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Phillip Garrido sparks parole reform for California life-term prisoners

August 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Jaycee Dugard case sparked a call for parole reform in Sacramento.

Lawmakers say legislation is needed to make sure criminals like Phillip Garrido are kept behind bars. The author says the Dugard case inspired him to write a bill that would make it much tougher for life-term prisoners to win parole.

It is because report after report found serious lapses in the way law enforcement supervised Garrido. The hope is to prevent another victim like Dugard, who was kidnapped at 11 years old, held captive for nearly two decades, and forced to give birth to two daughters fathered by Garrido.

"Let's keep our worst criminals behind bars and keep California safe," said State Senator Ted Gaines.

Gaines' bill requires the state parole board to consider an inmate's crime when determining supervised release. Currently the board is not allowed to do so because of a 2008 California Supreme Court decision that bans it- prison behavior counts for a lot more.

"In other words, you're a convicted murderer, a convicted rapist, a child molester," said Vern Pierson, the prosecutor in Garrido case. "The parole board has a presumption that you will be released."

For 30 years, between 1978 and the August 2008 court ruling, only 1,800 lifers were granted parole. In the last three years, the state has already paroled more than 1,300.

"That is unconscionable," said former parole board member Assemblyman Jim Nielsen. "It is solely a manufacturing of adventuresome judges, and it needs to be stopped here and now."

Some prisoner's rights supporters say it's harder for lifers to win parole when their crimes have to be weighed.

However Garrido gamed the system, with expert after expert noting in his file that he wasn't likely to re-offend because of his model behavior in prison.

The misdiagnosis outraged Democrats enough they became co-authors of the proposal to prevent more Garridos from getting out.

"We understand that we want our corrections system to be one of rehabilitation and change," said Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla. "But we also accept the fact that isn't going to happen for every criminal."

Lawmakers are going to have to work fast; the last day of session is Sept. 9. Otherwise, they'll have to wait until next year to act.

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