January 9, 2015

Watchdog: California requiring lie detector tests for sex offenders

1-9-2015 California:

Paroled sex offenders in California must take periodic lie detector tests and participate in more treatment programs in response to calls for stricter oversight in recent years.

On Thursday, state officials said they are backing the new effort with millions in additional funding. The state spent about $8.5 million on contractors who provide polygraph exams, treatment programs and other sex offender services last year, and plans to more than double that budget to $18.3 million this year.

The new requirements by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation follow several high-profile criminal cases involving sex offenders whose supervision by state parole agents stirred heated criticism.

The cases include an Antioch sex offender who kidnapped an 11-year-old girl and held her captive for 18 years before being caught in 2009 and a San Diego sex offender who raped and murdered two teenage girls in 2009 and 2010. Both men are now in prison.

A pending Orange County case also revived concerns about sex offender oversight last year. Prosecutors say two men raped and murdered four women from October 2013 to March 2014, and throughout the period, the men were under the supervision of state parole and federal probation officials.

State parole officials said the new measures were in the works before the Orange County case. Two state agencies recommended the changes after the Antioch and San Diego cases, and it took three years to fully implement them.

The measures aim to better identify California’s most dangerous sex offenders and adjust agent caseloads, which previously came under fire as being too large. Ideally, agents who oversee the highest-risk offenders would handle fewer cases than colleagues with lower-risk ones.

“There’s been a heightened sensitivity to the need to supervising sex offenders,” state corrections spokesman Bill Sessa said. “The goal is still the same. It is to focus the most attention on sex offenders that are posing the greatest risk to public safety.”

The polygraph exams will help parole agents check whether offenders are complying with their release conditions, officials said. Parolees could be asked about attendance at 12-step addiction programs, time spent lingering at playgrounds or inappropriate contact with other convicts.

All sex offender parolees also are required to participate in specially designed treatment programs. Previously, only high-risk offenders had to do that.

The state also is paying for more tests, known as risk assessments, designed to gauge each offender’s likelihood of committing a new crime. That will help parole agents devote more resources to those who need it most.

California is not the first state to adopt the new practices, which were fully implemented last month. At least 18 states have used a similar policy, experts said. But with more than 7,000 paroled sex offenders in the community, officials said California is by far the largest.

The state also has the nation’s largest program of tracking sex offender parolees’ movements with GPS devices. But the agency’s use of the technology has faced harsh criticism after the Antioch, San Diego and Orange County cases. Agents missed opportunities to detect suspicious behavior and in some instances, apparent crimes.

Though GPS devices provided key evidence to prosecutors in the Orange County case, it also revealed holes in offender supervision. While wearing GPS bracelets, court records show, the two men circled well-known prostitution hot spots and flouted at least one law enforcement agency’s command to not associate.

Steve Gordon, 45, and Franc Cano, 28, could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of the multiple murder charges against them. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in separate Orange County jails.

The pair were arrested only after local detectives used a state database of parolees’ bracelets and linked them to the last known locations of four women who sometimes worked as prostitutes. To date, parole officials have declined to comment on their supervision of the men, citing the pending criminal case.

Harriet Salarno, founder and chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California, welcomed the Corrections Department’s latest effort to improve sex offender supervision because she said GPS tracking was oversold as a way of preventing new crimes. But she predicted sex offenders will find a way to fool the lie detectors.

So far, the new requirements seem to be prompting offenders to hurriedly admit any transgressions to get out in front of the lie detector tests, said Brenda Crowding, a parole administrator who sits on the state’s Sex Offender Management Board. Together with GPS tracking, the tests give parole agents a wealth of information they never had before.

“It’s a tool that perhaps sets the stage for the first time in an offender’s life where he’s literally practicing being honest,” added Douglas Eckenrod, a parole administrator who oversaw the training of the 241 parole agents who supervise sex offenders.

However, others worry the additional information could overwhelm already stressed agents or take time away from tools like GPS monitoring. Ondre Henry, president of the parole agents union, said sex offender caseloads remain a problem.

“We’re not opposed to the mechanisms,” Henry said. “We’re opposed to adding all of this additional work and not decreasing caseload sizes.”

Henry said agents usually handle 30-40 cases – more than the Sex Offender Management Board’s 20-case recommended maximum. Parole officials previously have said they are hiring more agents.

The so-called containment model of tests and other requirements now being implemented was also recommended by the Sex Offender Management Board, made up of treatment and law enforcement professionals and required under a 2010 law named after one of the San Diego sex offender’s victims. ..Source.. by KEEGAN KYLE / STAFF WRITER

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