A series of high-profile crimes involving parolees in California, highlighted by the 18-year Jaycee Dugard kidnapping, show some of the challenges of keeping track of sex offenders in a state that discharges more than 120,000 inmates annually, more than any other. California is the only state that places all released prisoners on parole, no matter the seriousness of their crime. Even at a time of historically low violent crime, critics argue that overloading parole agents compromises public safety.
Legislation passed this month will reduce the average caseloads for parole agents to 45 from 70, and nonviolent, less serious offenders will no longer be returned to prison for administrative infractions like missing counseling appointments, ditching parole agent visits or failing drug tests. Michelle Jackson, a parole agent 50 miles east of Los Angeles, who supervises 40 violent felons, said she would prefer to focus on the social work aspect of her job rather than the law enforcement role but sees few alternatives, even with the new legislation.