SACRAMENTO -- The number of paroled sex offenders who are fugitives in California is 15 percent higher today than before Gov. Jerry Brown's sweeping law enforcement realignment law took effect 17 months ago, according to figures released Wednesday by the state corrections department.
The increase amounts to 360 more sex offenders whose whereabouts were unknown and who were not reporting to their parole officers last year.
An Associated Press analysis of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data shows that 2,706 paroled sex offenders dropped out of sight in the 15 months since the new law took effect in October 2011, compared to 2,346 in the 15 months before realignment. The numbers were obtained by the AP before their public release.
That's an average of 180 sex offender fugitives each month, up from 156 before realignment.
Attention has focused on parolees who cut off or disable their GPS-linked ankle bracelets, meaning that parole agents are unable to track their movements by satellite. Sex offender parolees are required to wear the tracking devices under Jessica's Law, approved by state voters in 2006.
The governor's realignment law sends lower-level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons and was enacted in part to conform to a federal court order to reduce the inmate population.
Before the law took effect in 2011, those who violated their parole by tampering with the devices could have been returned to state prison for up to a year. Now they can be sentenced to up to six months in county jails, but many are released within days because local jails are overcrowded.
Some county jails refuse to accept the parole violators at all.
The problem varies greatly by county. Many saw no significant change, while some saw decreases in the number of sex offenders who could no longer be located.
But the number nearly doubled in Fresno County, from 62 before realignment to 116 through the end of last year. The number jumped from 685 to 847 in Los Angeles County, which produces about a third of the state's criminals.
Among other large counties in Southern California, Orange County saw an increase from 91 to 119; Riverside County from 131 to 151; and San Bernardino County from 154 to 195. The number dropped slightly in San Diego County, from 141 to 140.
In the Central Valley, Kern County saw an increase in the number of fugitive sex offenders from 51 to 67, Sacramento County from 170 to 191 and San Joaquin County from 74 to 94. San Francisco increased from 72 to 84.
The majority of fugitives are quickly recaptured, the figures show. It's the punishment after they are back in custody that has changed, with overcrowding in county jails creating a revolving door that often allows criminals to go free within days.
In Alameda County, for instance, eight of 106 parolees eluded capture last year. There were four parolees still missing in Fresno County, 71 in Los Angeles County, 11 in Orange County, seven in Riverside County, nine in Sacramento County, 18 in San Bernardino County, and four in San Diego County.
"Criminals have been removing their GPS devices for as long as they've been using them. It's a crime we take very seriously. We aggressively track and arrest convicts who commit it," said state corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman.
Parolees are recaptured in an average of 12 days, she said.
The problem has prompted state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, to introduce SB57, which would make disabling the tracking device a felony and send parolees back to state prison for up to three years if they cut off their GPS monitors.
His bill would apply not only to state parolees, but to offenders who are ordered to wear the tracking devices as a condition of their county probation. If passed by two-thirds of lawmakers and signed by Brown, his bill would take effect immediately instead of Jan. 1.
Lieu cited last month's arrest of Sidney Jerome DeAvila, a parolee charged with killing his grandmother in Stockton.
DeAvila disabled his ankle bracelet at least seven times, according to records, but served little time behind bars. Most recently, he was sentenced to 30 days in the San Joaquin County jail for tampering with his bracelet and failing to register as a sex offender. A judge ordered his release a week later because of overcrowding, and within a week he was arrested for robbing, raping and killing his 76-year-old grandmother in her home.
Reinstating stronger punishments for removing the tracking devices could help the state reduce the prison population in the long run, Lieu said. He pointed to a study last year for the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice that sex offenders whose movements were not being tracked were more than twice as likely to be re-arrested and nearly three times as likely to commit new sex crimes that could result in long prison sentences for new crimes.
The corrections department could not explain why its numbers differed from a report last month by the Los Angeles Times that said more than 3,400 arrest warrants had been issued for parolees tampering with the devices since the realignment law took effect. The Times calculated a 28 percent increase in such arrest warrants last year over 2011.
The Times story included gang members and may have counted parolees who had repeated violations, while the department's figures included individual sex offenders who were considered parolees at large.