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August 30, 2009

Plenty of blame to go around in high-profile failure of "supervised parole"

This big crime story of the past week concerned the discovery that convicted rapist Phillip Garridowas able to kidnap and keep a young girl in backyard dwellings for nearly two decades.  This is, of course, a sentencing story in many ways, and this Wall Street Journal article highlights how it repesents a remarkable high-profile failing of "supervised parole":

State and federal officials are investigating how a convicted kidnapper and rapist was able to hide captives in the yard of his Northern California home for 18 years while under supervised parole.

Authorities over the past decade had made surprise visits to the Antioch home of Phillip Garrido, who prosecutors allege kidnapped 29-year-old Jaycee Dugard when she was 11 and kept her in backyard dwellings until her discovery this week. Ms. Dugard, who police say had two children with her captor, was reunited Thursday with her family.

Despite supervision of Mr. Garrido by parole and probation officers, state and local law enforcement agencies acknowledged their failure to find Ms. Dugard earlier.  Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf said Friday that an officer had visited Mr. Garrido's home in 2006 after receiving a 911 call that said Mr. Garrido had people living in tents in his backyard and was "psychotic and had a sexual addiction." "We should have been more inquisitive," Mr. Rupf said at a news conference. "There are no excuses."...

Mr. Garrido had been sentenced in 1977 to 50 years in prison on federal charges and five years to life on state charges after he was convicted of kidnapping a woman in California 1976. He was found guilty of taking the woman to Reno, Nev., where he sexually assaulted her, according to the Nevada Department of Public Safety. After serving 11 years, a parole board released Mr. Garrido in 1988 and placed him on lifetime probation.

Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Thursday that Mr. Garrido was supervised by a parole officer whose caseload was reduced to allow greater attention to high-risk parolees. Mr. Garrido wore a GPS ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts, he said. Mr. Hinkle declined to identify the parole officer, but said his agency is "very proud" of what the officer did in recent days to help arrest Mr. Garrido.

The case comes at a time when planned prisoner releases in states such as California and Michigan are renewing interest in parole boards and probation, which in some corrections systems can decide on early release. For the past 25 years or so, such boards have been out of style. Legislation in 1984 eliminated them for new federal cases due to concerns about disparate treatment of prisoners. At the state level, they were criticized for high-profile crimes committed by parolees. Michigan has since beefed up its parole board, and California is trying to figure out how to process early prisoner releases....

Mr. Garrido was under federal parole supervision when he allegedly kidnapped Ms. Dugard, according to a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Public Safety. Mr. Hinkle, the California corrections department spokesman, said Mr. Garrido was transferred to the custody of California's parole system in 1999.

Since then, state parole agents went to his home two or three times each month, sometimes unannounced, Mr. Hinkle said, and met with him at other locations. Mr. Garrido was "under pretty strict supervision," he said. "If everything seemed to be in order, [parole officers] take a quick look around and move on," he said. "It's not like you're going into a search situation where you're going to be throwing up mattresses and tearing up the refrigerator."

The parole and probation systems -- designed to keep close track of offenders -- have limitations, said Richard Wood, a former federal probation officer...."Some of the people you're seeing as a parole officer are very, very good at hiding what they're doing," he said. "Meeting them one or two hours a week doesn't do it."

Last year, the sheriff's department in Contra Costa County did a sweep of the residences of registered sex offenders to ensure they were complying with their release conditions. Eleven offenders were arrested, the department reported, but a visit to Mr. Garrido's house apparently didn't generate any suspicions, according to Contra Costa County officials.

August 30, 2009 at 10:52 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 30, 2009 1:33:51 PM

Home and property inspections are part and parcel of the supervision of sex offenders. It is difficult to imagine why authorities did not thoroughly inspect every nook and cranny of this pervert's property.

Posted by: mjs | Aug 30, 2009 5:12:47 PM

This has got to be a failure of the supervising agencies. They were probably focusing on making sure that a recently released drug convict wasn't violating his no alcohol condition. No wonder they missed this.

Posted by: KRG def attny | Aug 31, 2009 12:21:37 PM

Sounds like a bad V.C. Andrews novel. Sometimes crimes don't get caught, although this has got to be a record oversight. The failure to respond to the 911 call is particularly troubling. Normally, you don't go all out to search someone whose been no trouble for years; but after a 911 call the system should swing into a more intense mode.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 31, 2009 10:53:42 PM

Smoke and Mirrors in the Current Budget Crisis: What They’re Not Telling You about the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative and Paroles from the Michigan Department of Corrections May Hurt You (Eventually)

Three things before the title of this missive is made clearer to you: (1) I do not want the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (MPRI) to fail; (2) I realize that your time is valuable, so I will keep this as brief as possible while sacrificing much needed detail; (3) That I will not identify myself herein probably will result in distrust and a lack of faith in the veracity of my statements. I apologize for that. Please know that I have no political agenda here. I am an employee of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) who takes our responsibility to prisoners and the public very seriously. So please, you will have to take my word for it: I have seen firsthand the evidence for what I describe below. You take it from here.

Having said that, let’s move on. Whatever you take away from this letter, you should you to know one thing: Motivated by arrogance, political glad-handing, and self-serving agendas, a handful of MDOC administrators is potentially endangering the public, its own staff, the families of prisoners, and the prisoners themselves by (a) ignoring decades of valid and reliable research findings, (b) selectively interpreting and misinterpreting those findings that they do acknowledge and (c) abusing the current State fiscal crisis to bend critical MDOC employees to their will. All this in order to fund, leverage, and implement the MPRI and press prisoner paroles with expediency as the sole criterion for success. That is, getting as many prisoners out the door as possible as quickly as possible.

The major points which I make here are not all that could be made but I hope that they will give you a general picture of what is going on.

(1) The deliberate harmful misuse of MDOC resources in the service of expediency:

Where some of the risks to the public (and its coffers) will be coming from.

As part of the MPRI core workgroup effort and parole push, the MDOC endangers the well-being of prisoners by forcing unqualified unlicensed custody staff to perform the work of psychologists who are qualified, trained, experienced, and licensed to fully assess, understand, and appropriately deal with the myriad issues which arise in the treatment of the prisoners

While unethical, failing to meet standards specified by accrediting agencies, liability insurance companies, and the legislatures and operating procedures and policies of nearly every other jurisdiction in the U.S., and even illegal on a number of levels, having unqualified unlicensed custody staff administer and interpret risk assessments, psychological assessments, and conduct psychological treatment will ultimately impact a variety of community supervision recommendations and parolee outcomes in horrifying ways which I cannot even begin to describe.

Let’s start with the misscoring and misinterpretation of assessment instruments by unqualified and unlicensed custody staff in order to deliberately under-estimate individual prisoner risk. (When knowledgeable MDOC employees have confronted them on the evidence for this, the MPRI feigns ignorance.) This serves the agenda of justifying inappropriate re-classification to lower security levels and an increased number of paroles for sexual and violent prisoners. For one thing, this largely MPRI-driven practice endangers MDOC staff and other prisoners while the prisoner is still in custody. Dangerous behavior continues in custody after the prisoner is misclassified on the basis of misscored risk assessments. But there’s more to it.

Misusing risk assessment instruments for purposes they were not designed and validated for is unethical, irresponsible, harmful, and in some instances illegal. The MDOC is currently doing this with several instruments in spite of their developers’ objections. Such misuse results in misspecification of actual risk, which results in poor parole decision-making for starters. That is, it significantly raises the number of cases erroneously identified as safe program and parole risks, thereby increasing risk to prison employees, the public, and wasted resources. This also results in misspecification of the true treatment and community supervision needs of prisoners (intensity of parole guidelines and mandates), setting them up to fail.

Assuming that risk assessments are accurate across time is dangerous practice unless empirically proven otherwise. Bands of error around predictive accuracy for time-to-failure intervals for nearly all risk instruments have been shown to be exceedingly wide and indicate exponentially-increased inaccuracy as time goes on. These include the fully-automated use and computerized interpretation of the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions [COMPAS] and the unqualified use of the Vermont Assessment of Sex Offender Risk [VASOR] currently in use by the Department. So, what we know is that it is nigh-impossible to accurately predict whether a given offender will stay out of custody for, say, a year or more before committing another crime. Misleading statements about the appropriate use and interpretation of assessment instrument results pertaining to accuracy usually forego mention of this—as the MDOC has in this instance.

The MDOC is not meeting legal precedent set by numerous state and federal lawsuits filed by prisoners nationwide over the past 15 years which pertain to acceptable professional and scientific standards of assessment and psychological treatment of prisoners—particularly in those instances in which decisions pertaining to prisoners’ freedom is at stake—and that includes all of the prisoners considered for and accepted into MPRI and those who either do or do not receive standard paroles.

(2) Looking good in the public eye: How to get it done.

Core MPRI administrators and decision-makers engage in the manufacture and proliferation of public and inter-departmental untruths and half-truths about their work. When I say this I also mean that members of the Parole Board—perhaps the most powerful and important agency within the Department—are being lied to. Contrary to literally decades of international research findings, among other things it does, the MPRI core group is currently advertising the idea that sexual and homicide offenders don’t re-offend against people any more than other offenders do once they are released from prison. The group is also putting forth the idea that keeping prisoners in prison beyond their minimum sentencing date actually reduces their chances of succeeding in the community (I will refrain from saying what I want to say about this ridiculous inference). Last, the group is attempting to sell the notion that mentally ill and/or substance-abusing prisoners are at higher risk than other prisoners solely by the fact they are mentally ill and/or substance-abusers. All three of the above are “selling points” for hurrying paroles and are complete fallacy. They are not merely misleading statements because of their over-simplification of what are in reality complex issues. These kinds of statements on the part of the core group conveniently ignore a wealth of research which states otherwise or that there are other significant contributing factors. (Prisoners are not a simple group, they are a complex one.)

Core MPRI administrators responsible for MPRI and prisoner mental health care decision-making are neither qualified nor licensed in the science and practice of risk or psychological assessment or prisoner psychological treatment (they are Regional Wardens, Wardens, Deputy Wardens, and other custody staff); though they’d like the public and so-called MPRI “stakeholders” to believe they are.

This core group is not consulting with MDOC psychologists because they already know that these psychologists know what they are up to. Because these psychologists have pointed out the numerous potential dangers in the groups’ agenda over the past two years and have repeatedly notified the Parole Board of such, the group has (a) effectively shut out qualified, competent, and licensed PSU psychologists, (b) put them on 6 unpaid furlough days (with about 20 more coming up in the next year for a variety of employees, including psychologists), (c) brought in paid contract psychologists from the community headhunter agencies at much greater expense (Apex Behavioral Health & Patterson Services are but two) and (d) has officers and school teachers* conduct psychological assessment and treatment of prisoners—thereby taking away the work of MDOC psychologists and other qualified employees in violation of fair labor practices, the contracts of various employee unions, and Civil Service rules. [*For unqualified school teachers to administer the Multi-phasic Sex Inventory (MSI-II) is in direct contradiction to ethical, legal, and professional standards as well as to the objections of the MSI-II’s developer and license grantor.]

Moreover, the latest action plan put together by the core group also necessitates the hiring of at least one new full-time custody employee per MDOC facility to run a “new” Violent Offender Program (or Violence Prevention Program). The so-called program, formerly known as the Assaultive Offender Program was previously conducted by the qualified and licensed staff of the PSU.

Do not believe for one second that an unqualified unlicensed custody staff person hired to replace a qualified and licensed correctional psychologist is going to know what to do when a prisoner in the new custody-run Violence Prevention Program tells that custody staff person during group treatment about how as a child he was sodomized by an uncle for three years. Probably, custody will refer the prisoner to the PSU to deal with it. How will custody document such information as part of treatment progress and completion (required by every State mental health code in the U.S. including Michigan)? They won’t because (a) they won’t know how to and (b) because they are unlicensed they won’t be held to liability-reducing confidentiality laws which also protect prisoners from embarrassment and harm. How will custody staff figure this information into formulating the prisoner’s needs and risk? They won’t because they aren’t qualified and licensed to know how to. They’ll have to turn it over to PSU as a “mental health” need they will presume has nothing to do with the MDOC’s new idea of “violence prevention”.

But let’s get back on track here—wouldn’t all this constitute a duplication of services which will cost the MDOC twice more than what they’re paying their own employees, the qualified licensed PSU staff, to conduct the Assaultive Offender and Sexual Offender programs? Oops, I guess it is. Factor in the consultant trainers and contractors who are already attached to the “new” program and the cost is likely 3 - 4 times more. All said folks, the core workgroup is certainly not saving the State of Michigan money by being unfair to qualified employees it already has.

What the public may not fully know is that the group is paying out fees for outside consultants to inform their decisions about prisoner treatment, parole decisions, and prisoner re-entry risks and needs when all it had to do was look to its own experienced employees who have decades of experience and knowledge pertaining to these issues.

This group has not only implemented its agenda while laying off psychologists and forcing unpaid furlough days on other staff and paid numerous outside contractors and headhunter agencies to perform the work inside its facilities that was previously performed by MDOC psychologists, it has closed out the Parole Board itself due to the fact that the Board works closely with psychological services staff.

(3) Conclusion

Whether they are a Regional Warden, Warden, Regional Psychological Services Unit (PSU) director, Medical director, mid-level manager or one of many multi-disciplinary line staff, anyone who questions, empirically or rationally critiques, or attempts to oppose this core handful of administrators stands to be retaliated against. This has obtained the silence of the majority of MDOC employees who are already being threatened with more unpaid furlough days and lay-offs.

All of the above leaves the MDOC and public coffers open to yet more lawsuits. MDOC prisoners and their families are not stupid. They will be able to sue the Department and win on any number of issues associated with the above (and I’ve only touched the surface here). For the MDOC MPRI and programs workgroup, blind expedience is the order of the day. Expedience, however, is not equivalent to competence, fairness, or even efficiency. If you are unable to achieve these, you do not achieve and maintain well-being and safety.

You dedicated public servant,


Posted by: X | Sep 5, 2009 2:16:52 PM

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