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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Garrido, Parole, and the Criminological Fallacy

Police and parole authorities in Northern California are wracked with guilt and self doubt today as they struggle to understand and explain how a registered sex offender who had been on continuous federal and then state parole for decades could have kept a girl he kidnapped in 1991, and later the two daughters she bore him in captivity, undiscovered for 18 years.  The horrifying saga began when eleven year old Jaycee Dugard was dragged into a car from a Lake Tahoe school bus stop in 1991 (as her stepfather watched helplessly from their hill top home a block away).  Garrido apparently brought her to his Antioch, California house, where he kept her, secreted in a walled off section of his heavily treed backyard in the semi-rural neighborhood 25 miles or so from San Francisco (an area recently known for methamphetamine and foreclosures).  As

Posted by Jonathan Simon on August 29, 2009 at 11:36 AM | Permalink


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This kind of supervision is supposed to catch this kind of case. Done well, it would. But, the supervision was poorly executed in this case. Perhaps most telling is the fact that a 911 call summing up the precise situation that was there failed to produce a careful and complete search. Better parole office procedure (e.g. interagency cooperation and periodic, surprise intesive searches) make more sense to solve this problem than anything else.

But, this kind of case shouldn't drive policy. Cases of multiple year prolonged confinements come up a few times every year, often involving suspects with no criminal records. But make the news because they are very rare. There was one in Germany last year; there was another involving a member of a religious cult and his wife a couple of years ago. But, these cases are very much the exception. Perhaps one in ten thousand or fewer of all rapes, perhaps one in a thousand or fewer of all child rapes, with this kind of profile. When situations like this do come up, they are at least as often cases of incest than abduction cases.

Just as mass murders by insane people that make up 1-2% of murders each year are a poor model for murder reduction; the vanishingly rare abduction-sex slave cases make a poor model for reducing child sex abuse, particularly when the system in place, run right, would have caught the problem.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Sep 1, 2009 7:14:25 PM

I agree with Patrick. The problem is a lack of common sense and insight in the officers carrying out their tasks. Sheds and tents? Even the police are admitting now that was an obvious sign he was up to no good. You would think that years in the job would make you more astute to weird stuff, not less.

You bring up an interesting point about him being "a man of religion." I think that "religion" is a criminal's favorite mask. It apparently fools a lot of officials, maybe because they are religious to some extent and falsely believe that religion automatically means "good and decent person."

I have neighbors across the street who have criminal records. If you ask them how they are doing..."Oh, I am blessed." It doesn't fool me. Too bad a criminal's "religion," no matter how insane, may be a big factor in fooling the people who are supposed to keep these monsters locked up.

Posted by: Wade | Sep 1, 2009 12:06:59 PM

What, though, is the lesson to take away from this? Single anecdotes are dangerous things on which to build policy. At the end of the day, the police have to rely on some set of rough rules to decide who to search and how thoroughly, given the limited resources they have. That one person fell through the cracks in a sensationalistic way doesn't really tell us anything about anything. It certainly doesn't tell us that the police are wrong to assume that the poor and minorities are more likely to commit Type I offenses. Nor does it tell us that the profile the police use is right. It's one random data-point. The tough-on-crime people rely on single, exceptional cases all the time to pass laws that are excessive or misdirected, like California's three-strikes law (the rare case of Polly Klaas's stranger rape-and-murder) or Amber alerts (which are premised on stranger kidnappings, which rarely happen). Those on the left who are concerned about how the criminal justice system functions shouldn't play the same game/fall into the same trap.

Posted by: Unsure | Aug 31, 2009 6:34:00 AM

It is a miracle that she is alive. I pray that she can recover from this ordeal.

Posted by: Lisa | Aug 29, 2009 8:01:58 PM


All of this seems true except for the fact that a call to authorities about his backyard encampment or compound (described in today's Times as a 'squalid complex of tents, tarps and sheds') was never really checked out (or at least insofar as it was, there was no follow through). It does seem, at least here, that parole officers and others had sufficient reason to investigate a bit further and failed to do so. A neighbor had informed authorities that little girls were living in the tents! The deputy who responded to the call from a neighbor should have alerted the parole officials and it appears he did not. This lack of communication between agencies seems inexcusable.

On the other hand, kudos to the two UC Berkeley police employees, especially Lisa Campbell, for following through on her suspicions. I wonder if the officer had not been a woman if the same degree of concern that was prompted by the appearance and demeanor of the two girls with Garrido would have arisen.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 29, 2009 3:04:30 PM

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