The state deliberately ignored inmates' serious prior offenses and released dangerous parolees into unsuspecting communities, county officials charged Tuesday while discussing the oversight of a probationer accused of killing four people outside an unlicensed boarding house in Northridge.
To comply with a federal court order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, state officials released non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenders to county jurisdiction. But when classifying prisoners as what Sheriff Lee Baca calls "non, non, nons," the state chose to consider only the most recent conviction, and not prior crimes.
"The state had to back into a number" to get down to about 30,000 prisoners to meet the terms of the court order and were well aware of the choices they were making, county Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers said.
Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky said they had warned state officials about appropriately classifying prisoners more than a year ago.
"There might be four people in Northridge alive today if they had taken the wise counsel we gave them," Yaroslavsky said.
Luis Patino, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said, "We enforce the law as written," but could not comment further on the case.
Representatives for the governor's office could not be reached for immediate comment.
The man accused of the Northridge killings, Ka Pasasouk, 31, had a long criminal history, including robbery and drug-related offenses.
Released from state prison in January after completing his sentence, Pasasouk was placed under the supervision of the county's Probation Department instead of state parole officials. Antonovich said Pasasouk repeatedly failed to comply with the terms and conditions of his release, resisted rehabilitative programs and was arrested multiple times over the past 11 months.
Powers Tuesday said his officers had little ability to compel probationers -- even those with serious mental health issues -- to get treatment, unless they are re-arrested.
Of the 12,000 former state parolees released to county supervision since the realignment took effect Oct. 1, 2011, nearly 8,000 have been re-arrested and 799 have been turned over to the federal government for deportation, Powers said.
Some of those 8,000 arrests were for technical parole violations rather than new crimes, according to Powers. Those violations can keep ex-convicts out of the community and in treatment programs, he said.
According to the county, Pasasouk was arrested in September on suspicion of methamphetamine possession and the Probation Department recommended that he be sent to state prison. But prosecutors told a Van Nuys judge he was eligible for a diversion program under Proposition 36, and Pasasouk was sentenced to only two weeks. Prosecutors acknowledged Monday they had erred in finding Pasasouk qualified for the diversion program.
When Pasasouk missed a follow-up probation meeting, officials began
working on a warrant for his arrest. He was officially considered a fugitive
when the murders occurred.
Unless the state changes the law as it stands, "We're going to have more of these tragedies occurring more frequently," Antonovich said. "The state Legislature and the governor ought to make this a priority."
He said the sheer number of prisoners released was also an issue.
"I don't see how we can absorb this population and be responsible for all of their rehabilitation," Antonovich said. County jails were "meant to be (a) motel, not a full-service penitentiary."
The board directed Powers to provide a written report detailing Pasasouk's criminal history, his probation and information on all federal, state and local agencies that interacted with him since his release. The report is expected back within 30 days.
The supervisors also indicated their intent to push for legislative changes in AB109, the state law that governs the release on non-serious, non- violent, non-sexual offenders from state prisons.