Historic parole reforms increase public safety and rehabilitation

In order to make our communities safer places to live and work, California has embarked on a bold mission this year to reinvent important aspects of how we supervise individuals on parole. Supported by national research and advice from public safety experts, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is significantly increasing parole supervision of parolees that pose a high risk of re-offending, establishing teams to hunt down parolees who have fled from parole and dramatically increasing the training and supervision of new agents.

The first fundamental shift is to reduce caseloads for parole agents in the field, especially those supervising high risk offenders.  This will not only allow agents to hold parolees more accountable, but will also give agents time to assist offenders to become productive members of society. Once caseloads are reduced, agents will no longer only be evaluated only on how well they enforce parole terms, but also on how well they work with parolees toward successful reentry. Lower caseloads will allow agents to monitor a parolee’s progress and take appropriate action, such as enrolling the offender in drug treatment, anger management and/or employment assistance programs. A parolee that can overcome the issues that spark his or her criminal behavior means a safer society for all of us.

To kick-start these reforms, CDCR launched a pilot program on Aug. 1 which will reduce agent caseloads from 70 parolees to 48 parolees for specific units in Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Sonoma counties.  The caseload reduction will be implemented statewide as new parole agents are added over the next year.

The second major advancement involves targeting parolees who abscond from supervision. To this end, the department has established dedicated teams to apprehend these dangerous individuals and to date; these teams have arrested nearly 2,000 parolees on the run.  Among those arrested were notorious street gang members and sex offenders who pose great risk to the public.

Additionally, CDCR is fully committed to using the most modern technological equipment to fight crime.  Working with local law enforcement, our agents are placing GPS ankle monitors on 1,000 high risk gang members throughout California, adding 1,200 electronic tracking devices for parole violators and enhancing GPS monitoring requirements for sex offenders.

Finally, we are renewing our commitment to training and field supervision by asking some of our best agents to pass on their expertise and experience in the role of field training officers.  In that capacity, they will work closely with new agents for 10 weeks, helping them to successfully transition from the parole-agent academy to the real-world of supervising dangerous offenders on the street.

These parole reforms were recommended by the California Parole Reform Task Force, a 19-member body comprised of national public safety leaders, treatment specialists, state correctional facility and parole administrators and agents. The task force evaluated best practices from other states and national studies before making the recommendations adopted as part of CDCR parole division’s “Five Year Roadmap” to effective supervision strategies. Implementation of the projects outlined in the “Roadmap” began last September and will continue throughout 2010 and the remaining five years.

Some have voiced concern over our new supervision model, specifically questioning whether we can afford to spend the money necessary to carry out these changes in difficult budget times.  Indeed, we likely could not have made these significant improvements with new funds.  But in this case the reforms are being paid for with money saved by the statutory changes to parole passed last year by the legislature and signed by the Governor. These statutory changes eliminated supervision for lower-risk individuals (only 15 percent of all parolees), while keeping them subject to search and seizure by law enforcement. This change not only paid for the improved supervision of the remaining parolees, but it also was recommended by national experts who pointed out that California was only one of two states in the nation that placed every individual coming out of prison on parole.  While there is some risk of misconduct associated with every parolee, we’ve seen first-hand that spreading our supervision resources across all offenders, regardless of criminal history or risk, wasn’t the safest approach for California.  

Through these reforms, California is taking bold steps to improve its approach to public safety. CDCR is implementing the latest, most effective strategies to maximize the effectiveness of supervising parolees in California while being wise with tax money. To be successful, truly effective parole reform will require support and dedication of the state’s leaders to maintain this drive towards what has proven to reduce risk and improve public safety.   

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