For at least 11 years, the percentage of felony ex-convicts sent back to California prisons for parole violations has dipped, says the San Diego Union-Tribune. Last year, 15 percent of 106,355 parolees were put back behind bars, a new low. That's down steadily from 25 percent in 1998, according to a data analysis by the newspaper. It may be that ex-cons are behaving better. Critics of the overburdened state corrections agency say the phenomenon is a systematic effort by parole officials to move their charges through the system, to keep from making crowded prisons worse.
The criticism rang anew last week with the release of the corrections file of John Gardner III, the sex offender accused of raping and killing Chelsea King, 17. He is also being investigated in the death of Amber Dubois, 14. Gardner's case file showed seven parole violations from a previous molestation sentence that could have resulted in a return to prison and stricter post-release supervision. “The whole concept of parole is prevention,” said Graham McGruer, who spent more than 20 years as a parole agent and manager and is now a private consultant. “There's a greater possibility that these girls would be alive today if parole had been watching.” The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation attributed the declining numbers to normal fluctuations in prison operations. Officials rejected any notion that they are deliberately lowering their caseload. “We are not telling agents not to 'violate' offenders because of prison overcrowding,” said Terri McDonald, a chief deputy in the parole division.