Computer Error Gives 450 California Inmates 'Get Out of Jail Free' Card

Paul Lilly

Those yellow and orange 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards from Monopoly don't actually exist in real life, but for more than 450 inmates at a California prison with "a high risk of violence," they didn't need one. A computer error allowed them to walk free on "non-revocable parole," meaning they're not required to check in with parole officers and will only be put back behind bars if they're caught committing a crime.

Word of the snafu comes two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California's prisons are too overcrowded and upheld an earlier order that state officials would have to figure out a way to reduce the population of inmates from 143,335 to around 33,000, the L.A. Times reports .

Here's how it works, and where things went wrong. The law that created non-revocable parole excludes inmates that are gang members, have committed sex crimes or violent felonies, or have been determined to pose a high risk to commit another crime based on their records behind bars. You know, the types you wouldn't want to run into on a lighted street, nevermind a back alley.  However, the computer program prison officials used to make that assessment has no way of accessing an inmate's disciplinary history. It instead relies on a state Department of Justice system that records arrests but not conviction information for about half of the state's 16.4 million arrest records.

In a review of 200 case files out of 10,134 former inmates given non-revocable parole in July of last year, it was found that 31 were not eligible, and nine were determined likely to commit violent crimes. That's a 15 percent error rate for that sample, which translates to more than 450 violent inmates being released during the first seven months of the program.

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