Damning results from a Los Angeles Times investigation exposing the practice of state parolees removing GPS monitors absolutely demand that the state re-examine and retool its parole policies.
That reassessment must happen sooner rather than later. The danger is obvious and immediate.
The Times' investigation reveals that since October 2011 more than 3,400 arrest warrants have been issued for parolees who tampered with their state-issued GPS monitoring once they are paroled. What's worse, most of the warrants are for sex offenders, who make up the vast majority of parolees using GPS to track their whereabouts. The implications here are nothing short of chilling.
The date is significant because it is when Gov. Jerry Brown's "realignment" program began sending state parole violators to county jails instead of returning them to state prisons. Realignment is part of a response to court orders that the state reduce its prison population.
The parolees who disable tracking devices are gambling that the state's prisons are too full for them to be returned there.
It is apparently a good gamble because, according to the Times' report, many counties are under their own court orders to reduce their jail populations causing parole violators to be freed quickly after arrest. Some counties have refused to accept parole violators at all.
In the past, sex offenders who violated parole -- through GPS manipulation or any other reason -- would remain in prison until they received a hearing that could send them back to state custody for up to a year. Realignment changed that. Now the maximum penalty is six months in jail and many violators never serve that time.
That is simply unacceptable.
Please understand, we are not condemning realignment or the court's order to reduce prison population. Both are necessary. Realignment is an innovative approach to a difficult problem. And the court is right that the system had far too many prisoners for the space available.
We understand and are sympathetic to the notion that major directional changes in state policy can spawn unintended consequences. One could easily argue that California is ground zero for such events.
The sin is not in not finding an unintended consequence, but in not fixing it. Once a serious policy consequence surfaces, it must be addressed effectively. One as serious as this should become an urgent matter of public safety. It cannot be allowed to languish in the state's bureaucratic abyss -- where good intentions go to die -- just waiting for the next high-profile case to expose it again.
We do not pretend to have all the answers, but we feel state government must endeavor to find them. Perhaps the Legislature should begin with a bill by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Los Angeles, that would require that parolees who tamper with their GPS monitors be sent back to prison for up to three years. If that is not the right answer, there are other bills to be heard.
But now that the problem has been revealed, lawmakers have a responsibility to act quickly and effectively to protect the public.