Despite reassurances from state officials that the thousands of inmates due to be released early from prisons will be low-risk offenders, Glendale and Burbank authorities say the state is abdicating its duties, forcing their officers to act as parole agents.
Starting Jan. 25, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was allowed to begin releasing inmates early in an effort to relieve overcrowded prisons, cut costs and reduce the burden on overworked parole agents.
But the program has been a source of contention between the state and local law enforcement officials, who say freeing inmates without active parole supervision threatens public safety.
Glendale, Burbank, La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta could see up to 44 newly released inmates move into their communities without supervision, although local officials say that number could be far higher.
“We are expecting that list is probably going to shrink, but that is a conservative estimate and projection,” said Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa said the state figures are off because a 50% caseload reduction would leave the other half without supervision.
“We think that those estimates are underestimated,” De Pompa said.
Glendale police estimate that the city could see up to 315 inmates released by 2011, he said.
The state projected that 6,500 inmates could be released this year due to parole changes, and fewer of them will return to prison because of successful reentry or less restrictive monitoring, Hinkle said.
“As far as public safety, in general for the state as a whole, we think it’s a vast improvement,” he said.
But local authorities have said that state parolees have a high rate of recidivism, which means the program would further drain resources.
“It means that criminals are going to end up on this turnstile apparatus that keeps putting them out on the streets,” he said.
Glendale police arrest about 170 parolees for criminal offenses each year, De Pompa added.
“We are dealing with career criminals,” he said.
State officials acknowledge that California inmates have a high rate of recidivism compared to other states, but say the issue could be combated through prison education and substance abuse rehabilitation.
‘We are all in the same boat...’
Officials say that because the cities share borders, they also share in any impact to local crime trends.
“We are all in the same boat,” said Burbank Mayor Gary Bric. “It doesn’t matter where they live.”
Hard hiring freezes are in place in Burbank and Glendale, affecting their ability to staff up.
“Currently we are not going to be putting more officers on there, and the state is not going to be funding us any money to put any officers on the streets,” Bric said.
Interim Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse said he supported proposed legislation that would allow authorities to object to some releases while requiring timely notifications to police departments of pending parolees.
“I think it’s unfortunate; what is happening is one layer of government is kind of pushing a problem down to another layer of government,” he said.
And since the certain inmates won’t require parole supervision, finding them won’t be easy, he said.
“It would be nice if the Department of Corrections could let us know ahead of time what the residences were of these individuals at the time they were incarcerated because that way we could set up our own monitoring,” LaChasse said.
LaChasse and De Pompa said that with a lack of state help, officers may be stepping into the roles of parole agents in an effort to monitor the released inmates.
“What they are forcing on the local communities is kind of a community-based parole management responsibility, so certainly we are stepping up to the plate, and we are going to try to do everything we can at the local level other than rearresting them,” De Pompa said.
But Hinkle said fears of major crime impacts to local communities were out of touch with the type of inmates slated to be released.
“Are there going to be exceptions that someone gets placed on [unsupervised parole] and goes and commits a crime? Of course. It’s just a numbers game, but is that person likely to go out and commit a triple homicide? Probably not,” Hinkle said.
“They are probably going to be somebody who commits a new burglary or new drug offense, but when the state is strapped for new finances, where are we going to focus our resources, on those that are committing sex crimes against children and those who are committing murders and rape, or are we going to focus on the fraudulent check writer?” he continued.
Still, some victims, such as those who were stalked, could be in danger since certain inmates will not be monitored, said Christine Ward, executive director of the California-based Crime Victims Action Alliance.
“I understand that the state is in a very difficult position right now and where they need to balance the budget, but they also need to take into account the safety of their constituents, and we worry that this particular plan is not going to do anything to benefit public safety,” she said.
Her organization was most concerned about a potential spike in property crimes, Ward said, and about strained law enforcement agencies leaving openings for local vigilantes to rise up.
“Our biggest fear is next time that person who is robbed is going to buy a shotgun and start taking the law into their own hands,” she said. “If the state or the counties aren’t able to protect us, then we have to do it ourselves.”
Inmates are released, so what’s next?
City officials are pushing to require inmates to register with local police departments and get workforce training, De Pompa said.
The Verdugo Jobs Center received a $171,959 grant to provide employment services, case management and job-placement assistance to 100 early-release parolees.
The center has already offered training in heating, air-conditioning and mechanics to some parolees, city officials said. Hinkle said the training is a key component in keeping parolees out of prison.
Glendale officials, however, are skeptical.
“Historically, it has not been effective,” Glendale Mayor Frank Quintero said.
“But you have to give it a try.”