How Strictly Is California Applying Rules For Parolees?


During a 1992 traffic stop in Sacramento, eight-time convict Glen Cornwell was arrested in a car with a knife, a gun, some marijuana, and rock cocaine. Normally, that's big trouble for a parolee. Instead of returning to prison, Cornwell remained free. Months later, says the San Diego Union-Tribune, he killed William Reagan outside his check-cashing job over a satchel of money. Cornwell was sent to death row. Parole officials promised reforms that were named for Reagan's outraged daughter, Robin.

The Robin Reagan rules could have landed John Gardner III, who is charged with killing Chelsea King, 17, back in prison while on parole for a 2000 molestation conviction, subjecting him to additional GPS monitoring and screening as a sexually violent predator who could be held indefinitely in a state hospital. The regulations were never fully applied. Critics say budget-conscious prison officials routinely ignore the Reagan rules, which gave agents and supervisors less discretion and left more decisions to the Board of Parole Hearings. There are 15 rules that apply to all parolees, and three additional rules for serious offenders such as Gardner. “If you are a serious and violent offender, any behavior even as small as spitting on a sidewalk must be referred to the board,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, who pushed through the rules while serving as the parole board's chairman in the 1990s. “Six out of the seven times (Gardner) violated parole, he was not referred to the board,” Nielsen said. “The seventh time he got tender, loving care. Those failures are illegal, and they happen tens of thousands of times.” Parole officials insist they do not overlook any state law or regulation, and they defend their record of supervising violent former felons such as Gardner. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation last year referred 74,348 cases to the parole board under the Reagan rules.

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