California Asks Feds to Mediate Parole Program Disputes

Posted: May 4th, 2005 10:44 AM EDT

DON THOMPSON
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- California is asking a federal judge to appoint a mediator to sort out reform efforts for its beleaguered parole program, saying disputes over the terms of a settlement are stalling needed changes.

A parolees' attorney called that argument ''ridiculous,'' contending the request is a cover for prison officials' abrupt decision last month to end a yearlong experiment with diverting parole violators into halfway houses, drug treatment or electronic monitoring instead of back to prison.

And though the prison system had more than a year to prepare, the state also has been unable to comply with a settlement provision that took effect Jan. 1, requiring that alleged parole violators get a hearing within 35 days.

''The reform is stalling because they failed to administer it properly and they failed to fund it properly,'' said Ernest Galvan, one of the attorneys asking a federal judge to hold the state in contempt of court.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Tuesday set a May 12 hearing on whether the state violated the 18-month-old settlement of the case, and a May 23 hearing on the state's motion for appointment of a special master.

The Youth and Adult Correctional Agency asked Karlton to appoint the special master to act as an arbiter of disputes between the agency and parolees' attorneys over terms of the settlement.

''We're not asking them to take over management of the parole system,'' said agency spokesman J.P. Tremblay. ''There are legal maneuvers they (parolees' attorneys) are doing that make it very difficult for us to ever arrive at a consensus. ... They file something, we respond, they amend it - it's a cycle that makes it very difficult for us to move forward.''

Galvan called that reasoning ''a joke,'' noting that parolees' attorneys filed just two legal motions in four months. ''It's just to slow down and confuse the process. ... It was only after they stepped into this disaster of their own making.''

He alleged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger caved in to the powerful prison guards' union and crime victims organizations that launched television ads last month painting the governor as soft on criminals for promoting prison alternatives.

Schwarzenegger settled the lawsuit on his first day in office in November 2003, shortly after the government's watchdog Little Hoover Commission labeled California's parole system a ''billion-dollar failure.''

But agency Secretary Roderick Hickman said the state is under no obligation to keep parole violators out of prison if they are a danger, and he lost confidence in the parole programs after a year of delays in getting them started.


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