Sep 27, 2009

California's Parole Problems with Sex Offenders

Today's NY Times has a pretty good article about California's troubles managing paroled sex offenders (and parolees in general). As you may know, California's budget crisis has forced it to close a number of prison facilities and now large number of people will be released to parole supervision. Additionally, as the article notes, reentrants will not be sent back to prison for "technical violations" -- or those infractions that include missing your curfew, abusing alcohol or a controlled substance, failing to go to work -- as they have been in the past. Interestingly, this is actually good policy in general. The idea that people's addictions or curfew problems can be addressed with a community-based solution instead of more prison time has been tested by the Harlem Parole Reentry Court over the past ten years and the results have been positive in terms of reducing recidivism. Hopefully, California will be able to create statewide infrastructure that supports this kind of intervention. (Budget cuts are hurting everywhere -- take a look at this article about the elimination of financing for California's Domestic Violence Program. Also, Gov. Schwarzenegger recently enacted an 80 percent cut in Proposition 36, the state’s largest drug treatment diversion program)

Today's article does a really good job of laying out how difficult it is to parole people with sex offenses. There are logistical challenges like finding them a place to live -- nobody wants to live near or with a sex offender -- helping them maintain employment, and keeping an unpredictable surveillance operation going. On top of all this, most paroled sex offenders battle mental illnesses that promote their illegal behavior and many use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Although parole officers with this specialized caseload will see the number of people they supervise decrease from 70 to 45, it is an open question as to whether cuts to other key services (like drug treatment) will put these officers in even more of a bind.