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Authorities Monitoring Sex Offenders Overwhelmed By Backlog Of Alerts

Monitors worn by convicted sex offenders in Southern California have sent out more than 31,000 alerts this spring, backlogging authorities who are struggling to review them for potential violations, according to a published report Wednesday.

Records obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune show that some of the unresolved alerts date back to March.

The alerts from GPS trackers included low batteries, lost signals and potentially more serious problems such as offenders entering or leaving restricted areas or cutting the straps on their ankle bracelets, the newspaper reported.

The state spends about $60 million a year to track about 7,000 convicted sex offenders via GPS.

State parole authorities decided this year to evaluate and document every GPS alert after it was found that sex offender John Albert Gardner III had more than 150 violations of his parole while wearing a GPS tracker - including some that could have sent him back to prison. Gardner recently pleaded guilty to the rape and murders of 14-year-old Amber Dubois last year and 17-year-old Chelsea King this year, both in San Diego County.

Gardner had been released from parole in 2008. His parole agent did not review the data because he was considered a low-risk sex offender.

One reason for the backlog is that computer software used by parole supervisors didn't keep a running account of unresolved alerts, but the problem has been corrected, said Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which oversees probation.

"We have stated several times that GPS is an evolving science, where technology and best practices continue to be fluid," Hinkle told the Union-Tribune. "This is a new policy, and as CDCR leads the nation in GPS development, more improvements will be made."

Most alerts are for minor issues, such as an offender driving past a park or the GPS tracker having a low battery, said Peggy Conway, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring.

The Corrections Department last week approved overtime for agents to examine the alerts, but their time would be better spent in the field, said Melinda Silva, president of the Parole Agents Association of California.

"This policy has created so much busy work that this work cannot get done," she said. "The real work of getting out and supervising these people is not getting done."

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