(Michael Winter, USA TODAY)
Several thousand paroled sex criminals in California are wanted for ditching or disabling their GPS tracking devices, a consequence of a federal court order to ease prison overcrowding, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
The paper said some parolees have been charged with new sex crimes, kidnapping or attempted manslaughter.
In 2006, Californians mandated that sex offenders wear GPS monitors for life. The state has more than 6,600 sex offenders equipped with GPS devices, the most in the nation. Florida is second, with about 1,800.
Between October 2011, when a court-approved "realignment" began, and the end of 2012, more than 3,400 arrest warrants were issued for GPS tamperers, nearly all of them convicted child molesters, rapists and what the Times called "other high-risk sex offenders." Many are repeat offenders living in rural counties who have violated parole several times.
To comply with the court order, the state started sending parole violators to county jails rather than return them to prison.
The Times' investigation found, however, that some counties have released parole violators within hours or days of arrest, while other counties have refused to take them.
The paper recounts the case of Rithy Mam, a convicted child stalker who was arrested three times in two months for violating parole. Each time, he was freed almost immediately. After his third release, his ankle bracelet went off and he disappeared. He was later arrested in Stockton and charged with molesting two teenage girls.
The Times explains the tracking problem:
The devices are programmed to record offenders' movements and are intended, at least in part, to deter them from committing crimes. The devices, attached to rubber ankle straps embedded with fiber-optic cable, transmit signals monitored by a private contractor.
They are easy to cut off, but an alarm is triggered when that happens, as it is when they are interfered with in other ways or go dead, or when an offender enters a forbidden area such as a school zone or playground. The monitoring company alerts parole agents by text message or email.
Arrest warrants for GPS tamperers are automatically published online. The Times reviewed that data as well as thousands of jail logs, court documents and criminal histories provided by confidential sources. The records show that the way authorities handle violators can vary significantly by county.
Parole officials have formally accused the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of "secrecy and avoidance." Corrections officials denied the allegations, citing the online GPS warrants. They also said they had reached agreements with several counties for how to evaluate which paroled sex offenders should not be set free.
Lawmakers have introduced bills to stiffen penalties for tampering with GPS tracking devices, which currently stands at six months in jail, down from the previous one year. One proposal calls for up to three years in state prison for GPS tampering.