A state senator said Wednesday he wants to change California law so prisoners like the sex offender who was paroled before taking Jaycee Dugard captive for 18 years would have a tougher time getting out of prison.
The proposal by Sen. Ted Gaines aims to undo a 2008 California Supreme ruling that requires the parole board to consider more than the original crime when deciding whether a prisoner is released.
Gaines and El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said the board currently pays too much attention to mental health evaluations, and inmates like Phillip Garrido can fool psychiatrists.
Garrido was on parole after serving time for rape when he kidnapped Dugard in 1991.
"Release is the rule rather than the exception" under the state Supreme Court ruling, Pierson said at a public hearing at the state Capitol. "The burden has shifted."
Gaines, a Republican who represents the South Lake Tahoe area where Dugard was abducted, said the board has granted parole to more than 1,300 prisoners serving life terms since the high court ruling. That amounts to 42 percent of all paroles granted to life-term inmates since 1978.
Garrido pleaded guilty to kidnapping and raping Dugard while she was locked in a backyard compound at his home in the Northern California city of Antioch.
The judge, however, made sure he won't be paroled again by sentencing Garrido in June to 431 years to life in prison. His wife, Nancy Garrido, was sentenced to 36 years to life after acknowledging she aided the crime.
Harriet Salarno, chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California, believes that under the current rules, even Garrido could be deemed unlikely to commit new crimes if he ever did come up for parole. As recently as June, El Dorado County probation officers had determined he was a low-to-moderate risk as a future sexual predator.
"This (court ruling) should be overturned. Phillip Garrido is a perfect example of this," Salarno said at the hearing. Her organization receives much of its funding from the union that represents state prison guards.
Pierson recommended the legal change in a report released Tuesday that had additional revelations about law enforcement failures to monitor Garrido.
Gaines plans to introduce his bill this month and is seeking bipartisan support to pass a bill before the Legislature adjourns next month.
Gaines said the parole board should be given more discretion to deny paroles based on convicts' original crimes, especially sexual predators who may be more likely to commit new crimes if released.
"The parole board doesn't have the flexibility to be able to err on the side of caution," Gaines said in an interview.
He also said the legal change he is seeking would not overload prisons because there are relatively few inmates serving life terms who are eligible for parole.
"If we're holding back maybe 100 or 200 a year to err on the side of caution, that's keeping our society safer and thereby saving probably tens of millions of dollars in court cases that could occur as a result of more crime committed on the streets," Gaines said.
He said funding for keeping the additional inmates behind bars should come from a recent increase in projected state revenues.
Phillip Ung, a policy advocate for the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the organization representing rape crisis centers has not taken a position on overturning the state Supreme Court ruling.
But he said state lawmakers should concentrate instead on enacting stalled recommendations from the California Sex Offender Management Board, an expert panel created by the Legislature to advise lawmakers on corralling sexual predators.