Our review of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (Corrections) adult parole discharge practices found that:
The California Penal Code, Section 3000, requires the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) to release on parole its prison inmates, upon completion of their prison terms, unless Corrections' Board of Parole Hearings (board) waives parole. Parole includes a combination of supervision, surveillance, and counseling. Laws for the State of California (State) require that parolees must be discharged from parole within 30 days of completing their required period of continuous parole unless Corrections recommends that the parolees be retained and the board approves their retention with good cause. With the exception of deported parolees,1 Corrections' policies require that the parole agent responsible for supervising a parolee initiate a discharge review report when the parolee has served the required period of continuous parole and that the parole agent recommend whether to retain or discharge the parolee. Although the parole agent's unit supervisor can discharge a parolee in many cases, Corrections' policies require the district administrator, who oversees parole supervision in his or her respective district, or the board to discharge those who meet certain criteria.
Corrections' data shows that a total of 56,329 parolees were discharged between January 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008. During this 15 month period, Corrections' data indicate that the responsible parole units did not submit discharge review reports for 4,981, or 9 percent, of these parolees and that Corrections lost jurisdiction over these individuals. Nearly half of these cases involved deported parolees for whom Corrections' current policies require only that parole staff prepare formal discharge review reports if staff wish to retain the parolees. Its policies direct parole units—before relinquishing jurisdiction over the parolee—to run a criminal history report one month before a deported parolee's discharge review date to ensure that the deported parolee has not reentered the United States. However, criminal history reports have limited value because they reveal whether a deported parolee had reentered the United States only if he or she has committed a crime since deportation. In the absence of any evidence that the deportee has reentered the United States, parole staff may recommend that a deported parolee be retained due to any case factors that would significantly affect community safety should the parolee reenter the United States. However, because Corrections does not require parole staff to document their review of deported parolees' criminal history reports or other factors found in the parolees' case files, we could not determine whether staff reviewed these criminal history reports and other case factors for deported parolees before Corrections relinquished jurisdiction over them. The remaining discharged parolees who did not receive discharge review reports were not deported parolees, but the responsible parole units had failed to follow policy and submit the required reports. Consequently, Corrections lost its opportunity to recommend that the board retain these parolees, whose number included 363 individuals originally convicted of violent or serious offenses.
Our review of a sample of 509 of the 18,471 parolees whom unit supervisors or district administrators reportedly discharged between January 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008, showed that Corrections did not always follow its discharge policies. We found that Corrections' central files did not contain a record of completed discharge review reports for seven of the 509 parolees whose files we reviewed. However, because one of these discharged parolees was deported, Corrections' policies did not require a discharge report. Corrections was later able to provide us with a copy of a completed discharge report for another of the seven parolees, but it could not demonstrate that its staff had completed discharge reports for the remaining five parolees whose commitment offenses included fraud for monetary gain and possession of narcotics for sale.
In response to these issues, Corrections reported in August 2008 that it has implemented an immediate measure that will significantly reduce the number of lost jurisdiction cases in the future. Specifically, Corrections asserts that it has ordered two assistant regional administrators to review the case of every parolee who is about to discharge to ensure that a discharge review has been completed. Under the new measure, if the assistant administrators identify a case in which Corrections will lose jurisdiction due to the absence of a discharge review report, the administrators must immediately have one completed or immediately recommend to the board that the parolee be retained so that jurisdiction is not lost. In addition, Corrections reports that a forthcoming policy will require parole staff to prepare discharge review reports for deported parolees.
Additionally, our review indicated that in 31 instances, district administrators, operating within their authority to exercise judgment, discharged parolees despite the parole agents' and unit supervisors' recommendations to retain the parolees. In 15 of these 31 instances, district administrators did not provide explanations for overruling these recommendations and discharging the parolees. Parole staff recommended retaining these 15 parolees, 13 of whom were either deported or in federal custody, based on various case factors such as the risk they posed to the community. Although Corrections' current policies do not require district administrators to document the basis for discharging parolees despite staff recommendations to retain, Corrections has drafted a new policy that, if implemented, will require such documentation.
For 83 of the 509 parole discharges that we reviewed, we performed additional testing to determine whether Corrections followed all of its discharge policies. We found that because of errors made by Corrections' Case Records Office, the appropriate authority did not participate in making the decisions to retain or discharge six of these parolees. In four cases the board should have made the final decision to retain or discharge the parolees, but was not given the opportunity. Corrections' staff should have sent the other two cases to district administrators for either a decision to discharge or a recommendation to the board to retain the parolees, but staff did not do so. In all six of these cases, the parolees were discharged.
Further, Corrections' audit of 6,380 discharge reviews completed between August 2007 and May 2008 identified instances of noncompliance with its policies. However, Corrections was unable to give us accurate data on the number of cases of noncompliance identified through these limited scope audits. In addition, the types of noncompliance are unknown because regional and district administrators who conducted the audits did not record this information during their reviews.
Moreover, in December 2007, Corrections reported that one of its district administrators discharged parolees after altering discharge review reports prepared by parole agents and unit supervisors who had recommended retaining the parolees. Corrections referred the case to the State's Office of the Inspector General, which investigated the district administrator and determined that he may have used poor judgment but found no evidence of criminal or administrative misconduct. In response to this situation, Corrections plans to issue a new policy that will apply to the entire department and that will prohibit unit supervisors and district administrators from altering discharge review reports prepared by others. Finally, changes to state law that became effective January 1, 2008, and proposed revisions to Corrections' policies—if implemented—could increase each district administrator's role and authority in the discharge review process.
To prevent the automatic discharge of parolees, Corrections should make certain that parole staff prepare discharge review reports promptly for all eligible parolees.
Corrections should finalize and implement the draft policy memorandum that will detail the policy and procedures governing its parole discharge process. The new policy should prohibit unit supervisors and district administrators from altering discharge review reports prepared by others. In addition, the new policy should require district administrators to document their justifications for discharging parolees against the recommendations of both parole agents and unit supervisors. Finally, the new policy should require that parole staff prepare discharge review reports for deported parolees.
To ensure that parolees are discharged in accordance with its policies and state laws, Corrections should ensure that the appropriate authority makes the decisions to discharge or retain parolees.
Corrections agrees with the findings in our report and indicates that it is taking corrective action to address these issues.