State Report Questions the Value of GPS Monitoring under Jessica’s Law

Monday, November 10, 2014
(photo: EKA Photography)

The GPS tracking devices strapped to parolees under the 2006 Jessica’s Law grind up a lot of parole agents’ time monitoring them but yield no measurable anti-crime advantage, according to the California Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG, which monitors the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation through audits, special reviews, inspections and investigations, issued a report (pdf) last week that said, although parole agents anecdotally report that GPS is a valuable tool, “There exists little objective evidence to determine to what extent, if any, GPS tracking is a crime deterrent.”

The report did point to one small 2012 study of 516 high-risk sex offenders by the National Institute of Justice that found those without GPS strapped on were three times more likely to commit a sex-related parole violation, but didn’t appear to put a lot of stock in it.

“While it may be tempting to think of CDCR’s use of GPS technology as a crime–prevention tool, it is more accurate to categorize it as a monitoring tool,” the report said. It likened GPS effectiveness to the presence of a marked police car in deterring speeding.

Parole agents told the OIG that GPS was helpful in eliminating parolees as suspects in crime, facilitating unannounced inspections and monitoring parolee visits to prohibited locations.

All that takes time, and the OIG concluded that the GPS monitoring took away approximately two hours a day of an agent’s time and cut into direct in-person supervision. On the other hand, when an agent wants to find a parolee, he knows where to look.    

Time is of the essence for parole agents who supervise sex offenders because, the report found, nearly two-thirds of them have caseloads that exceed CDCR policy limits. An agent’s workload can have a mix of 20 high-risk and 40 non-high-risk cases, but the OIG found that 145 of the state’s 231 parole agents didn’t have the right mix, despite averaging around 30 cases. For example, one agent was found to have 22 high-risk cases and 37 that were not.

The excessive caseloads were concentrated in 14 of the department’s 37 parole units, where all the caseloads were too large. Conversely, all the agents in five units were under the ceiling, suggesting the department needed to spread its staffing better.

Jessica’s Law, approved by 70.5% of voters as Proposition 83, invoked sweeping changes in the handling of sex offenders. It broadened the definition of certain sex offenses, established longer penalties for some offenses, prohibited probation for some offenses (like spousal rape), eliminated early release in some cases, extended parole, banished registered sex offenders from close proximity to schools and parks, and required parolees to strap on GPS devices.

The Senate Rules Committee, which requested the OIG report, also asked what impact the residency requirement of Jessica’s Law that related to parks and schools had on the number of homeless and transient parolees in communities. The OIG found that the law left a number of parolees homeless and forced others to creatively evade the restrictions.

The premise is that the number sex crimes rises when there are more registered sex offenders around. But the OIG said its survey of research on the subject “found no connection between offenders’ residences and the commission of new crimes.” It suggested that there are reasons to legally “challenge the residency restrictions on the basis that it is neither efficacious nor practical for anyone.”

–Ken Broder


Review Finds Parole Agents Swamped with Sex Offender Caseloads (by Keegan Kyle and Tony Saavedra, Orange County Register)

More than 60% of State Parole Agents' Caseloads Exceed Policy Limits (by Adolfo Flores, Los Angeles Times)

CDCR Launches Historic Parole Reforms to Increase Public Safety (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Federal Judge Uses One Lawsuit to Declare Two California Parole Laws Unconstitutional (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Assessment of Electronic Monitoring of Sex Offenders on Parole and the Impact of Residency Restrictions (California Office of the Inspector General) (pdf)

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