Offenders get second chance to grow up thanks to 2014 law
Submitted by the Division of Adult Parole Operations
On March 19, Ralph Munoz was back at the South Central Parole Office, but in a different role.
Munoz retired from state service as a Parole Agent III in 2003, and before that, had also served as as a Los Angeles County Probation Officer. He didn’t come back to South Central Parole as a law enforcement agent, but as a teacher.
Munoz is the kind of teacher who knows how to change the lives of former offenders and has been committed to their rehabilitation his whole life.
Parole agents are tasked with helping former inmates get their lives back on track, from finding a place to stay and getting a job to getting into substance abuse treatment programs. While a parole agent’s job can often be a dangerous one, the rewards in changing offenders’ lives are just as great.
Munoz has owned and operated R&M Traffic School in Los Angeles County. While his law enforcement days are behind him, he has not given up on the potential for changing the lives of those who need it the most.
On this day, he would be teaching life-term offenders about the rules of the road. These offenders had received life sentences for crimes committed when they were still minors at 16 years old, but a new law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, Senate Bill 260, “Justice for Juveniles with Adult Prison Sentences,” has given them a chance to parole and show that they have learned their lessons from past youthful mistakes.
Under Senate Bill 260, offenders who were under the age of 18 years at the time of their crime can apply for parole if they have served at least 15 years of their sentences. In considering whether to grant parole, great weight is given to the diminished culpability of the youth, as compared to adults; the hallmark features of youth; and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the inmate. When Senate Bill 260 took effect in 2014, California had approximately 6,500 offenders in prisons who had been sentenced as youths and who, upon application to the Board of Parole Hearings, could apply for a granting of parole.
For offenders who are granted parole under Senate Bill 260, the challenges in coming home and catching up with the advances made in the world since their incarceration can be significant, if not downright daunting. Because they were 16 years old when sentenced, they may have never had the opportunity to go through rites of passage typical for most teenagers in society today, such as learning to drive a car and obtaining a drivers’ license.
“It’s a privilege to come in, even after retirement, and have an impact on the lives of these guys and be able to provide tools for their success,” said Munoz. “For me, it was nice to see the number of parolees who showed up for class ready and eager to learn. Some never had an opportunity to learn to drive with a parent or adult when they were teens, so to be there learning about traffic signs, traffic rules, and preparing for the exam was a dream finally realized. Their drivers’ license exams are scheduled in a few weeks – so it was great to see them responsive and appreciative of my instruction.”
Efforts like this from community members are valuable in preparing offenders for long-term stability in the community. Munoz’s compassion and passion are not atypical but rather characteristic of all of CDCR’s agents in the field, according to those with DAPO.
“What all of our agents have in common is the desire to keep our communities safe and assisting offenders making positive changes in their lives achieves that goal,” said Bobby Haase, Deputy Director for DAPO. “What Ralph (Munoz) exemplifies is that this desire never completely leaves, even when you leave this career behind. It makes me proud to work for a Division filled with great people.”