By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has tens of thousands of parolees under its supervision at any given time. These parolees, while mandated to follow certain individual conditions of parole or face more time in the state or county lockup, still have the freedom to engage with the community around them.
Many parolees make the choice to take advantage of rehabilitative programs and assistance to stay out of trouble, but those who choose not to follow the rules can quickly find themselves back behind bars — and Warrants Office Program Technician Bennie Laster is right there to help deliver the news.
The CDCR Warrants Unit works hand in hand with the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) to process and activate warrants for parolees who have violated their conditions of parole. They also work closely with law enforcement nationwide to forward the correct and timely paperwork when parolees are arrested.
Laster has worked for CDCR since 2010, working the graveyard shift and taking calls when most people are sound asleep.
The Warrants Unit can process more than 200 inquiries a day — and that’s just if the phone call resulted in the arrest or capture of a wanted parolee. The volume can be daunting, but it’s the time limits which really make or break the night.
In the case of a California parolee being arrested out of state, Laster and the Warrants Unit have 10 minutes to respond or could potentially face the wanted parolee being released by the arresting agency. If a “10-Minute Hit” comes across Laster’s desk, it takes immediate priority, and tonight, he’s got one.
A wanted parolee was arrested in Reno, Nevada, and the local law enforcement is on the street with the offender in the vehicle awaiting CDCR’s confirmation the parolee is in fact wanted by California authorities. Time is of the essence – the parolee is in the back of the Reno Police Department vehicle and the officers are waiting on Laster’s response.
If Laster doesn’t meet the 10-minute deadline, notification is made to the California Department of Justice which immediately sends CDCR’s Warrants Unit a follow up request followed by phone calls. Laster and his team make it a point to not let this happen.
Laster confirms the parolee in custody of the Reno PD does in fact have a “no-bail” warrant and should immediately be taken into custody. He completes the required jail notifications and then slips the entire folder into the “Out of State” bin where the CDCR Extradition Unit takes it from there.
When a call comes into the Warrant Unit, an arresting agency has pulled up an offender’s name which was flagged as having either a hold or warrant. In the case of a hold, the parolee has been picked up on new charges and notification is needed to his/her parole agent. In the case of a warrant, the parolee is immediately taken to jail for booking after confirmation by CDCR’s Warrants Unit.
There are many reasons a parolee may have a warrant issued, most include not reporting to a required treatment program or not checking in with the parole agent as required.
If it is confirmed the parolee does in fact have an arrest warrant, it’s time for Laster to make sure the information is also forwarded directly to the jail where the parolee is being taken. Using a program called Omnixx, the information Laster inputs into this program, such as “No Bail Warrant,” ensures CDCR and law enforcement agencies are on the same page and do not release offenders due to lapses in communication.
To maintain efficiency and functionality, all of the Warrants Unit’s phone lists must continually be updated. If a Program Technician in the Warrants Office can’t track down a phone number, it could waste potentially valuable time from the processing of information. It’s fast-paced because every FAX and call is urgent, which is just the way Laster likes it is.
“When I come in, I get started on real-time stuff,” Laster said. “I don’t have a lingering inbox with old projects. Everything I start is new.”
It’s not a simple job. The Warrants Unit must diligently listen for the phones and the faxes which come in or risk missing a tight deadline. They must also make sure every step in the process is completed. Cutting corners isn’t an option since doing so could have some serious consequences. Missing a step along the chain can result in a wanted parolee being released or a parolee being jailed for an old inactive warrant.
“The hardest part is remaining focused, not getting ahead of yourself just because you know the process,” Laster said. “We can’t let other people rush us into taking shortcuts, we have to make sure every single step and notification is followed.”
The CDCR Warrants Unit cannot skip a beat, even when it’s 3:30 in the morning.
Laster and his team are on it and to see him work is to watch a well-oiled machine. It’s a big responsibility, but after spending decades of his life in the United States military, he is up for the job.
Read more Day in the Life stories at http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/category/day-in-the-life/