SACRAMENTO — Politicking over crime issues escalated Wednesday when two legislators announced plans to subpoena the Wilson Administration, demanding the names of sex offenders before they are released from state prison.
The Department of Corrections is resisting releasing the names of child molesters and rapists, contending that they would be attacked by other inmates if details of their crimes become known while they are in prison. A warden said prison guards could also be in danger because they would have to protect the sex offenders.
But at a news conference on the Capitol steps, Assemblymen Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) and Bob Epple (D-Cerritos) said the public's right to know about sex offenders and prepare for their release outweighs such security concerns.
"There may be a minimal threat to the sex offenders if the information is released. But if these sex offenders return to our communities, the threat they pose is beyond measure," Polanco said.
The Assembly Rules Committee, of which Polanco is a member, will decide today whether to issue the subpoena. It would be directed at Department of Corrections Director James Gomez and seek the names of sex offenders set for release this year, their parole dates, and the localities to which they would be released.
If the Administration defies the subpoena, Epple said, criminal sanctions could be imposed. A more likely result would be that the Democrat-controlled Legislature could hold up parts of the governor's legislative program.
"I would not threaten (criminal prosecution) against any of the directors," Epple said. "But I think it would certainly make it a difficult time for everybody until, in fact, the executive branch and (the) department were able to come to agreement to how they should respond to legitimate requests."
The planned subpoena comes as Wilson runs for reelection on an anti-crime platform, but also as Democrats try to shore up their anti-crime credentials. Last month, Treasurer Kathleen Brown, one of Wilson's Democratic challengers, attacked the governor over serial rapist Melvin Carter's release. Carter's release after a dozen years behind bars was mandated by sentencing laws.
Wilson, meanwhile, is backing a bill by Assemblywoman Barbara Alby (R-Fair Oaks) requiring that names and photographs of convicted child molesters be made available in libraries after they are released.
Polanco and Epple are going a step beyond Alby's concept by demanding to know the identities of inmates prior to parole. They say it would give the public time to pressure the state into keeping the offenders in prison, and serve as a warning to the towns where they would be sent.
J.P. Tremblay, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, suggested that the Democratic legislators are motivated by election-year politics in which crime has been a dominant issue.
"If (they want) to do this for community safety, support (Alby's bill). We'll notify the public when these people get out," Tremblay said. "If (they want) to do this for political reasons, to try to stir up the issue and get communities involved and get them to raise the political issue, that's the wrong motivation."
Tremblay said the state Public Records Act specifically allows officials to refuse the release of names of prisoners for safety reasons, adding: "They're basically asking Gomez to break the law."
The Department of Corrections also cites a Penal Code section that says details about paroled sex offenders shall remain confidential, but must be given to police in cities to which they are released.