stay as a way of honoring Fernando's wishes.

They have sent letters to the board guaranteeing a room for Rodriguez. They sent another one in mid-March when they thought the parole hearing was days away. It was later moved to June.

"He's getting so discouraged each time he doesn't get out," Antonieta PonceDeLeon said. "I think he's got a few years left where he could have a good life."




A long criminal history

John Rodriguez was born in Mexico and spent most of his life in Louisiana, Texas and California. His criminal history includes several drunk driving offenses and a conviction for dealing heroin.

His first brush with the law occurred in 1929, when he was stopped in Dallas on a traffic violation. After serving in the European theater in World War II, Rodriguez returned to California, where he was arrested in 1951 — at age 38 — on suspicion of robbery.

In 1957, he was arrested in the first of 10 drunk driving offenses. And in 1961, he was convicted of conspiring to possess and sell narcotics and of possessing heroin. He was sentenced to five years to life and was paroled in 1969.

Rodriguez was married four times and fathered nine children. As far as prison and parole officials know, he has little, if any, contact with his children, the oldest of whom is 72.

During his working life, Rodriguez was a cook, an interpreter and a delivery driver. He now spends much of his day lying in a prison hospital bed, though he takes pride in the fact that he still has some vigor left.

"I don't look like I'm old," he said. "There's a 70-year-old man here who looks older than me."

Source: Times reporting 

Panel: Let some skip parole
Assembly GOP blasts watchdog report, rejects sentencing commission.
By Andy Furillo - Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, January 26, 2007

California's governmental watchdog agency recommended Thursday that the state get rid of parole for low-risk offenders and empanel a commission to overhaul its sentencing structure for convicted felons.

Assembly Republicans immediately blasted the 84-page report, saying its provisions would leave thousands of released offenders unsupervised and create an unelected body accountable to no one with the keys to who gets in and who gets out of the state's 33 prisons.

Assembly GOP leader Mike Villines of Clovis, meanwhile, is calling for a "bipartisan oversight committee" to monitor the federal court intervention into the system, including the looming threat of the judiciary to exert further control over California's correctional agency if it fails to get a handle on its inmate overpopulation crisis.

It is the possibility of more federal oversight that illustrates the urgency of the drastic action recommended by the Little Hoover Commission on government efficiency, panelist Daniel W. Hancock told a Capitol hearing Thursday before the agency's report was made public.

"The time for screwing around is over," Hancock said. "If you don't do this or something like this ... you'll lose control over a lot more than the health care portion of this system (which was placed under the authority of a federal court receiver in 2005). Wait until the federal courts tell you you've got to let 35,000 prisoners out in the next six months.

"It's why we're strong in this report. It's why we created a sense of urgency. It's why we structured the sentencing commission in such a way as to say you need to take this seriously, you need to do it now and you need to demonstrate that you're going to get your act together."

The Little Hoover's proposed sentencing commission mirrors the broad outline of a panel suggested last week by Democratic state Sens. Don Perata of Oakland and Gloria Romero of Los Angeles. It also represents a departure from the model proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his budget that would study sentencing issues and make recommendations to lawmakers.

In its parole recommendations, the Little Hoover Commission's proposals showed agreement, however, with the Republican governor on the issue of direct discharge of low-risk offenders. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations estimates that as many as 24,000 offenders could be waived from supervision upon their release from prison under such a direct discharge plan. Both the Little Hoover group and the Governor's Office said the discharges would free up more parole supervision resources for more serious offenders.

But the panel's recommendations still met with disfavor from Republicans. Assemblyman Todd Spitzer of Orange said the recommendations amounted to a "non-starter" with the party. GOP Assemblywoman Audra Strickland of Thousand Oaks, who also is a member of the Little Hoover panel, characterized the idea of a sentencing commission as "abdicating" legislative responsibility to an "unelected, unaccountable" body.

"We are the ones elected by our voters in our districts to do the people's business and be their voice," she said in an interview.

Villines sounded the same theme in his letter dated Tuesday to Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, in which he asked for the oversight committee to monitor the federal court monitors who are now overseeing five of the eight class-action cases that govern assorted areas of the state's $10 billion correctional operation, including its $1.9 billion health care system.

"There are concerns that many of us have about the federal government and the special masters walking in and telling us what to do as a state," Villines said. "It's time for us to step up and say, 'We'll deal with it the best we can.'"

Editor's note: This story has been changed from the version that appeared in print to correct the name of Daniel W. Hancock.

Study sought to help parolees

A state grant would find ways to assist ex-convicts fit into a law-abiding society. 

10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Press-Enterprise 

Next month, San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris will get to make his pitch for a $99,000 study on helping parolees fit into law-abiding society.

But members of the City Council's Grants Ad Hoc Committee, which reviewed the proposal Tuesday, warned the mayor's chief of staff, Jim Morris, to expect challenges from a crime-weary public.

Councilwoman Esther Estrada said constituents regularly urge her to beef up law enforcement. But there is little sympathy for perpetrators.

"Let me put it this way," she said. "I haven't had anybody come up to me and say, 'Why haven't you come up with programs for the parolees?' "

For years, city politicians have claimed that when state prisons parole inmates, they shuttle far too many San Bernardino's way.

Corrections officials respond that they're following state law: When paroled, inmates must be released to the jurisdiction where they were arrested.

According to a 2005 study by UC Irvine's Center for Evidence-Based Corrections, the recidivism rate among California inmates is 70 percent.

Jim Morris said about 2,000 parolees live in San Bernardino, and with such a high failure rate, it makes sense to develop strategies that reinforce obedience of the law.

"If we choose to ignore them, we'll continue to reap the same unfortunate harvest," he said.

As prisons fill up, state officials are seeking less expensive alternatives to incarceration, including grants for community-based parolee programs, Jim Morris said.

Councilman Dennis Baxter agreed that "what we're doing now isn't working."

But he worried about a lack of emphasis in the proposed study on job placement.

"Without those jobs, to me, this is all going to be for naught," he said. "I think the public is going to be more able to accept a parolee who has a job and is paying taxes, rather than just taking classes."

The study, approved for grant funding by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, would bring together the research efforts of a half-dozen organizations, from city, county and state law enforcement to mental-health agencies and social-service groups.

According to a schedule in the grant proposal, the study would begin in February and conclude in November with a joint strategy.

The committee agreed to pass the state's funding offer to the full City Council for consideration at a Feb. 5 meeting.

Reach Chris Richard at 909-806-3076 or

State Grant

San Bernardino may accept a state grant to devise strategies to steer paroled prison inmates toward a law-abiding way of life.

Amount: $99,000

Justices say parolees can be searched without cause
By TONI LOCY, Associated Press Writer
Published 10:35 am PDT Monday, June 19, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) - California parolees can routinely be searched by police as a condition of their release from prison, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

By a 6-3 vote, justices said the 1996 law is a legitimate attempt by state officials to deal with a large population of repeat offenders who pose a danger to public safety.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said California has a "special governmental interest" to control its parolees, an interest that outweighs a parolee's privacy.

In California, most prisoners eventually receive parole. But before release, each parolee is required to consent in writing to searches by police during the term of their supervision. If they refuse, they are not allowed out of prison.

Under the law, police can conduct such a search as long as it is not arbitrary, capricious or conducted to harass the parolee.

Thomas said parolees do not have any "expectation of privacy that society would recognize as legitimate" because of the danger posed by California's large recidivist population.

"The state's interests, by contrast, are substantial," Thomas wrote, citing a 68-to-70 percent recidivism rate among California's parolees.

But Justice John Paul Stevens, writing in dissent, said the majority had "run roughshod" over previous court rulings on unreasonable searches and improperly allowed California to create another form of punishment for its prisoners.

"What the court sanctions today is an unprecedented curtailment of liberty," Stevens wrote on behalf of himself and Justices David Souter and Stephen Breyer.

Stevens wrote that California has given its police "a blanket grant of discretion untethered by any procedural safeguards."

Only California allows parolees to be searched for no specific reason. Thirty other states and the federal government require parolees to submit to searches, but there must be reasonable grounds for the search to occur.

In September 2002, a San Bruno, Calif., police officer spotted Donald Samson walking down a street with a woman and her 3-year-old son. The officer knew Samson was a parolee and suspected there was a warrant out for his arrest on a parole violation.

The officer searched Samson, who then told him that the warrant had been "taken care of." After confirming Samson's assertion, the officer searched him again. Inside a cigarette box Samson was carrying, the officer found a plastic baggie containing methamphetamine.

Samson was not charged with a parole violation. Instead, he was charged with drug possession, convicted and sentenced to seven years in state prison.

California's Court of Appeal upheld Samson's conviction, rejecting his argument that a suspicionless search of a parolee violated the Fourth Amendment.

The case is Samson v. California, 04-9728.

On the Net:

Supreme Court:

Judge: End parole board shortcuts
Court bars various tactics state had used to reduce backlog of prisoner hearings.
By Claire Cooper -- Bee Legal Affairs Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, May 6, 2006

SAN RAFAEL - A judge barred California parole authorities Friday from engaging in work-load reduction tactics that deny prisoners the hearings they're entitled to under state law. 

The crackdown came during arguments on a remedial plan in a class-action lawsuit against the parole system decided in the inmates' favor three months ago, when 3,200 parole eligibility hearings were overdue by as long as two years. 

In response to the February ruling, the state agreed to revamp its hearing process. However, arguing that it was making progress - and already had reduced the backlog by almost half - it sought to fend off court orders requested by the inmates that might embarrass the Board of Parole Hearings or curtail its discretion. 

For the most part, Marin Superior Court Judge Verna Adams turned down the state's objections Friday, saying formal prohibitions were needed to prevent recurrence of past abuses. 

Adams called one practice by the Board of Parole Hearings - making off-the-record deals with prisoners to forgo hearings that could lead to their release - "illegal and certainly immoral" when used as a backlog-reduction technique. 

She also barred unexplained multiyear parole denials that have been issued to inmates who previously had been turned down for a single year or were granted release dates that later were vetoed by the governor. 

The state conceded that both practices had occurred but argued that no evidence proved an improper purpose. 

But Adams called some of the board's actions "baffling," saying backlog reduction was the only "logical explanation" where inmates were granted parole dates and later issued multiyear denials. 

Annual parole suitability hearings are the legal norm once an inmate becomes eligible for parole review, although the law permits longer denials in unusual cases. A 1994 law required the board to set criteria for those exceptions. 

"They haven't done that and 12 years have elapsed," Adams said. 

During an earlier phase of the case evidence surfaced of conversations in which parole commissioners asserted that inmates' chances for release ultimately would be set back unless they waived scheduled reviews or stipulated they were unsuitable for parole. 

According to a state corrections task force that uncovered the evidence, at least one commissioner told an inmate's lawyer that unless the inmate stipulated to being found unsuitable without having a hearing, parole would be denied for several years. 

Deputy Attorney General Patricia Heim said the board was committed to eliminating such practices. She asked for more time to prove that the problem had been corrected voluntarily. 

Adams ordered that all communications regarding stipulations or postponements be made on the record, and even those agreements must not occur if the purpose is backlog reduction and a prisoner has nothing to gain. 

She also ruled in favor of the inmates on another critical aspect of the remedial plan - the deadline for the state to put in place a tracking system to assure that the board has access to all relevant inmate information. 

Keith Wattley, the Prison Law Office attorney representing the inmates, asked for an eight-month deadline, noting that state audits have been urging implementation of a system for six years. 

Heim argued that two years would be needed to create an adequate system for tracking 28,000 inmates in 33 prisons. 

Adams found "no good reason why such a system cannot be designed and implemented within a year, even by the government." 

She set a status review for August, saying she'll issue further orders then if necessary. 

About the writer:
The Bee's Claire Cooper can be reached at (415) 551-7701 or .

Parole reform failures keep California prisons overcrowded 

San Francisco Chronicle 

Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's promise of major parole reforms to reduce California's spiraling prison population, the number of inmates has soared to a record high as the parole programs have floundered, and the state says overcrowding will get much worse. 

In early 2004, the Schwarzenegger administration said the governor's programs, which emphasized treatment and rehabilitation of some nonviolent parole violators rather than re-incarceration, would reduce what was then a statewide inmate population of 161,000 to 148,390 by mid-2005. 

Instead, many of the parole programs were either gutted or never implemented fully, while more criminals were sentenced to prison by county judges. As a result, the inmate count has rocketed to a record 168,000, nearly double the capacity of the state's 33 prisons _ in spite of the fact that just last year the state finished a decades-long construction program that resulted in 22 new prisons. 

In his latest budget, which calls for a $600 million increase in corrections spending to $7.9 billion, Schwarzenegger projects that the inmate count will rise even further, to 171,000 inmates this year, which experts say is overwhelming many treatment and training programs. 

Aggravating the crisis is the fact that the prison system suffers from soaring vacancy rates in key jobs, including guards, nurses and doctors. 

"This is about the failure, and I underline and emphasize the word failure, of this administration to manage its prison population," said state Sen. Gloria Romero, chairwoman of a committee that oversees the corrections system. She singled out the failed parole programs as a key factor. "It's not something magical, and it's not sudden." 

The vast overcrowding is so bad that John Dovey, director of adult institutions in the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an internal memo to the department's secretary in October that the system was in a "population crisis." He said he was ordering "unprecedented" emergency steps to alleviate the strain, such as rapidly moving some inmates from one prison to another to seek out empty beds. 

"We believe that an imminent and substantial threat to the public safety exists requiring immediate action," Dovey wrote. 

The corrections department places the blame on prosecutors and the courts. 

"The courts make their decision, and we have to deal with them," said J.P. Tremblay, the chief spokesman for the corrections department. "The people of California have said they want these people locked up, and we have to deal with it." 

Tremblay said that, at best, the corrections department expects the inmate population growth rate to level off slightly in coming years, but the overall numbers will not decline. 

One result of the bulging prison population is that, in his recent proposal for a huge state construction program, Schwarzenegger suggested spending $13.1 billion to build 83,000 new cells, some in prisons and some in county jails, over the next decade. 

Democrats complained this week that Schwarzenegger has largely abandoned the rehabilitation efforts, which, they argue, would lower the inmate population and alleviate the need for more prisons. 

For now, nearly every prison gym is filled with bunks. Chuckawalla Valley State Prison near Blythe, for instance, is operating at 234 percent of its capacity; the reception center for newly convicted inmates at High Desert State Prison near Susanville is holding more than five times the number for which it was designed. 

California continues to suffer from one of the worst recidivism rates in the country, 60 percent. Inmate violence is up at the same time that many prisoners are jammed into small spaces, and essential services, such as health care, are breaking down. A federal district court judge has ordered a takeover of the billion-dollar-a-year prison health care system because of what he has described as its shocking deterioration. 

Romero, D-Los Angeles, said that, because the problems have only gotten worse under Schwarzenegger, she may try to prevent the reconfirmation of the corrections department's secretary, Roderick Hickman, at hearings likely to begin next month. 

"That's what the power of confirmation hearings is all about," said Romero. 

Prison officials concede that one reason for the expensive overcrowding is the scarcity of programs for treating parole violators _ many of whom have drug-related problems. 

As of June 30 of last year, the latest period for which figures are available, 58,356 parolees either were returned to prison or were being reviewed for violations, according to the department's figures; that is almost unchanged from 58,042 around the time Schwarzenegger took office. The state pays an estimated $1.5 billion a year for parolees returned to prison. 

Michael Bien is a lawyer who successfully represented California parolees in a class-action lawsuit against the state that required the implementation of the new parole programs. He said the state had reneged on its promises and that court action is a possibility because of the failure of the Schwarzenegger administration to fulfill the terms of the settlement. 

"We thought, based on what they told us, that the programs would be implemented by September or October at the latest," said Bien. "But they tell us they have made very little progress. There is a real breakdown in the system." 

Things were not supposed to go this way. 

On his first full day in office, Schwarzenegger appointed Hickman, an advocate of reform, to lead the corrections department. And Hickman spoke at several state Senate hearings early in 2004 at which he enthusiastically embraced a series of programs, called "the new parole model," that promised to divert many parole violators to three programs _ two involving drug treatment and the use of halfway houses, one involving electronic monitoring and home detention of violators. 

One of Hickman's first acts in office was to settle Bien's class-action suit against the state claiming the parole system was flawed and unfair. Under the terms of the consent decree, the state was required to institute the parole diversion programs, among other measures. 

But, under pressure from victims' rights groups and the guards union, Hickman abruptly abandoned the diversion programs in April. He said they were not working, but he also admitted that they had never been fully implemented. 

A federal judge angrily ordered that the state reinstate the programs, but corrections officials concede that they are still months away from that goal. 

Bien, the attorney for parolees, said that what is puzzling about the state's failure is that everyone acknowledges that solid programs for parolees and parole violators have proven to be highly successful in many states. They save money by keeping large numbers of men out of prison, and they increase public safety, he said. 

Jim L'Etoile, head of the corrections department's parole division, said the department only recently had completed training parole agents to use one of the new tools, electronic monitoring devices for in-home detention. The department hopes to have 2,000 in place by mid-2006, but "only a handful" are in use now, he said. 

The department has about 200 beds in county jails available for drug rehabilitation, and L'Etoile said the plan was to have 570 spots available sometime in 2006. 

He insisted that the new programs were better than the ones shut down earlier. For instance, the drug treatment programs will last 60 days, not 30, and provide for more follow-up. 

L'Etoile argued that the suspension of the programs "gave us a chance to stop, re-evaluate and do a better job." 

But the number of places available in the programs is still a fraction of what is required, said Bien.

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,,1674,206%257E22097%257E2951211,00.html

Pasadena Star-News

Warrants out for 7,000 parole violators
By Troy Anderson 
Staff Writer 

Monday, July 04, 2005 - More than 7,000 felons on parole have failed to report to their oversight agents in Los Angeles County and are considered "at large,' with warrants issued for their arrest, California Corrections Department documents show. 

As of last month, nearly 20 percent of the 35,500 parolees released in Los Angeles County had failed to report to parole officers accounting for more than a third of the 19,380 parole violators statewide, documents show. 

With nearly 114,000 parolees across the state, and just 3,100 parole employees, experts say the figures highlight a system in dire need of funding and reform. 

"We have too many inmates and not enough (rehabilitation) programs,' said Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in Oakland. "And when they do come out, the most neglected area is the entire field of parole. 

"We are not able to provide any kind of meaningful re-entry services to help them make the transition from prisons to the streets. You couldn't invent a worse system. You don't have to be a social scientist to figure out what the consequences of this are going to be.' 

In late June, Jose Orozco, a career criminal who was out on parole but had not contacted his parole agent since early this year, was arrested in the slaying of Deputy Jerry Ortiz. Ortiz was shot in the face in Hawaiian Gardens, about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles. 

Kenrick William Johnson, a parolee with a 16-year criminal history, is charged in the February 2004 slaying of Ricardo Lizarraga the first Los Angeles Police Department officer killed in the line of duty since 1988. 

Two other parolees-at-large from Los Angeles County are on the state's 10 Most Wanted List: Eduardo Gilbert Navarez, 29, suspected in a 2001 double- murder in Lynwood; and Christopher Manley, 31, a member of the Nazi Lowrider gang wanted on attempted kidnapping charges. 

"One of the areas where I see a real problem, and where we are failing miserably, is in the ability to provide people coming out of institutions the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves,' said LAPD Assistant Police Chief George Gascon. 

"The discussion is always about funding. But when it costs an average of $31,000 a year to keep someone in prison and $3,300 a year to keep someone on parole, and we're doing a very poor job of supervising them, there has to be a little more we can do to make the parole system work. 

"And it's not because parole agents are not doing their jobs. They are overwhelmed.' 

Parolees generally are released to the county they last lived in before being sent to prison. With 31 percent, Los Angeles County has by far the greatest number of parolees in California. With 7 percent each, San Diego and San Bernardino counties are tied for second place followed by Orange and Riverside counties, with 6 percent apiece. 

Experts say that, once released, about 10 percent of parolees become homeless, nearly 80 percent are unemployed and many are denied access to food programs and other essentials. 

Nationally, one in three parolees ends up back in prison before completing parole; in California that rises to two out of three. 

Experts say focusing on helping parolees would free up prison space for more serious offenders. 

In 2003, a special commission urged state officials to reform the $6 billion-a-year corrections system, arguing that 125,000 felons are released each year with little preparation. 

Since the commission's report, state officials have partnered with academic experts and are studying rehabilitative programs in other states. 

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Roderick Hickman secretary of a newly reorganized state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The governor also named Walter Allen assistant secretary for correctional safety, overseeing fugitive-apprehension teams. 

Allen said he knew Ortiz, and had attended the funeral of the deputy's brother-in-law, Corrections Officer Manuel A. Gonzalez Jr., who was stabbed to death in January by an inmate at the California Institute for Men. 

"I'm just tremendously upset by this,' said Allen, who added that he plans to quickly target at-large parolees. 

"We are compiling a list of the worst-of-the-worst violators who are outstanding,' he said. "Then we are going to hunt them down and put them back into custody where they belong.' 

Still, some say reform will be difficult. 

Macallair said the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has run TV ads opposing any changes that would reduce the state's prison population by placing more parolees in transitional housing programs. 

And both Macallair and Sheriff Lee Baca said more money is needed to provide the rehabilitative services needed to fix the parole system. 

"The parole system has never had full funding,' Baca said. "We'd rather give full funding for the prisons and let the parole system put the public at risk.'

Posted on Fri, Jun. 10, 2005 

State prisons ordered to restart parole programs, hike inmate pay

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - Judges in Sacramento and San Diego have asserted more control over California's troubled prison system, ordering officials to reinstate parole programs and increase pay for inmate laborers.

In Sacramento, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that corrections officials violated a court-approved 2003 settlement that required reform of the state's parole system. He said they abruptly stopped using three programs as alternatives to sending parole violators back to prison.

Karlton said last month he would order the programs reinstated. He entered his formal order Thursday.

In April, Youth and Adult Correctional Secretary Roderick Hickman ended programs that diverted parole violators to halfway houses, drug treatment or electronic monitoring instead of returning them to prison. He said such diversions might endanger the public.

"Our intent all along was not to terminate the use of these sanctions permanently, but to take a hard look and roll them out again in a way that was sure to protect public safety," agency spokesman J.P. Tremblay said. "That's what we'll do."

Hickman and other corrections officials said the programs hadn't been given time to work because of a series of administrative delays.

Ernest Galvan, one of the attorneys who sued on parolees' behalf, said he was pleased by the decision, even though Karlton declined to hold Hickman in contempt for violating the settlement.

"California has had a one-size-fits-all approach to parole violators, with reincarceration the only hammer in the toolbox. That's fine when there's a public safety risk. But for other parole violators, there are better options," Galvan told the Los Angeles Times.

Critics said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger bowed to pressure from victims' rights groups and the powerful prison guards union.

Also Thursday, San Diego County Superior Court Judge William C. Pate threatened to hold corrections officials in contempt unless they comply with his orders on running a prison labor program. His ruling includes an order that they pay inmate workers more money.

A year ago, Pate ordered the Department of Corrections to require private employers to increase wages for inmate workers and to post bonds to make sure they comply. Pate set a new deadline of June 30 for the state to comply.

In 1990, voters approved a ballot measure letting private employers hire prisoners. The inmates' pay was to be split five ways - between the inmate, their family, a restitution fund, victims and the state.

All of those entities are shortchanged if employers are allowed to pay inmates less than regular employees, said Robert Berke, a civil rights attorney who has sued the state over its running of the program.

In Imperial County, for example, the entry-level wage for production workers is $9.53 an hour, but the state has suggested paying prisoners $6.75 an hour.

"The inmates and the taxpayers are being cheated," Berke said.

The program has faltered in recent years, with only several hundred of the state's 163,000 prisoners involved.


California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency:

Little Hoover Commission:

California Correctional Peace Officers Association:

Crime Victims United of California:

Posted on Sat, Apr. 09, 2005 

State abandons parole program opposed by crime victims

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - Scrapping a key reform of California's troubled parole system, state corrections officials will no longer let parole violators receive drug treatment or home detention as an alternative to prison.

Authorities said they decided to end such diversion programs and return violators to prison starting Monday because there was no evidence the lesser sanctions work. The policy had been pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration as a way to rehabilitate ex-convicts and to save money by reducing the prison population.

In his weekly radio address, Schwarzenegger stressed the state's concern and aid for crime victims after his administration abandoned the parole program, which was under fire from crime victims advocates and parole agents.

"California will continue to be a leader in the victims' rights movement because we are united in the belief that no one in need is a stranger to us and no victim should walk alone," the Republican governor said Saturday.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Schwarzenegger administration had dropped a program that allowed jail-based drug treatment, halfway house programs or home detention with electronic monitoring as an alternative to prison for some low-level parole violators.

The state adopted the alternative programs under former Gov. Gray Davis and expanded them about a year ago under Schwarzenegger after a nonpartisan watchdog agency called the state's parole system "a billion-dollar failure" because 67 percent of ex-convicts returned to prison - nearly twice the national average.

Corrections officials said putting parole violators back in prison often did little good while putting added pressures on already overcrowded prisons and ballooning prison budgets.

But a group called Crime Victims United for California, which is heavily supported by the union presenting prison guards, began running television ads two weeks ago attacking the changes in parole policies and accusing Schwarzenegger of letting down crime victims.

Parole agents also criticized the changes in policy, saying they were being pressured to let dangerous parole violators avoid being sent back to prison.

Roderick Hickman, secretary of the state Youth and Adult Corrections Agency, said the criticism contributed to the change in policy, but he also said the new program wasn't helping reduce recidivism.

"We are committed to protecting the public by making sure offenders are successfully reintegrated into society," Hickman said. "But these programs weren't helping us get there."

Harriet Salarno, president of Crime Victims United, praised the administration's decision. "You're kidding! You mean my commercial did it?" she said. "I'm thrilled."

But some inmate advocates said the program was a cheaper, effective alternative to prison.

"I'm very disappointed," said Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit law firm that tries to improve conditions for prison inmates. "And I certainly hope they are not caving in to pressure from the unions based on the fact that the governor's poll numbers seem to be declining."

The number of inmates in prison for parole violations dropped slightly more than 4 percent in 2004 under the policy.

In his radio address, Schwarzenegger said that over the years California has developed a number of programs to help crime victims, including collecting an average of $1 million a month in restitution from criminals.

"We are successful in making criminals pay for their debt not only to society but to the victims as well," he said.

On the Net:


Parole System Faulted as a Revolving Door
A study of 15 states finds similar arrest rates among parolees and those who completed their full sentences.
By Justin Dickerson
Times Staff Writer

March 31, 2005

WASHINGTON — The parole system is ineffective in helping convicts avoid being arrested after they are released, according to an Urban Institute study questioning whether parole supervision helps reduce crime.

Using federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data on prisoners released in 15 states, including California, in 1994 — the most recent multistate information available — the study, to be released today, found similar arrest rates among convicts on parole and those released unconditionally after completing their full sentences.

There are two types of parole: discretionary release, in which a convict is screened by a parole board to determine his readiness to live outside confinement, and mandatory release, when a convict has served his original sentence, minus time for good behavior, and completes the balance of his sentence in the community. Both put a convict under the supervision of a parole officer.

Of those released unconditionally — meaning they served their full term and walked out the door with no further supervision — 62% were arrested again.

By comparison, 61% of parolees who left prison under mandatory release were arrested again; of those released at the discretion of a parole board, 54% were arrested again.

The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan social policy organization in Washington, called the difference between the arrest rates "surprisingly small" — particularly since discretionary parolees were thought to be more likely to succeed because they had to meet a parole board's standards for attitude, motivation and preparedness.

"Quite frankly, I don't think parole should carry the whole burden of reforming people," said Amy Solomon, the study's lead researcher. "At the same time, supervision should be a contributor to successful reentry, and right now, it's not living up to that role."

The success of parole can vary by demographic, the study found.

The likelihood of arrest for women on parole, either discretionary or mandatory, was 16 percentage points lower than for women released unconditionally.

Male parolees who had been convicted of drug, property or violent crimes — which comprised about 80% of the sample studied — were more likely to be arrested again despite being under supervision.

In some cases, convicts on mandatory parole had higher rates of arrest than those on unconditional release or discretionary parole, most likely because of increased surveillance and drug testing.

The report noted that supervision of parolees was often minimal, with parole officers sometimes managing as many as 70 of them. In addition, parole officers may be located away from where their parolees live and may not have the best understanding of their parolees' home areas.

Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, was not surprised by the results.

"People think that parole has a rehabilitative function, but that's not the case anymore," he said. "The fact is that parole is so underfunded there aren't any resources to facilitate reintegration…. The system is set up to fail."

Solomon had similar beliefs about overhauling the parole system.

"Supervision should also include a mix of treatment and surveillance, not surveillance alone, as is more typical these days," she said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promised to improve California's prison system — the nation's largest, with about 164,000 inmates, 32 facilities and 49,000 employees. A review of the parole process, with an eye toward improving efforts at rehabilitating prisoners, is being considered, though Sacramento's pockets are tight and plans are sketchy.

"Parole as it's currently being operated has not proven to be a success, but that doesn't rule out the fact that other kinds of parole could make a big difference to protecting the public," said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. 

"There's a sincere effort in California to look at a different approach."

Michael P. Jacobson, who ran New York City's jails and probation system in the 1990s, cited a lack of funds as a principal problem in reforming criminals with minimal education or drug or mental problems.

"You're going to have incredibly high return rates if you spend next to nothing on dealing with some of the issues that these folks face when they come out," said Jacobson, who heads the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. "There's never been any political capital in funding parole appropriately."

Times staff writer Jenifer Warren in Sacramento contributed to this report.

Posted on Wed, Mar. 02, 2005 

Parole reforms finally in sight, corrections officials say

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - After two years of delays, corrections officials said Wednesday they are finally moving toward reforms in parole programs that lag most other states.

Lawmakers, parole officers and inmate advocates criticized prison officials for not acting more quickly, and for making promises they couldn't keep - failed pledges that have driven up the Department of Corrections' budget and population the last two years.

"I'm just stunned that we're barely beginning. That was two years ago" that prison officials agreed to make sweeping changes, said Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, who chaired Wednesday's joint hearing of her corrections budget and oversight committees.

Moreover, the department seems to be acting now only because legislators and the government watchdog Little Hoover Commission pushed for reforms. The commission in 2003 labeled the parole system a "billion-dollar failure," one of a series of scathing reviews of the state's youth and adult correctional system.

"I keep thinking, why didn't we do this decades ago?" said Romero, D-Los Angeles. "As my daughter would say, 'Duh. When you deal with corrections you have to deal with parole.' The initiative has got to come from you."

James L'Etoile, the department's new deputy director for adult parole and community services, blamed bureaucratic delays, problems with private contractors, negotiations with unions, and overly optimistic time and financial projections. He took over in December after Youth and Adult Correctional Secretary Roderick Q. Hickman transferred his predecessor for failing to move swiftly enough.

L'Etoile said many of the reforms will be on track this year, in time to trim the inmate and parole populations and the department's budget.

Changes include:

_ giving parole officers more options to punish parole violators short of sending them back to prison;

_ more pre- and post-release counseling, training and treatment to help ex-convicts fit in with society;

_ using electronic monitoring to track more parolees;

_ ending parole after a year for ex-cons with a good release record.

A key component is expanding the 12-month discharge policy, which was supposed to trim the number of parolees by 20,000 a year, the number of returning inmates by 8,000, and eventually cut the department's budget by several hundred million dollars.

Because of delays, the department now is projecting this year a reduction by 500 inmates, 10,000 parolees, and $30 million.

But L'Etoile said some programs are in place. About 22,000 offenders are getting more help as they re-enter society, for instance, and the percentage of parolees returned to prison has fallen to its lowest level in 11 years: 47.3 percent, down from nearly 59 percent.

Lawmakers and inmate advocates also were critical of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to cut $95 million from education and other programs even as he promotes rehabilitation as a new corrections goal.

L'Etoile said the department and administration are trying to pare the money from ineffective programs.

Parolee arrest pattern changes 

Fewer held for violations, while more imprisoned for new crimes. By Andy Furillo -- Bee Capitol Bureau Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 27, 2005Five times, police and parole agents got hold of Justin Graham Corkins - once for leaving town without permission, twice for being drunk, once for being under the influence of crank and once for failing to report for drug treatment.Finally, they shuffled the paroled burglar with a drug history into a substance abuse program. It kept him off the streets for a month. But never did they revoke his parole.OAS_AD ('Button20'); 

Drunk again and speeding through south Bakersfield in his girlfriend's 1991 Ford Escort, Corkins on Jan. 16 ran into a 23- year-old self-employed cleaning woman named Charlette Martina Hopkings and killed her, police reports said.Now sitting in the Kern County jail and facing vehicular manslaughter and other charges, Corkins is one of more than 2,000 parolees in California who appear to have avoided prison last year under new policies instituted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration. 

The policies are designed to dramatically reduce the number of offenders reincarcerated on technical violations of their release terms and instead redirect them into programs to allow parolees to maintain their family and job connections and smooth their transition back into society.

As of Dec. 31, there were 2,529 fewer inmates in prison on parole violations, or 4.1 percent less, than in 2003, Department of Corrections officials said. At the same time, there were 2,141 more parolees who had been incarcerated for new crimes, an increase of 13.6 percent.Corrections officials said they could not immediately determine how many of those 2,141 parolees had previously violated their parole but were allowed to remain free under the governor's new parole policy. 

Nor could they determine how many of them were reimprisoned, like Corkins, on homicide charges.But line parole agents say the statistics are no coincidence, and that as many as half the parolees caught for new crimes had previously been set free despite committing violations.

Interviews with parole agents as well as Department of Corrections records and documents obtained by The Bee reveal examples of the types of offenders returned to the streets: a San Bernardino career criminal now accused of raping two women and a Kern County burglar released after testing positive for methamphetamine who went on to beat up his wife. 

Charlette Martina Hopkings is one person whose death is linked to the policy, and it makes her aunt's blood boil."If you're violated five times for basically the same things, what the hell does it take, a hammer over the head, to make you think this guy might actually hurt somebody?" asked Hopkings' aunt, Camelia Ward. "When that person happens to be my niece, I want to slap the people who aren't making sure this is taken care of. ... You have to put the shackles on at some point."Rod Hickman, secretary of the governor's Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, called Hop-kings' death "tragic." 

He said the new parole policy, which he unveiled in a press conference last May 11, has "not been as successful as we'd like" in getting its alternative sanctions up and running. He said "the jury is out" on whether the state's new philosophical approach is working as intended.But Hickman also said that even if Corkins had his parole revoked and was returned to prison for a year, there's no guarantee he wouldn't have run over and killed somebody at the later date. Moreover, the secretary added, the state still has an obligation to do a better job of trying to use the parole system to redirect the lives of California's criminals.

"In so much as people are going to get out, we have to do something to see they don't reoffend and revictimize," Hickman said. "The other option is to lock them up forever and pay the cost forever. I don't think that is the right thing from a public policy standpoint."Corrections officials rolled out the new policy last spring, after the Little Hoover Commission issued a report in November 2003 blasting the parole system as "a billion-dollar failure" for returning so many offenders to prison - 67 percent, nearly twice the national average 

.To reduce the recidivism rate, the Department of Corrections' parole division devised a five-part package that included electronic monitoring, community-based halfway houses and 30-day residential substance abuse treatment programs.Last year, the strategy resulted in the decreasing number of technical parole violators returned to prison and an increasing number of parolees who were reincarcerated for new crimes.

Dwight Streeter, a parole agent in San Diego, said it used to be a matter of course that if a violent offender as much as changed residences without telling the office, he'd get bounced back to prison.

"But with the policy the way it is now, we're not bringing them back in on the technical violation," Streeter said. "Then they ultimately get caught doing something more serious."Scott Johnson, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association chapter for the prison system's 3,000-plus parole agents, estimated that as many as half the parolees going back to prison for new crimes had previously been set free despite committing violations."We're lowering our (return to custody) rate," Johnson said. 

"But I don't know if that is protecting the community."Parole agents say a San Bernardino case involving a paroled robber named Royce Timmons vividly illustrates Johnson's point.

Timmons, 46, a six-time felon with prior convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and carjacking, was paroled last March 4, according to the Department of Corrections. Timmons could have been sent to prison for a year in July for changing residences without telling his parole agent. Instead, he was reincarcerated for only two months and released in September into drug treatment.

Timmons completed the program. But in January, the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office says, he went on a crime spree in which he stabbed his girlfriend, carjacked and raped another woman, kidnapped and raped a third and carjacked a fourth victim.

In California City in Kern County, paroled burglar Jermaine Curtis, 24, tested positive for methamphetamine in March but was continued on parole. In June, police issued a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of beating his wife. He fled to Georgia, where he was arrested and returned to California.Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk, himself a parole agent who is on leave while he holds elective office, called the new parole policy a "do-not-lock- up-at-all-costs model."

"We even get calls from (parole) supervisors who tell us the administration is calling the shots, and if their (return) rates are high, they get written up," Bermudez said. 

"But that is the new parole model. I believe (the administration is) no longer providing public safety as a consequence of this model."University of California, Irvine, criminologist Joan Petersilia, a consultant for the Department of Corrections, said there is currently "a great deal of pressure" on line agents "to not use a great deal of prison space" for what she called "true technicals." She said the pressure "fits in" with what parole agents also are seeing - more crimes being committed by parolees who had been continued on parole."Our intermediate sanctions are just not intensive enough," Petersilia said of the drug programs, the halfway houses and the electronic monitoring. 

"They need to be beefed up."Justin Corkins - the 27-year-old man accused of running over and killing Charlette Hopkings - could have been rung up five different times, but never was, corrections documents show.On Aug. 14, 2003 - six months after he was paroled after serving half of a two-year sentence for burglary - Corkins was found to have traveled more than 50 miles beyond his residence. On Oct. 9, 2003, he was arrested for being drunk in public. 

On Dec. 19, 2003, he tested positive for methamphetamine. Last June 7, he was drunk in public again.In each instance, Corkins was continued on parole.Corkins' parole agent ordered him to enroll in an alcohol/chemical treatment program after the June 7 incident. But documents show he was kicked out of the program after he racked up three unexcused absences. On Sept. 23, he was placed in a "substance abuse treatment control unit" - an intermediate sanction that includes a 30-day residential stay and 90 days of aftercare.

Acting parole director Jim L'Etoile said the programs like the one Corkins completed represent "probably our weakest program component" in the new parole model. "It does not offer the intensive treatment in terms of program duration and intensity that a drug-involved parolee requires," L'Etoile said.On Jan. 16, less than three months after he got out of his substance abuse program, Corkins ran over and killed Hopkings, Kern County authorities have charged. Police reports estimated his speed at 50 mph, down South Chester Avenue near downtown Bakersfield. Corkins' blood alcohol level registered at 0.199, more than twice the legal limit, the reports said.Hopkings and her friend Lily Randle were crossing the street to go to the store to buy some cigarettes when police said Corkins' car came barreling toward them."From the sound of the car, it seemed like he just put his feet to the gas," Randle said. 

"That car idled up - rrrrrr. That's what made us react and run. I moved forward. She turned and looked."Corkins has been charged with vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving and driving with a suspended or revoked license. A possible second-striker, he faces a maximum 19- year term if convicted.His mother, Patricia Corkins, of Porterville, said the defendant is bipolar and had been "self-medicating" with alcohol. His record shows eight arrests and two convictions on drug charges. She said she was unaware of his previous contacts with parole and police after he got out of prison and before the fatal accident."(The system) has a lot of loopholes," Patricia Corkins said. "Unfortunately, I've got a kid who has fallen through them."Camelia Ward, the aunt of the woman whom Corkins is accused of killing, said "I don't want to be harsh," and said that she thinks parolees ought to be given a break."But if we give you a chance and you fail at what we've ordered you to do, if you don't do the program, you have to go," Ward said. "We've given you a chance to change the direction of your life, and you've refused. That makes you a danger to everyone around you." 

About the writer: The Bee's Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or .

He seeks one-way door to new life

Ex-con says parole system traps him in limbo
By Blair Anthony Robertson -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, February 3, 2005

Meet the happy couple. They are newlyweds planning a bright future while still tangled up in a decidedly shady past.

"I'm very frustrated, but I'm not going to give up," said 44-year-old Carl Graves, seated in the couple's sparsely furnished apartment in Carmichael. "I'm dangling on a string."

Graves has been in and out of prison for much of the past 20 years, a poster child if there ever was one for the revolving door of prison and parole, freedom and failure, and the subsequent huge cost to taxpayers. His bride, 47-year-old Sandra Baker, was once his partner in crime. They were old-school street hustlers who teamed up to cheat people at a game of three-card monte.

Now that they are determined to go legit, the system, they say, is holding them back.

Graves' anxiety stems from his parole status. His home address may be an apartment off Madison Avenue, but his biweekly check-in with his parole officer is in San Bernardino County - 450 miles and a full day by bus away.

Since getting out of prison in early November and getting married three weeks later, the personable and energetic Graves has been trying to get his parole transferred to Sacramento County, which just happens to be one of the most popular destinations for ex-convicts in California.

Parole officials say a long-standing agreement limits parolee transfers to 5 percent of the total number of parolees in a particular county. The policy prevents a flood of parolees burdening local law enforcement. Sacramento has about 4,600 parolees these days and a full slate of transfers, making it a "closed county."

In Graves' case, the rule is straining his finances and stressing his home life, which includes a 10-year-old stepdaughter.

"I'm not asking for anything. I made my bed and I have to lie in it," he said. "All I want is a chance."

In the past, Graves had plenty of chances, but he always took the easy way, returning to the life he knew - conning and hustling and getting gullible sailors to part with their money soon after coming ashore in San Diego.

Referring to his mastery of three-card monte, in which he handled the cards while Baker posed as a shill who won money in front of onlookers, Graves said, "They think they're gambling, but really they're actually being conned. It was fast money and we lived fast."

A life of crime and incarceration eventually wore Graves out. He served terms for robbery and selling drugs. While in prison, a fight with an inmate led to an assault conviction. When he got out, he failed repeatedly to follow parole rules, landing him back behind bars about 10 times.

In recent years, he embarked on an ambitious program of self-education while in prison, studying the lives of great black leaders and reading about politics and history, including the theories of Karl Marx.

"I never tried to do the right thing in my life before," said Graves. "I'm 44 years old and I'm tired of being tired."

Graves says he is determined to become a contributing member of society by getting a job and paying taxes and making up for all the wrongs over all those years. But he says it's hard to get his act together when the system is keeping him in a kind of parolee purgatory that hinders his chances for success.

He says he has been offered a job as a counselor with a $22,000 starting salary but has been unable to accept because of his uncertain residency status. Parolees without jobs are far more likely to violate parole or commit new crimes.

Cases like his are noteworthy because parolee failures are rampant in California, and experts who have studied the problem say parole violations cost the state up to $1 billion a year, with no relief in sight. If Graves fails to show for a mandatory check-in with his parole officer, a warrant for his arrest could be issued and he could be returned to prison.

"I honestly believe they don't want me to get off parole," he said, referring to the system at large. "We're like cattle. It's a commodity."

Rick Burrows, deputy regional director for the Division of Parole and Community Services, says transfer demands have overwhelmed Sacramento County for months. "We don't even keep a waiting list. We just reject them," he said.

Asked if Graves' job prospects and apparently stable lifestyle as a married man would help bump him to the front of the transfer line, Burrows replied, "Unfortunately, no."

He noted that Graves meets only the minimum requirements for a transfer and that parole officials check out claims of employment and housing before approving any transfer request.

Baker, who receives a government check for a disability tied to her diabetes, says she would be willing to move to a nearby county in order to qualify for a transfer. The daughter of an Elk Grove schoolteacher who grew up in a middle-class household, Baker says she rebelled and ran away as a teenager, eventually meeting up with Graves and perfecting their scheme, which netted them $2,000 on a good night.

Baker, who did a brief stint in prison for theft, has been off parole for a decade. She has seen a dramatic change in Graves in recent years, enough to want to plan a future with him.

"He's a different person. He could be anything he wants to be," she said with a smile. "He's a smart guy. He just needs to be channeled."

Graves says he grew up in poverty and turned to the fast-talking street life at an early age. For years, he kept repeating his mistakes and compounding his problems. Eventually, he promised himself to grow up and fit in.

He says he has plenty to offer as a counselor for at-risk youth.

"I understand them because I've been there," he said. "If I can save one child from going through what I went through, I'll feel my job is done."

Graves' mother, who lives in Buffalo, N.Y., and had not seen her son in 20 years, recently traveled to California to see him, heartened - and convinced - that he had finally decided to turn his life around.

"The last time I saw him he looked like a child and acted like a child. Now he's a man," the 71-year-old mother said from her Buffalo home. "He's been in and out of prison. He's had to change his way of thinking. I can hear it when he talks. He's wiser."

Referring to the parole problem with her son, she said, "I think good things are going to come to him, but he needs all the help he can get."

About the writer:
The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson can be reached at (916) 321-1099 or,0,2682324.story

Ruling Limits Challenges of Parole Denials

In a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court says the Board of Prison Terms may reject inmates' release based on nature of the crimes.
By Maura Dolan
Times Staff Writer

January 25, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court decided Monday to limit sharply the ability of inmates to challenge parole denials, ruling that the parole board has the right to keep a convict in prison simply because of the nature of the crime that sent him there.

The state Board of Prison Terms, which has a history of seldom granting parole, has wide flexibility to deny release to convicted criminals even if they have been model inmates deemed not dangerous by mental health officials, the 4-3 decision said. The ruling is expected to keep behind bars thousands of inmates who are eligible for parole.

Monday's ruling came in the case of John A. Dannenberg, 64, who was convicted of the second-degree murder of his wife in 1985 and sentenced to a term of 15 years to life. Dannenberg has a spotless prison record and favorable psychological evaluations, and his two adult children support his release.

In 1999, the parole board rejected his third request for parole, saying he had committed the murder "in an especially cruel or callous manner" and had "a very trivial" motive to kill. Dannenberg then appealed, saying his record since he was put in prison should have made him eligible for release.

A trial court and Court of Appeal both sided with him. But the Supreme Court disagreed. Even though Dannenberg's record has been clean, the board had the right to deny parole based solely on the nature of his crime, the majority said.

The board "may protect public safety in each discrete case by considering the dangerous implications of a life-maximum prisoner's crime individually," Justice Marvin R. Baxter wrote for the majority.

In dissent, Justice Carlos R. Moreno said the ruling required "judicial rubber stamping" of parole-board decisions. "Failure to grant parole where parole is due wastes human lives, not to mention considerable tax dollars," Moreno wrote.

If an inmate is denied parole because of the nature of the crime, the board should be required at least to compare the gravity of the offense and the time served to other cases with the same conviction, he wrote.

The majority rejected that idea, saying it would be too burdensome. 

To require the board to compare the inmate's crime and time served to that of other inmates with the same convictions would "contribute significantly to backlogs," Baxter wrote. 

Dannenberg killed his wife, Linda, during a fight in their home in Los Gatos. The wealthy engineer had a stormy relationship with his wife, and she had received counseling for trying to harm herself and her children.

During an argument over a blocked bathtub drain, Dannenberg beat her with a pipe wrench. He claimed she first attacked him with a screwdriver while he was attempting to fix the drain.

Dannenberg told police that he passed out momentarily and woke up to find his wife slumped over the edge of the bathtub with her head in the water, where she had drowned. He called 911 and was quickly arrested.

Dannenberg has been behind bars in San Quentin for 18 years. While in prison, he fixed the facility's electrical wiring and volunteered with an inmate education advisory committee and a Jewish religious group for prisoners, the court said. 

In upholding the parole board's decision, Baxter, joined by Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Ming W. Chin and Janice Rogers Brown, said Dannenberg had "reacted with extreme and sustained violence to a domestic argument…. "

"Though he vehemently denied it, the evidence permitted an inference that, while the victim was helpless from her injuries, Dannenberg placed her head in the water, or at least left it there without assisting her until she was dead."

Moreno countered that a second-degree murder conviction always means that a defendant acted violently, cruelly and out of proportion to the provocation. 

Moreover, he said, the board had "an incentive to give only pro-forma consideration" to parole because of the risk that the person could re-offend and the parole board be blamed.

"Dannenberg's present record is not only unblemished in terms of disciplinary infractions, but showed many positive signs of contribution to the prison community in which he lived," wrote Moreno, whose opinion was signed by Justices Joyce L. Kennard and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar.

Over the last 13 years, the parole board has denied release to more than 95% of the eligible inmates who applied.

Even the few approved by the board have not all been released. California is one of three states that allows the governor to override parole recommendations. 

So far, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has accepted about 36% of the board's parole recommendations. Former Gov. Gray Davis approved just 1.7%. His predecessor, Gov. Pete Wilson, approved 67% of the applications that came before him.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Susan Lee Duncan, who represented the state in the case, said the state Supreme Court had made it clear that the parole board has been acting properly.

"They don't have to consider whether this is more serious or less serious than any other offender's crime," Duncan said. "It is strictly a case-by-case consideration, comparing this man and this crime to public safety."

Kathleen Kahn, a lawyer who represented Dannenberg, said the ruling "ratifies" the board's behavior and "allows the board to be as frankly political as it wants to be."

"A few judges in a few counties have really stuck their necks out and said what the board has been doing is really a violation of the law," Kahn said. "I think this opinion is written as a reprimand to those judges."

Tip Kindell, a spokesman for the Board of Prison Terms, said it was pleased that "our position was validated by the Supreme Court.",0,2551252.story?coll=la-home-local

Inmate Says Parole Board Is Biased

By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

January 16, 2005

SACRAMENTO — Winning a parole date is no easy feat for California murderers. Linda Ricchio, serving 27 years to life for killing her former lover, figures her odds of release are slim to none.

She blames her uphill battle on the identity of her 1987 victim, Ronald Ruse. Ruse's sister, Susan Fisher, sits on the state Board of Prison Terms — the very board scheduled to decide this week whether Ricchio is rehabilitated and deserves a second chance.

Ricchio says that's unfair, and wants her bid for parole heard in Superior Court. For five years, she notes, Fisher was director of a major crime victims group now lobbying against the inmate's release.

The legal challenge comes as Fisher — appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last February — prepares for her confirmation hearing in the Senate at the end of this month.

It also reflects a concern voiced by inmate advocates since Fisher's selection: Can a leading figure in the crime victims movement be impartial in judging those who have committed the gravest crime of all?

"Often, I think people in victims' rights organizations tend to make judgments based on a particular offense, rather than assessing each case on its individual merits as the law requires," said Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit firm that monitors conditions for inmates. "That's the concern."

Fisher, 51, declined to be interviewed. She will not sit on the panel assigned to consider parole for Ricchio, but the inmate fears that Fisher's colleagues will be influenced nonetheless.

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger said the governor had no qualms about whether his appointee can be fair.

"She has already granted parole [to other inmates], so she has shown through her actions a willingness to consider these cases on a case-by-case basis," press secretary Margita Thompson said. "The governor, in making such appointments, always receives assurances that the person can be impartial and fulfill the mission of the board."

A Republican from Oceanside, Fisher is the second of Schwarzenegger's three parole board appointees to stir controversy. The first, Richard Loa, stepped down in August amid warnings from Senate leaders that he would not win confirmation. Loa, a Palmdale city councilman, drew sharp complaints for his questioning of prisoners during board hearings.

The third appointee is Chairwoman Margarita Perez, a Democrat from Cameron Park. Though initially criticized for a lack of experience, Perez is expected to be confirmed when she appears with Fisher before the Senate Rules Committee on Jan. 26.

Commissioners on the nine-member board, which evaluates serious offenders whose sentences make them eligible for release, are paid $99,693 a year; the chairwoman earns $103,317.

Fisher is not the first parole board member related to a crime victim, but her leadership on behalf of victims makes her the most prominent. In the 1990s, the board had two commissioners — John Gillis and Steven Baker — who had lost a child to murder. Both men were members of Parents of Murdered Children, a board spokesman said.

A news release on Fisher's appointment said she had been director of the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau since 1999, and a member of that group's board for seven years. She also belonged to two other victims groups and, since 2000, was president of Citizens for Law and Order.

Articulate and poised, she often spoke at legislative hearings before her appointment, and was routinely quoted in media reports on everything from the death penalty to a prison smoking ban. In 2002, she testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, recounting her brother's murder as she lobbied for a bill to prevent the release of personal information.

That activism triggered alarm among inmate advocates when she was named to the parole board. They questioned whether someone with a deep personal loss and strong connections to other victims could keep an open mind when deciding whether incarcerated murderers and kidnappers had changed their ways.

Critics also argued that if the governor named someone aligned with victims, he also should add a member familiar with the concerns of prisoners. The other commissioners have backgrounds in law enforcement.

Ricchio's lawyer shares those concerns, and has filed legal papers seeking to move his client's parole hearing to Superior Court. Although Fisher is not one of two board members assigned to judge Ricchio's readiness for release at a hearing Tuesday, her presence on the larger board amounts to "a serious conflict of interest that works against my client," attorney Rich Pfeiffer said.

In his motion, Pfeiffer said "it is reasonable to infer" that Fisher has shared her feelings about the case with co-workers, arguing that blocking his client's release "has apparently become a mission for the commissioner."

He notes that the website for the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau, the group Fisher formerly led, features a lengthy summary of Ricchio's crime that urges members to write the parole board and demand that she be kept behind bars. Although it is not signed, the letter appears to have been written by a relative of the victim. It closes with: "We loved him very much and we miss him every day. We feel his absence in everything we do as a family."

Tuesday will mark Ricchio's first parole hearing since her conviction 15 years ago. Though her prison record is good, inmates are almost never granted a release date at their initial board appearance. In a telephone interview, Ricchio said that all she wants is a fair hearing.

"I just don't believe the board can be impartial with Susan Fisher's presence," said Ricchio, 44. "The best result for everyone would be to move the hearing to Superior Court."

Parole board officials so far disagree. In a letter to the inmate's lawyer, board attorney Deborah Bain said "there is no evidence that Ms. Fisher has previously advocated her position" on the Ricchio case, and no evidence that the board "will not discharge its duties in … a fair manner."

Fisher no longer serves as an officer for any victims group, board officials said, and her voting pattern is similar to those of other members. Out of 455 hearings, she voted to grant parole in about 7% of the cases, slightly below the board average of 8% for 2004.

"If Miss Fisher were assigned to this case, then clearly that would be a conflict," said Tip Kindel, communications director for the board. "But to suggest that her relationship to the victim influences the board as a whole is a real stretch."

Fisher does not plan to attend Ricchio's hearing, though she has a legal right to do so as the victim's next of kin. Her parents and three sisters, however, say they will be there. One of them, Laurie Mallon of Escondido, said the family is approaching the hearing with a sense of dread, revisiting memories they would rather forget.

"Even though 17 years have gone by, we feel the same as we felt then," said Mallon, a bank loan officer. "The pain she caused my brother is forever. The pain she caused our family is forever. Where is the equity in discussing whether Linda should get out now?"

Mallon said that in her view, Ricchio should never be released. No matter how well she performs in prison, Mallon said, "no matter how many Bible study classes she attends, we believe she is a violent person who really hasn't taken responsibility for what she's done."

Ricchio shot and killed Ruse, an auto mechanic, on Dec. 14, 1987, outside his Carlsbad apartment. The crime was called the "fatal attraction" killing — a reference to the movie released that year starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas — because of trial testimony that she was obsessed with Ruse and unwilling to let their eight-year relationship end.

Ricchio gave a different account, saying she had planned to commit suicide in front of Ruse but shot him accidentally. A jury convicted her of first-degree murder, and a state appeals court upheld the verdict.

After 15 years at the California Institution for Women in Chino, Ricchio said she is ready for parole. "I don't minimize my responsibility for Ron's death, and his death will live within me each and every day, whether I'm incarcerated or not," she said. "But I also believe I have served my time. I am not a threat to the victim's family or society."

Posted on Mon, Dec. 13, 2004 

Policy change would speed parole for thousands of ex-cons

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - Parole agents would end their supervision of thousands of nonviolent ex-convicts nearly two years early under a policy that will take greater advantage of existing state law, corrections officials said Monday.

It's the latest in a string of recent attempts to reform a parole system dubbed a "billion-dollar failure" last year by the watchdog Little Hoover Commission.

Officials originally projected as many as 25,000 ex-cons might qualify to end their normal three years of parole after just one year, saving the state nearly $60 million next year.

"It won't even be half that amount," said Jim L'Etoile, who became acting parole director a week ago. "Our agents have to work in the real world. ... If the parolee has proven himself to be a problem in supervision, that parolee won't be discharged."

That means thousands fewer will qualify because they might be a public safety risk, including sex offenders, violent criminals, those with an extensive criminal history and those who lack jobs or permanent homes. Those selected will have to have met the conditions of their parole for at least a year.

The program will apply mostly to the 22 percent of ex-cons who already receive minimum supervision, who often simply report by mail on their whereabouts and activities.

About 43 percent of parolees are at the next level, where they generally have to report in person to a parole agent. Many of them may also qualify to end their supervision early, L'Etoile said. The remaining classes of parolees at higher levels of supervision are mostly unlikely to qualify.

"If this translates to agents being able to focus on serious offenders, then this potentially is a good thing," said Lance Corcoran, vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. But historically, once caseloads fall the number of parole agents has been cut, he said.

Corcoran said the union suspects the move may be what he called population manipulation, in which corrections officials claim more inmates rehabilitated without having provided any more programs to help ex-cons reform.

State law since 1988 has allowed nonviolent parolees without problems to end their supervision after a year. Parole agents who have misgivings can ask the Board of Prison Terms to extend an individual's supervision the entire three-year term.

The department wants to make sure that law is applied aggressively. A memo outlining the policy and public safety precautions should be sent to parole agents statewide by month's end, said L'Etoile.

The policy had been delayed by voters' passage last month of Proposition 69, which greatly expands the state's DNA database beyond current state law requiring collection of samples from people convicted of any of 36 serious felonies. The department will have to collect genetic material from all its parolees before they can be released from supervision, said department spokesman George Kostyrko.

L'Etoile expects to have projections of the number of parolees who might qualify, and the resulting cost savings, to the Department of Finance by month's end for use in next year's budget.

Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said the budget will reflect whatever prison officials say is realistic, as administration officials insisted the parole changes are not about saving money but about following the law.

The budget now projects nearly $60 million in savings based on parole changes anticipated last July, but many of those have been far less successful than the department had expected.

L'Etoile's predecessor was transferred last week to a different job within the department after those changes, announced with fanfare last spring, failed to trim the near-record inmate population and chronic cost overruns.


California Department of Corrections:

Juvenile board runs out of cash 
Davis-Burton rift spurs budget crisis 

Greg Lucas, Sacramento Bureau Chief         Friday, March 7, 2003 

Sacramento -- The board that decides whether juvenile wards of the state should be paroled has run out of money and will partially shutter its operations beginning today. The budget problems for the Youthful Offender Parole Board stem from a yearlong fight between Gov. Gray Davis and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, over the board's performance. Burton insists that the board is cavalier and out of touch with California Youth Authority programs and that its duties should be given to local juvenile courts. 

Davis says that stripping responsibility from the board would burden counties and lead to different parole policies in each locality. Last year, Davis vetoed a bill sponsored by Burton that would have shifted some of the board's power to local juvenile court judges. To encourage Davis to sign the measure, Burton had placed six months of funding for the board in the budget and the remaining $1.6 million in his bill. 

Davis' veto meant the seven-member board would run out of money in January. The Democratic governor has also left two slots on the board vacant for over a year, one for nearly two years. The board has lurched along since January, said Steve Green, a spokesman for the Youth and Adult Corrections Agency, but now the money is gone. Civil servants will continue to be paid, but Davis appointees to the board won't, Green said. No travel expenses will be paid, and neither will the phone company or the board's landlord. "We're unfunded. We've been conducting our hearings without pay for February," said Raul Galindo, the board's chair. "Hopefully, there will be some resolution so we can adequately do our jobs." 

Annual parole hearings for youth authority inmates who committed serious crimes will be postponed, said Green, because those hearings require a gubernatorial appointee's participation. "I think this will be resolved within days, not months," Green said. The Davis administration said it began negotiating with Burton on a compromise shortly after the veto in September. Burton and others don't remember it like that. "They never once talked to us about the veto. When it was vetoed our people contacted them and said where do we go from here?" Burton said. "We never heard one word from them until the first week in January, at which time all they said was give us the money." 

Even so, Burton agrees a compromise is close that would be similar to a bill he introduced earlier this year to move the board back into the youth authority, where it was from 1941 to 1980. "The place is long overdue for reform and that's what's going to happen, one way or another," Burton said. Under the potential compromise, the board would still be independently appointed by the governor, but its decisions would be reviewed by the juvenile court judge who handled the inmate's case. 

 E-mail Greg Lucas at  . 

Criminal Justice and the California Deficit 
Parole the elderly 
Vince Beiser
Sunday, February 9, 2003 
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle 


Amid the intensifying battle in Sacramento over California's budget deficit, Gov. Gray Davis is coming under fire for his proposal to cut funds for schools and health care while boosting spending on prisons. Davis says preserving public safety requires no less. 

But there's at least one safe, simple and immediate thing the state could do that would save millions: parole inmates who are too old to be dangerous. 

Inmates are expensive, and none more so than elderly ones. The average prisoner costs California taxpayers more than $26,000 a year. But elderly inmates typically cost up to three times more, primarily because of their greater medical needs. Many older prisoners are five to 10 years "older" physiologically than chronologically, their bodies prematurely worn down from years of alcohol and drug abuse and the stress of prison life. According to the Washington-based Project for Older Prisoners, the average convict over 55 - - considered geriatric among prison experts -- will suffer three chronic illnesses while incarcerated. And taxpayers foot every penny of their medical bills. 

That's no small matter in a state where the correctional system has grown to gargantuan proportions. Ten years ago, California incarcerated some 115,000 inmates; today, it holds more than 160,000, at an annual cost exceeding $5 billion. 

Health care costs have grown even faster: The Department of Corrections will spend more than $900 million on total medical expenses this year, triple the amount of a decade ago. That's partly because the number of elderly prisoners has also roughly tripled in the last decade, the result of baby-boom demographics and ever-lengthening sentences. California now holds more than 6, 000 prisoners older than 55, many of them already in such dismal health that they couldn't commit new crimes if they wanted to. If you move the bar up to age 70, that still leaves 503 inmates. Paroling just those septuagenarians could save tens of millions of dollars annually. 

Of course, not every prisoner over 55 can be safely released. Many have committed serious crimes and are in good enough health that they need to be locked up. But in general, paroling ailing elderly prisoners appears a pretty safe bet. The recidivism rate is less than 2 percent for prisoners over 55, according to federal Bureau of Justice research. And the cost of monitoring a convict on parole is about a tenth that of keeping one in prison. There's a noncash bonus, too: Letting sick, feeble old men and women live out their last days at home with their families is more humane than letting them slowly disintegrate in cellblocks filled with predatory younger inmates. 

Several other cash-strapped states are already releasing nonviolent offenders to save money or are considering doing so, including such law-and- order bastions as Arkansas and Oklahoma. And California, like many states, already has on the books little-used policies allowing for compassionate release of sick or elderly inmates deemed harmless. 

Davis, however, has firmly declared his opposition to early release for convicts. That's no surprise, given how beholden he is to the state's powerful prison guards' union, which handed him more than $1 million in campaign contributions last year alone. 

But Davis is facing a fight from legislators -- including Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco -- who support the notion of releasing unthreatening inmates. The Senate recently passed a bill that, among other correctional money-saving measures, would allow nonviolent inmates to be paroled one month early and prohibit those convicted of petty theft from being sentenced to prison. 

Nobody wants to see dangerous felons let loose just to save money. But letting hundreds of old men and women in poor health go home, under the scrutiny of parole agents, hardly seems like much of a threat. Would we really rather keep old convicts behind bars than keep full funding for kindergartens and hospitals? 

Vince Beiser is a San Francisco-based journalist who writes often on prison and criminal justice issues. 

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle 

Davis OKs parole for only third prisoner 

STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer  Monday, December 23, 2002 

(12-23) 16:06 PST SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Gov. Gray Davis approved the parole of a 71-year-old inmate Monday, marking only the third time he has upheld a parole date set by the state Board of Prison Terms. Davis' announcement that he did not object to the March 21 release of Chu Ly of Stockton came six days after the state Supreme Court said he had broad powers to block paroles. Ly was sentenced to 15 years to life for second-degree murder in the March 1987 shooting of 21-year-old Christopher Dabbs, who allegedly had been vandalizing cars in Ly's Laotian neighborhood. Ly, who is being held at the California Men's Colony near San Luis Obispo, said he was only trying to scare Dabbs and his companion when he fired a shot in their direction and denied saying "good" when the bullet hit Dabbs. 

Ly said he couldn't speak English at the time. He also disputed an account that had him hiding in a van to wait for the youths. Davis rejected a parole date for Ly back in January but said he reconsidered after the Stockton police chief, prosecutors and the judge in the case supported Ly's release. The governor also said that Ly and his neighbors had been repeatedly targeted by "hate-related" crimes and had been unable to get help from the police. A San Joaquin County deputy district attorney, Robert Himelblau, testified at Ly's parole hearing that the vandalism was premeditated because Dabbs "did not like Asians or blacks." Himelblau said his office did not support or oppose Ly's parole, although he thought Davis made the right decision. 

He said he testified at the parole hearing to correct errors in the record. "It's one of those delicate political tightropes that people have to walk," he said. San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge William Murray Jr., a former deputy district attorney, wrote the Board of Prison Terms that he wholeheartedly supported parole for Ly. He said that when he was a prosecutor he offered to let Ly plead guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, but that Ly refused because he believed that any admission of guilt would mean he would be immediately executed. "To be sure, Mr. Ly's crime is unjustifiable," Davis said in a review of the case. 

"However, I am struck by the fact that the prosecutors have provided a very different picture of the circumstances surrounding the shooting than suggested by the file during my last review of this case. "Also, I believe the repeated provocation and lack of police intervention placed Mr. Ly under significant stress that had been building over a long period of time. Notably, Mr. Ly had no criminal record prior to the life offense and his psychological evaluators have found that he is not a criminally minded individual." Dabbs' family did not attend the parole hearing to protest Ly's release, said Stephen Green, a spokesman for the state's Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. 

Himelblau suggested that Davis had no choice but to approve the parole under the narrow restrictions on his powers cited in last week's Supreme Court ruling, but Green disagreed. The decision "says the governor can consider the seriousness of the crime and that in itself is enough to deny parole," Green said. Davis has rejected 166 paroles approved by the Board of Prison Terms since he took office in 1999, said Davis spokesman Byron Tucker. The only two previous paroles approved by the governor were for abused women who killed men they said had threatened their children. 

January 12, 2002 


Editor - Regarding the article, "A life behind bars" (Jan. 5): As a California resident, I find our 
governor's blanket "no-parole" policy for convicted murderers arrogant, undemocratic and obnoxious. 

There are reasons why, as taxpayers, we provide for people with expertise in a variety of fields to 
perform a variety of necessary social functions - and reasons why we have a balance of powers among various branches and agencies of the state government to prevent anyone from taking on the role of dictator. As self-appointed state psychologist and criminal justice expert, the governor has repeatedly declared null and void the findings of parole board and prison officials whose knowledge and experience in such matters must certainly far outweigh his own. 

In the case of Julius Domantay,  Gov. Gray Davis found the psychological assessments recommending parole "less than convincing," and in conference with no one declared Domantay's parole an "unreasonable risk." Why are we paying for the services of parole board officials while our governor refuses to let them do their jobs? As far as I can see, Davis' no-parole policy is wholly a politically motivated one, in the interests of neither public safety nor criminal rehabilitation, but of the governor himself. MARK C. EADES 

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