Another View: Penalties lacking for sex offenders who remove their GPS devices

By: Jim Nielsen, Guest Columnist
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Do you think there should be harsher penalties for removing a GPS device? Tell us why or why not.

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As distressing as it may be, for the sake of your family, take a look at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s link: Scroll down and you will see mug shot after mug shot of some of the thousands of convicted sex offenders who have cut off or disabled their GPS tracking devices and are now living who knows where.
After perusing the site, you might want to double-check your doors and windows before you head off to bed. You might think twice before you allow your children to walk out the front door by themselves. You might also want to sign up for a class in self-defense, or maybe get yourself a big dog, a home alarm system and some pepper spray.
Voters approved Jessica’s Law in 2006, in part because it requires that all convicted sex offenders be fitted with a GPS monitor and tracked for life upon their release. We found a little measure of comfort in the assurance that someone was sitting behind a computer tracking exactly where these potentially dangerous people are all the time, but there remain limitations in law enforcement ability to monitor and because under the governor’s realignment plan, even those caught now face minimal or no consequences.
Unsurprisingly, a recent widely circulated news story reported that there are currently about 3,400 open arrest warrants for GPS tampering, and most of them are sex offenders. The number of parolees who have ditched their GPS tracking devices is up by 118 percent in the year following the implementation of Gov. Brown’s realignment plan.
Before realignment, parole violations included a more severe penalty for removing a GPS monitor – a return to prison for a full year.
Today, under the governor’s “historic” realignment, such parole violations incur a penalty of no more than 90 days in a local jail – and probably much less as a direct result of local jail overcrowding – a consequence of the state pushing former state prison inmates into county jails. Sex offenders, in some instances, strolled into their parole officers’ offices, dropped their GPS devices on the counter, told law enforcement officials to pound sand and walked out. This brazen attitude is becoming the norm among criminals.
The National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice found that for sex offenders who are not monitored by GPS, the risk of re-offending triples. Of course, even jail time can only be imposed when public safety officials actually locate the offender, and that’s more difficult to do once the tracking device is removed. With local jails already overcrowded, even the most dangerous felons are being released. In the first week of the AB 109 implementation sex offender parole violators were being arrested, and immediately released for their violations because of jail overcrowding. This continues.
Gov. Brown calls realignment a success. The state may have saved $1 billion on prison costs to date, but what is the cost in human suffering?
One of the registered sex offenders who removed his GPS device is Sidney Jerome DeAvila of Stockton. DeAvila was an AB109 inmate, according to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office. Records showed that DeAvila was arrested at least 10 times in the past nine months. In almost every instance, he was released within 24 hours due to overcrowding.
Shortly after his last release in February, he was charged with raping and killing his 76-year old grandmother and leaving her body in a backyard wheelbarrow.
As a first step, I am supporting State Senator Ted Lieu’s (D-Torrance) Senate Bill 57, which defines GPS tampering or removal as a felony. This bill does require amending to ensure all sex offender parole violators are subject to the maximum return to custody with no good time credit. We may have some difficulty garnering the support of the Democrat majority, however. For many years now, the Democrats in both houses have abided by a blanket policy of rejecting any and all legislation that either creates or expands felony sentencing. Nevertheless, I have to have faith that those who hold a majority in both houses of this Legislature will recognize the significant threat to public safety that GPS tampering presents.
After my colleagues in the Legislature take a good look at the long list of offenders walking our streets, and if they are willing to hear the collective voices of overwhelmed local public safety officials as well as the testimonies of victims of realignment and their family members … well, I have to believe that SB 57 may just have a fighting chance.
This bill is only one step. I am asking for a special session to be called so the governor and legislature can focus on and pass a number of bills to address this public safety disaster.
Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) is a state Senator for California’s 4th District, which covers portions of Placer and Nevada counties.