Updated at the end with the L.A. police union's response. Also see our correction — also at the bottom.
As state officials grapple with this week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering California to unleash 33,000 prisoners within the next two years there's some evidence today that maybe corrections officials can't even handle letting out a few hundred convicts.
The California prison system's inspector general has revealed that at least 450 prisoners who “carry a high risk for violence” were released as a result of a risk assessment computer program error.
What's more, a total of 1,500 offenders were “improperly released,” according to Associated Press.
Damn. The audit found the computer program was wrong nearly one out of four times. Not in my backyard? You better hope.
Prison officials rely on computer analysis because the population of those behind bars is so large in California (about 140,000, with another 100,000 people on parole) that it would be daunting to, you know, have a human actually make sure a convict was eligible to hit the street.
The releases were made under the controversial non-revocable parole program, designed to keep the prison population relatively low by letting so-called low-level, nonviolent offenders go pretty much scot-free.
(They'd have to commit a new crime to go back; under regular parole a simple “violation,” such as hanging out with fellow, known gang members or smoking a joint could put one back behind bars).
We have to wonder if people like Zachariah Timothy Lehnen, accused in a recent Culver City double murder, were part of that 450.
Lee Seale, the department's deputy chief of staff, rebutted the inspector's claims:
Alleged 'errors' … have in large part been corrected. We reject the notion that the California Static Risk Assessment is flawed and dispute the evidence the OIG cites in support of this claim.
Update: Calling the situation a “release” (see the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's fact check, below), the union that represents L.A. city cops, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, states:
We have long warned that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (CDCR) troubling non-revocable parole program for “low risk offenders” would be a disaster. Law enforcement's input was arrogantly ignored by CDCR, and tragically, we were proven right.
The union also notes the impending, Supreme Court-ordered release and also wonders, as we did, if the CDCR can get it right:
Now, as we stand on the precipice of a massive flood of inmates released in Los Angeles County and throughout California, CDCR is sure to say they will screen to release only the least violent inmates. They will undoubtedly proclaim that development of a release policy should be left to their “expertise.” But we heard the same false assurances about their “expertise” before and during the fiasco that was the “non-revocable parole” program.
Correction: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Luis Patino tells us that the inmates would have been released either way. The story here is that they were released, wrongly so, under the controversial non-revocable parole program, which would mean they couldn't go back behind bars unless they committed a new crime. Normally regular parolees can be “violated” back to prison if they broke a rule such as hanging out with gang members or smoking a joint. He tells the Weekly “these were all inmates who had already served their full determinate sentence. By law those inmates had to be released. The only question was what level of supervision (active parole- or non-revocable parole) they would be under once paroled.”