STOCKTON, California (CNN) — Convicted sex offenders and other felons in California are systematically walking free, despite continuously violating their parole.
It’s the result of laws meant to alleviate California’s overcrowded prisons and jails.
Two years ago, county judges all across the state lost their authority to send convicted felons back to prison for parole violations. Instead, they must send them to county jails.
Because county jails are dealing with their own overcrowding issues, these sex offenders and other felons are basically being recycled in and out of county jails across the state, according to records obtained by CNN.
“When parolees get arrested, they get released the next day,” said Susan Kane, a Department of Corrections supervising agent in Stockton, just outside San Francisco. “So it doesn’t matter how bad they are or what’s happened. If there are no fresh criminal charges, they are released the next day back into the community.”
Kane emphasized that she was not speaking as a representative of the entire state Department of Corrections. The 30-year law enforcement veteran, who is getting ready to retire, says she is “at a total loss.”
“I can honestly say, we do our job, we do the very best job we can, but we can’t protect the community with this,” she said. “We can’t protect them from these sex offenders because they get out of jail the next day.”
In San Joaquin County, where Stockton is located, dozens of convicted sex offenders who were sent to the county jail during a 10-week period last year were all released within a 24-hour period, records show.
The jail’s second-in-command said he has no choice.
“[In the 1990s,] our jail was overcrowded and there was a class-action suit that ensued,” San Joaquin County Undersheriff John Picone explained. “As a result, the court established a court cap on us, so when we hit a certain number in a certain facility of our jail, we have to release people.”
Convicted sex offender Sydney Jerome DeAvila was in and out of the San Joaquin County jail 16 times for a variety of parole violations and other minor offenses over a two-year period. Two weeks after his last jail stay in February 2012, police say he raped and murdered his own grandmother, dumping her in a wheelbarrow the backyard of her home.
Rachel Russell was 73.
“It caused an awful tragedy in our family, and I think about it all day, every day,” Steven Russell, the victim’s son, told CNN. “I can’t get past it. I think about the wheelbarrow and I have a hard time sleeping at night. And it’s a very big tragedy to our family.”
DeAvila, who has been charged with murder, has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.
The judge who released DeAvila said he had no other option.
“I’m not comfortable releasing anybody,” Judge Richard Guiliani said. “I think it’s an unfortunate reality, and we do the best that we can by prioritizing the people that we do release. The people I released today and the people that I released yesterday were parole violators that had not committed a new offense.”
Under state legislation that went into effect in 2011, parole violators — including sex offenders who are being monitored by the state — cannot be returned to California state prisons but instead must be sent to local county jails. And most of these jails are under federal court orders to reduce their own inmate population.
State parole agents say the most common parole violation among convicted sex offenders is illegally tampering with their GPS monitoring devices — either cutting the bracelets or purposely letting the batteries die.
CNN watched in mid-June as a convicted sex offender was arrested not long before 7 p.m. on a Tuesday because he had illegally allowed the battery on his tracking bracelet to expire. Less than 24 hours later, Jack Turner, described in court papers as having an “extensive history of sexual violence,” was released from the San Joaquin County jail.
Turner estimates that he’s been in and out of county jail four or five times during the past month.
“Last week, this week, last week, the week before that, probably the week before that, so they (know) me real well,” he said.
The state Department of Corrections defended the 2011 law that pushes parole violators to county jails, rather than state prisons. Martin Hoshino, the department’s No. 2 administrator, emphasized that all inmates must complete their prison sentence before transitioning to the counties, which oversee their parole terms.
But that’s little comfort to parole agents like Kane.
She recalled a conversation she had with a paroled child molester that her agents had arrested:
“He says, ‘You can do whatever you want to me, I’m only going to be in jail one night, and when I get out, I’m gonna do what I want to make your life miserable.’ “