• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Prison officials grilled over Gardner, records

March 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
California's corrections department was in the hot seat Wednesday about dumping parole records too quickly. A hearing was held Wednesday just weeks after convicted sex offender John Gardner was charged with the murder of Chelsea King. Gardner's parole records were destroyed not long after his release. The case involving John Gardner, the sex offender who served time for molesting a 13-year-old and is now accused of killing 17-year-old Chelsea King in the San Diego area, revealed serious problems in the California parole system. Gardner is also the focus of another teen's disappearance.

State lawmakers slammed prison administrators for the practice of destroying field parole records one year after parolees are discharged; but corrections defended the policy of dumping files that contain parole agents' notes.

"I think it's hard to explain why we would destroy any records of a sex offender, especially in an instance like this where you have somebody who had done something so awful and been warned he is a danger: he will re-offend. He will hurt young girls again," said state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego).

"Those field notes by the agent have a ton of information that's not really, has any investigative value, would be no value to law enforcement," said Scott Kernan, Calif. Department of Corrections.

Destroying field parole records has been the state's practice for decades because there's not enough space to store all that paper.

"What do you need? Do you need a scanner? Do you need a hard drive?" said Fletcher.

"We do not have the ability to have our systems automated," said Kernan.

"The fact that we have an agency in 2010 that doesn't have the ability to scan and retain documents electronically is kind of shocking," said Fletcher.

"The Legislature approved the funding for that. And it's a multi-year project," said Kernan.

"When will that be done?" said Fletcher.

"Well, it's going to take several years," said Kernan.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the Corrections Department earlier this month to start keeping parole records of sex offenders in the hopes of improving public safety.

"It's outrageous that that happened and something like this fell through the cracks because a life was lost because of that," said Schwarzenegger. "That is, you know, devastating."