SACRAMENTO – Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville); El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson; Assemblymembers Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), Alyson Huber (D-El Dorado Hills) and Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber); and others today announced Senate Bill 391 – the “Parole Reform Act of 2011” – inspired by the Jaycee Lee Dugard case. This bipartisan legislation will make a critical change to California’s parole system, helping keep dangerous, life-term prisoners incarcerated.
“Although we can’t undo the mistakes of the past, we can make systemic improvements so that all Californians are safer and that victims know government is working to protect them,” said Senator Gaines. “Senate Bill 391 is for those Californians who will never become victims because society’s most dangerous criminals are kept where they should be – behind bars.”
Senate Bill 391 seeks to reverse the California Supreme Court’s 2008 Lawrence decision, which requires the Parole Board to primarily look at the prisoner’s behavior while incarcerated – such as how much counseling they attended and whether they were on time to their work assignments – when deciding whether to put a felon back out on the street. Despite prisoner convictions for the most heinous of crimes Lawrence provides that “release on parole is the rule, rather than the exception.”
This decision has led to a spike in paroles for dangerous life-sentence prisoners. Between 2005 and 2007, 521 lifers in California prisons were granted parole. Between 2008 and 2010 – the three years since the Lawrence decision – that number almost tripled, with 1329 lifers getting parole dates.
“The Lawrence era parole system makes the same mistake that allowed Phillip Garrido to be released after only 11 years on a 50 year sentence and a separate life sentence,” said District Attorney Pierson. “Parole can no longer be a foregone conclusion for these dangerous lifers. It makes no sense to ignore the horrific circumstances of their crimes when deciding whether to put them back into society.”
“The Parole Reform Act of 2011” will give the Parole Board the ability to consider the prisoner’s committing offense when evaluating them for parole. It allows the Board to use the circumstances of their original crime as well as prior convictions and other, reliably-documented offenses to make their decisions.
These prior crimes often include a long series of offenses and evidence far more severe than what a simple one-line entry on a rap sheet may show. With Senate Bill 391, the Parole Board will be able to view the whole prisoner, not just their performance in a highly-structured, highly-disciplined environment that is far different from the free society where they committed their crimes.
“As a principal co-author of SB 391, I am proud to join Senator Gaines in introducing this significant measure today. By strengthening the state’s parole system, I am hopeful we can prevent future heinous acts such as those committed by dangerous criminals like Phillip Garrido,” said Assemblywoman Bonilla. “Unfortunately, this bill comes after so many innocent lives have been affected and my heart goes out to all those families. However, I assure you that as legislators, we will continue to do our part and work towards a more effective parole system to protect women and children.”
Senator Ted Gaines represents the 1st Senate District, which includes all or parts of Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento and Sierra counties.
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