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Paroled sex offenders removing tracking devices

Rithy MamThousands of paroled child molesters, rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in California are removing or disarming their court-ordered GPS tracking devices, a Times investigation has found, and some have been charged with new crimes, including sexual battery, kidnapping and attempted manslaughter.

The offenders have discovered that they can disable the monitors, often with little risk of serving time for it, the investigation found. The jails are too full to hold them.

"It's a huge problem," said Fresno parole agent Matt Hill. "If the public knew, they'd be shocked."

More than 3,400 arrest warrants for GPS tamperers have been issued since October 2011, when the state began referring parole violators to county jails instead of returning them to its packed prisons. Warrants increased 28% in 2012 compared with the 12 months before the change in custody began.

Nearly all the warrants were for sex offenders, who are the vast majority of convicts with monitors, and many were for repeat violations.

The custody shift is part of Gov. Jerry Brown's and the Legislature's "realignment" program, to comply with court orders to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. But many counties have been under their own court orders to ease crowding in their jails.

Some have freed parole violators within days, or even hours, of arrest rather than keep them in custody. Some have refused to accept them at all.

Before prison realignment took effect, sex offenders who breached parole remained behind bars, awaiting hearings that could send them back to prison for up to a year. Now, the maximum penalty is 180 days in jail, but many never serve that time.

With so little deterrent, parolees "certainly are feeling more bold," said Jack Wallace, an executive at the California Sex Offender Management Board.

Rithy Mam, a convicted child stalker, was arrested three times in two months after skipping parole and was freed almost immediately each time. After his third release, his GPS alarm went off and he vanished, law enforcement records show.

The next day, he turned up in a Stockton living room where a 15-year-old girl was asleep on the couch, police said. The girl told police she awoke to find the stranger staring at her and that he asked "Wanna date?" before leaving the home.

Police say Mam went back twice more that week and menaced the girl and her 13-year-old sister, getting in by giving candy to a toddler, before authorities recaptured him in a local park. He is in custody on new charges of child molestation.

Californians voted in 2006 to require that high-risk sex offenders be tracked for life with GPS monitors strapped to their bodies.

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-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Photo: Rithy Mam, a convicted child stalker, was arrested three times in two months after skipping parole and was freed almost immediately each time. After his third release, his GPS alarm went off and he vanished. Police say he subsequently molested two girls; he is back in custody on the new charges. Credit: Stockton police

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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