SACRAMENTO — California corrections officials, expressing concern over a rise in paroled sex offenders disabling their GPS tracking devices, said Monday that the problem may be larger than they believed.
On Sunday, The Times reported a 28% rise in warrants issued for GPS tampering since October 2011, when the state reduced penalties for parole violators and made counties responsible for them.
Officials in the Department of Corrections had stated for months that such cases numbered in the hundreds. Then, earlier this month, they said they knew of 3,200 cases from October 2011 through December 2012.
On Monday, department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said that because that tally included only cases in which parole revocation hearings were held, the actual number of incidents may be larger.
The state's figures "also may not include those [GPS violators] still on the loose," she added.
Arrest warrants posted by the state show more than 433 sex offenders at large, wanted for interfering with their monitors.
Hoffman said the department is trying to compile a more accurate overall assessment.
"We're trying to get a better picture right now," she said. The department "takes criminals removing GPS devices very seriously."
Since October 2011, all parole violators, including sex offenders, have been required to serve time in county jail rather than state prison. That change was part of the state's "realignment" program, launched in response to federal court orders to reduce prison crowding.
But many county jails have been under their own court orders to ease overcrowding and have released violators within days or hours of arrest.
A lawmaker who has proposed that all GPS violators be returned to state prison said Monday that the growing number of tampering and removal cases creates a need for urgent action. State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said he would amend his bill to make it effective upon passage rather than next year. That would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
Lieu said his support includes an "enthusiastic" endorsement from the state sheriffs association.
Gov. Jerry Brown was asked about Lieu's bill last month.
"Look, everybody wants to send people to prison, nobody wants to pay for it," Brown replied.
He said he opposed any move that would increase funds needed for prisons. Returning perhaps thousands of GPS violators to state custody would mean more spending.
Hoffman said Monday that Sacramento is giving counties $865 million this year to cover the costs of prison realignment, including the housing of parole violators.
She said "decisions on how that money gets spent and who stays in custody are made, as they should be, at the local level."