September 14, 2011

The cost of housing James Lamb

9-14-2011 California:

Prison would be cheaper, data show

While new charges against child molester James Lamb represent a potential life sentence for him, they could mean a savings of thousands of dollars for the state of California.

A review of state expenses provided to The Herald under the Public Records Act show the state has spent $556,564 — $21,000 per month — to support, secure and treat Lamb since his release from the state's Sexually Violent Predator Program in March 2009. He is scheduled to remain in the program at least until March 31.

The figure represents expenditures only through May 15 and does not include the salaries of Liberty Healthcare employees, who manage the "conditional release program" and its monitored sex offenders for the state. It takes a team of six Liberty employees to manage Lamb's supervision, from the program director to drivers who must accompany him at most times.

While those contracted employees are not solely dedicated to Lamb — 20 men are under conditional-release supervision — their salaries total about $1.1million annually.

Lamb, a three-times convicted child molester, was committed to the program in 1998 and won release under strict supervision in 2007. It took authorities two years to find a house for him in the face of community resistance.

Since March 2009, he has been living in a house on River Road near Gonzales. Records show the state has paid an average of $3,600 per month for rent and utilities, a total of $93,454 as of May 15.

The former Spreckels resident, who has admitted molesting more than 50 children, according to his therapists at Atascadero and Coalinga state hospitals, must live under a strict set of conditions that include round-the-clock GPS monitoring, weekly psychological counseling and security guards, whose hours have been reduced from the former 24/7 level.

Among the additional costs between March 2009 and May 15, the state spent $6,747 for GPS monitoring; $10,103 for food and clothing; $3,625 for medical treatment and assessment that includes monitoring of his testosterone levels and bone density after a voluntary, self-paid castration; $37,014 for psychological treatment; and $384,964 for security guards at the River Road house.

Those guards also serve as drivers for Lamb now. One of them was driving him home from an approved church function on Sept. 7 when he was arrested for being out of compliance with his sex-offender registration requirements.

Assistant Public Defender Don Landis said his client was one day overdue to register with the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, which he must do every 90 days as a conditionally released sexually violent predator. Landis said Lamb has registered 10 times previously and there is no indication he purposely failed to do so this time.

The state has not petitioned the court to revoke Lamb's outpatient status as a result of the arrest. However, the resulting felony charge represents his fourth strike under the three strikes law.

He pleaded not guilty and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 22. Judge Adrienne Grover has broad discretion if he is convicted. She could place him on probation; she could also sentence him to 25 years to life in prison.

That option would be cost-effective from the state's point of view. It costs an estimated $43,000 a year to house a prisoner in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Jail Cmdr. Jeff Budd said cost was not a consideration in Lamb's swift arrest. The sheriff's office has one person who monitors registered sex offenders in the county jurisdiction. When one of them is in violation of a release condition, and his location is known, Budd said, he is immediately arrested.

"When you fall out of compliance, whether you're James Lamb or Joe Whatever, we go make a visit and snap them up into custody. They're bad people," he said. "The only motivation is public safety."

District Attorney Dean Flippo said his department's position has been consistent since Lamb was committed to the Sexually Violent Predator Program in 1998: He should never have been released.

Prosecutors fought Lamb's release in 2007 and earlier this year fought his petition to be released without supervision. Lamb dropped that petition when his handlers and therapists testified that he continued to act impulsively by doing things like obtaining a secret credit card.

His abandonment of the petition also came immediately after prosecutor Angela McNulty indicated in court that Lamb had told someone he should never have gone to prison because his sexual conduct with his young male victims was consensual.

Landis denied Lamb had ever made the comment. He suggested Lamb's therapists were recommending he remain under supervision out of greed. In dropping his petition, Lamb agreed to remain in the program until March 31, at which time prosecutors could move for further supervision.

That decision, Flippo said, will not be based on monetary considerations.

"We are not naive. We know there's a cost to that program," he said. "What we are looking at is, 'What is our obligation to protect the public from an individual who may not be ready for release?'"

Landis agreed there has been no indication of a financial motivation in Lamb's arrest and said there shouldn't be as his case proceeds through the court system.

"Justice shouldn't be determined by how much it costs but by how justice will be served," he said. ..Source.. by VIRGINIA HENNESSEY

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