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Jump in fugitive sex offenders higher than initially thought

California data for October 2011 to Jan. 1, 2013, show a 65% increase in warrants for those who were tracked by GPS units and went missing.

April 10, 2013|By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times

The increase in fugitive sex offenders in California since the state changed key prison policies is more than double that previously believed, according to data released Wednesday by corrections officials.

The data show a 65% rise from October 2011 to Jan. 1 of this year in warrants issued for paroled sex offenders who were tracked by GPS units and went missing. Previous state reports showed about a 30% climb for that period.

Almost 5,000 warrants were issued during that time, according to the new figures, far more than the 3,251 the department reported in March. Corrections officials said the earlier number did not count cases in which the same offender escaped repeatedly.

In most cases, the officials said, those individuals were caught relatively quickly. No data was provided to support that assertion.

"Our fugitive apprehension teams then aggressively track and arrest parolees who commit this violation," corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said.

A recent investigation by The Times showed that in counties where jails are crowded, parolees who ditch their GPS monitors and are recaptured serve little time — sometimes none — behind bars. Some convicted sex offenders who removed their trackers have been charged with new crimes, including rape and murder.

"This confirms the scope of the problem is large," said state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who has introduced a bill to make it a felony punishable by prison time for a state parolee to remove an electronic monitor.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's prison "realignment" plan, parole violators have been referred to county jails rather than returned to the state's packed prisons. But, like the state, many jails are under court orders to ease overcrowding.

California runs the largest criminal GPS monitoring program in the nation, tracking more than 7,000 registered sex offenders after they are released on parole, usually for three years.

Lieu said the state's sex offender program, mandated by voters in 2006, is jeopardized.

"We can't have a GPS monitoring system if we have such dramatic rates of violation," he said.

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