Probation in the dark on some arriving inmates
LOS ANGELES (AP) – County probation officials say they aren’t consistently getting required notice about inmates being released to their supervision, making it harder to monitor felons and potentially endangering the public.
The late notice puts additional pressure on an overburdened criminal justice system where county offices are underfunded and understaffed. Officials worry convicted felons are ending up on the streets without anyone helping or keeping an eye on them.
“You can’t watch somebody if you don’t know you have to be watching somebody,” said Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California. “Notice is really important, and logistically we need time to get that into the probation department and assign that case to somebody.”
The issue came to light when Los Angeles County probation officials complained they were given one-day notice in April before the release of Dustin Kinnear, who’s now accused of stabbing a woman to death on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Notification issues were apparently more problematic immediately after the state’s criminal justice realignment program, or AB 109, took effect in October 2011 to meet a federal court order to reduce California’s prison population. The law sends some criminals whose violations weren’t serious, violent, or sexual to county jail instead of state prisons and releases those types of inmates on county probation instead of state parole.
Because it can take probation officers weeks to review the inmate’s criminal background, mental health history and prison records, the law requires the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to send counties a thorough case file on each inmate at least 30 days before their release.
Corrections spokesman Luis Patino said delays can occur after a short prison sentence, which makes it difficult to process paperwork in time, or when county courts haven’t sent enough information on offenders to the state, which is what he said happened with Kinnear.
“We do everything we can to try to give the counties as much lead time as we can,” Patino said. “Sometimes it’s not just physically possible.”
The department used to give its own parole agency at least 120 days to process inmates before their release, and has aimed to do the same for counties, Patino said.
But probation officials in the counties that supervise the largest numbers of ex-cons say they don’t always receive information a month in advance.
Los Angeles estimates it gets 15 to 20 percent of its 500 inmate notifications late each month; San Diego estimates 14 percent of its 130 inmate notices are tardy; and San Bernardino finds it happens in 5 percent of its 150 cases, according to officials in those counties.
In some instances, they receive notice the day before an inmate’s release, the day of their release, or once the convict is on the streets.
In the case of Kinnear, 26, who’s charged with murder in the killing of Christine Calderon last month after she refused to pay him for taking his photo panhandling, it’s not clear that a lack of notice would have made a difference.
He didn’t report to the county probation office as required and then was in and out of jail after several other arrests.
Patino said state prisons never got a complete court file on Kinnear, so they didn’t determine he was eligible for probation until days before his release, delaying notification to the county.
Getting the information on time is the first step in keeping an offender on the right track, said Ryken Grattet, a researcher on corrections policy for the Public Policy Institute of California. Those first days after release require consistent supervision.
“If people are going to violate their supervision and potentially get arrested, that tends to happen within the first 90 to 180 days,” Grattet said. “We often talk about if people can get through that period without garnering arrests then they’re home free.”
The worst-case scenarios include a psychotic inmate released without county authorities being told about the mental illness.
In February, for example, a schizophrenic felon with a violent history was released six hours after LA authorities were notified. They scrambled to learn more about him because privacy laws prevented his mental illness from being disclosed in the paperwork.
After learning from the state that he was violent when not on medication, probation officers intercepted him at an urgent care center that evening and got him admitted to a facility that could treat him.
To bring the system to the modern age, San Diego participated in a trial to get inmate information electronically. The full system for all counties was launched this week.
“If they have been released before we know about their release, they could not only be a risk to public safety but there could be a risk to the individual themselves,” said San Diego Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins.