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Audit Finds California Parolees Sometimes Slip Through Bureaucratic Cracks

At the request of the legislature, the Bureau of State Audits examined the adult parole discharge practices of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and found that parolees, even those regarded as violent or serious offenders, occasionally slip through bureaucratic cracks in policies designed to prevent their premature discharge from parole.

Upon completion of their prison terms, California prisoners are released into the community to serve statutory periods of parole which vary in length (from three years to life) depending on the type of commitment offense. State law, however, permits early discharge from parole upon service of a specified period of continuous parole (which varies in length from one to seven years, again depending on the type of commitment offense). Indeed, early discharge is required and occurs automatically, absent a finding of good cause by the parole board, 30 days following service of the specified continuous-parole period. Thus, and because California now discharges more than 40,000 felon parolees annually, failure of the parole board to exercise its discretion, in cases where retention is warranted, can have significant public safety implications.

In an August 2008 report, the State Auditor found that responsible parole units failed to submit discharge review reports for nearly 5,000, or 9 percent, of the parolees discharged over a 15-month period commencing January 2007. As a consequence of that failure, the parole board was not given an opportunity to exercise its discretion to retain any of those parolees – approximately 15 percent of whom had been convicted of violent or serious offenses.

The State Auditor also found 31 instances in which district administrators, acting within their lawful discretion, had discharged parolees despite retention recommendations by subordinate staff. In 15 of those cases, explanations for overriding the retention recommendations were not provided.

One district administrator, the State Auditor found, had discharged parolees after using corrective liquid to alter the retention recommendations of subordinate staff. He did so, he explained, because case records sometimes failed to notice that he had overridden a subordinate’s retention recommendation. Disturbingly, in five years – until the audit brought the practice to light – he had never been told that this was inappropriate. Since being so informed, he has reportedly ceased this practice.

In response to the audit, Corrections reported that it had taken steps to ensure, among other things, that discharge review reports are prepared for every parolee eligible for discharge and that district administrators document their reasons for overriding staff-recommended parole retentions. The report is available on PLN’s website.

Source: California State Auditor’s Report, August 2008, Report #2008-104.

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