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California Parole System Criticized

California Parole System Criticized

GLORIA PENNER (Host): There's renewed interest in the accused killer of teenager Chelsea King. Reports of John Gardner violating the terms of his parole after a sex-offense conviction, are stirring criticism of the parole, and sex offender monitoring agencies. Ricky Young, government editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune is with me to explain. So Ricky what have we learned about Garner's activites after he was paroled as a convicted sex offender, that has stirred this concern?

RICKY YOUNG (Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, he got on parole in 2005 after a 2000 incident where he molested and beat a 13-year-old Rancho Bernardo girl. And, the provisions of his parole called for a number of things. It didn't allow for him to live in certain places, it didn't allow for him to be on the Internet, didn't allow all sorts of things and its turned out that in at least seven cases, and we uncovered an eighth this week, regarding him having a Myspace page, that he violated his parole.

PENNER: But he was never sent back to prison.

YOUNG: Never sent back to prison.

PENNER: So how does the parole board explain this?

YOUNG: Well one thing they say is that uh the prisons are full and if they sent someone back to prison every time they violated one of these provisions, some of which are fairly minor, that they just wouldn't have room for them.

PENNER: So that's the total response? The prisons are full, so if people violate parole they just stay free.

YOUNG: That's one of their responses. They also say they do a diligent job and there's different interpretations of some of these violations. But I would say the main problem is the prisons are full.

PENNER: OK and...

YOUNG: And that's evidenced in the news this week about you know, you have some crime victim groups suing, saying that the state should not be doing this new program it has to release some prisoners early. There's another program that has put some people on parole that is non revocable, so uh even if you did commit a violation you wouldn't go back in. So they're actually formalizing that policy as opposed to just not doing it in some cases.

PENNER: So the world is just becoming a more dangerous place?

YOUNG: Well, uh, it certainly seems that way, that more criminals are ending up out on the streets as a result of this.

PENNER: But this is a man who is accused of committing a murder when theoretically, he should have been in prison because of parole violations.

YOUNG: Well had he gone back on his parole violations, he would not necessarily still have been in prison now. But here's what would have happened is, he would have gone back to prison, and then when he was released the second time from prison he would have been subject to the rules of Jessica's Law, which have some provisions like some stricter monitoring, this sort of thing, in particular for sex offenders.

PENNER: Well one local politician is calling for changes to strengthen the sex offender laws. What changes is he looking for?

YOUNG: Well that's Nathan Fletcher who represents the area where Chelsea King lived, and he has teamed up with her parents in a very emotional plea to do something, they haven't exactly defined what that something is, but there are provisions like a one-strike law where a sex offender would be put in prison for life. Now, you know, when the prisons are already overcrowded and they are starting to let dangerous criminals out, I'm not sure how that would work or where they would find the funding, but they're trying to sort that out and they have a lot of support. The Kings have a Facebook page, they are asking people to send blue ribbons to Sacramento, you know, but we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars this would cost and no identified funding source at a time when the state has monumental financial problems.

PENNER: But it's a gesture that tells us something about the tenor of the public now. Are we seeing now that the public is becoming more tough on crime?

YOUNG: I think there is just a desire to do something, to try and prevent this from happening again. There's experts who say that different things would work. Like what if we just enforced the laws we have? But then you wouldn't be able to call that Chelsea's Law. You know, "Chelsea's Law mandated that we follow all of the previous laws." Not very appealing in the end. You know there's also experts who say the problem is not on the prison or offender end, but that you should try to get to these folks when they are younger, that you should have better provisions to treat kids who were abused as children, so they don't turn around and abuse people in the future.

PENNER: That's true...

YOUNG: You know but that's something that goes long term and doesn't get the visceral response people would get from passing a law right now.

PENNER: You talked a little bit about the Myspace page that John Gardner was apparently on. Why is the internet being used by sex offenders particularly dangerous for the public?

YOUNG: Uh, well it's a very, uh, expeditious way for sex offenders to get in touch with children who are on the internet. You know, you see the show, uh you know the Dateline show "To Catch a Predator," and that seems to be a uh tool that they use. And so that's why it's particularly important to victim advocates that they be kept off the Internet.

PENNER: Yeah it seems kind of hard to police that. There are 600,000 registered sex offenders in the nation. I mean how feasible is it for corrections agencies to scour the Internet for use by offenders?

YOUNG: Well, they have many tools. I mean one of them is – uh, somebody out on parole has no 4th Amendment right against searches and seizures. So you can go right into their house and see if they have a computer, for one thing. And then also we're told by parole agents who think that this should be a routine part of the checks, that each parole office has what it needs to make these kind of checks, deeper than you could on Google or something, to find whether the guy you are in charge of supervising is on the Internet or not.

PENNER: Well the story goes on. Thank you very much Ricky Young.

YOUNG: Thanks Gloria.