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Six of seven 'high-risk' sex offenders released early in California over coronavirus are back in jail

They reportedly were charged after their release with crimes such as drug possession or making criminal threats, not sex offenses

Image source: Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's Office

Remember those seven "high-risk" sex offenders released early in California recently to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus? Well, six of them are back in jail, the Orange County Register reported.

What are the details?

Their release was decried by Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who issued a warning to residents.

"These kinds of high-risk sex offenders are the most dangerous kind of criminal and the most likely to re-offend," Spitzer said in a news release. "They are doing everything they can to avoid detection by the parole officers assigned to monitor them so they can potentially commit additional sex offenses. These are not the kind of people who should be getting a break."

The sex offenders — convicted of crimes ranging from indecent exposure and sexual battery to child molestation — were released beginning April 7, many of them spending just days behind bars instead of the six months required by law for registered sex offenders who violate parole by removing or disabling GPS monitors.

The DA's office told the Register that most of the six accused of violating parole after their release either failed to adhere to their supervision or rendered their GPS units inoperable. The paper, citing local jail records, said that as of May 11 they were behind bars.

The public defenders office told the Register that the sex offenders didn't carry out sex crimes this time around but rather committed offenses such as drug possession or making criminal threats. The public defenders office also told the paper that many parolees charge their GPS devices at now-closed county facilities.

"It comes as no surprise that these high-risk sex offenders continue to violate the law and do everything they can to avoid being tracked by law enforcement," Spitzer said in a statement to the Register regarding the rearrests. "There is a concerted effort here in California and across the nation to open up the jailhouse doors and let dangerous criminals back into our streets without regard for the safety of the public which we are sworn to protect."

But Public Defender Sharon Petrosino accused Spitzer of "fearmongering" and distorting the facts to scare the public, the paper said.

More from the Register:

Law enforcement officials across the state have wrestled with how to halt the spread of coronavirus in prisons and local jails. Some efforts — including the early release of non-violent inmates near the end of their sentences — have been backed by police. Others — including a "no bail" edict for low-level crimes backed by the California Judicial Council — have drawn local opposition.

The release of the sex offenders also drew condemnation from some local leaders. In a letter to Commissioner Joe Dane, Santa Ana Councilman Phil Bacerra denounced the decision to release the inmates early.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Orange County Sheriff's Department has taken the appropriate steps to responsibly reduce the population at the Orange County Jail to help limit the spread of Coronavirus," Bacerra wrote, according to the paper. "However, there has not been a need to release additional inmates, particularly dangerous ones, from the jail. Your actions jeopardize the safety and well-being of our community."

'Let out the front door of a jail by a court commissioner who refuses to follow the law'

Spitzer also blasted appointed Court Commissioner Joseph Dane for the release of the sex offenders.

"It is not the Court's responsibility to control the jail population by releasing these dangerous criminals back into our communities," Spitzer said. "The residents of Orange County deserve to have the peace of mind that registered sex offenders are being held accountable and not just let out the front door of a jail by a court commissioner who refuses to follow the law."

Dane has not commented on the criticism, the Register reported, adding that Orange County judicial officials say they are legal and ethical restrictions that bar judges or commissioners from speaking about active criminal cases. The paper said that since Dane is an appointed commissioner — as opposed to a sitting judge — the DA's office is using its right to object to his oversight of sex offenders' parole violations.

One last thing…
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