California's Broken Parole and Probation System

The irony seemed unintentional, which made it all the more amusing.

The story appeared in the May 29 edition of the Los Angeles Times.  “Realignment plan for California prisons causing new friction,” ran the headline, below which appeared a photograph of a teary-eyed Pamela Morris, for whom the reader was apparently supposed to feel sympathy.  For those who merely skim the newspaper, glancing only at pictures and headlines, the editorial message was clear: Here was a disadvantaged woman, unlucky in life and put upon by an indifferent justice system.

But if one bothered to read the first paragraph, that delicious irony fairly leaped from the page.  “The first four times Pamela Morris was released from prison,” it read, “she would go to her state parole officers or they would occasionally make unannounced solo visits to make sure she wasn’t committing new crimes.”

And the story goes on to describe the perceived defects in California’s newly instituted program (discussed last year here), whereby convicted criminals who once would have been housed in state prisons are instead serving time in county jails, and those who would have been in county jails are out on the loose but under the supervision of local police and sheriffs.  And it was local police officers, from my own Los Angeles Police Department, who brought poor Pamela Morris to tears for having the audacity to drop in on her unannounced, handcuff her, and search her belongings, all of which they were legally allowed to do.

The first four times . . .

As the story makes clear, the various city, county, and state agencies involved are still adapting to the new state of affairs, as are the convicted felons who, like Morris, grew accustomed to a level of oversight that was often less than effective, hence her three return trips to the calaboose.  But now she feels the boot of the Man on her neck.  Imagine the indignity of having police officers showing up at your door in an effort to verify that you are living up to the terms of your parole or probation.  Why, they never used to do it this way!  I used to go down to the office, or my parole officer would come by to make sure I hadn’t strayed from the path of righteousness.

The first four times . . .

Whatever the defects of the new system,  Morris is living proof that the old one was often ineffective.  Most police officers have experienced the frustration of trying to get a parole or probation officer to take an interest in a particular offender.  Case loads are often so overwhelming that many parole and probation officers are content to process the mountains of paperwork attendant to their jobs rather than take the time to determine if their charges are actually abiding by the conditions imposed on them.  Morris was presumably in good standing with her parole officer right up to the moment she got herself pinched in each of those three subsequent incidents that landed her back in the joint.