3/29/08

SEIU makes example of radical leftist

Despite reviewing the file of Sara Jane Olson multiple times since December, prison administrators and clerks failed to catch the miscalculation that led to the premature release of the former 1970s radical, officials said. Olson, 61, was paroled March 17, a year before her sentence was to end. She was re-arrested five days later after the error was caught.

The corrections department has launched an internal review into what went wrong. Three rank-and-file workers who calculate inmate release dates and two supervisors are under investigation.

The union representing prison clerks released information indicating that correction department supervisors reviewed Olson's case last December and periodically this year. The last review was 10 days before her parole from the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.

At one point, a clerk spent 90 minutes going over the complicated case with a supervisor, who agreed with the clerk's parole calculation, the union said.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents 15,000 civilian employees in the state prison system, released the information because it fears some of its members will be blamed for the mix up, union spokesman Jim Zamora said.

"If a piece of paper is missing from that file, a mistake can be made," he said. "One of our members may or may not have made a clerical error, but they had extensive review."

Officials involved with state prison matters say the mistake illustrates the complexity of California's multilayered criminal sentencing laws.

Olson's premature release was discovered after reporters and Sacramento County prosecutors questioned whether the former Symbionese Liberation Army member had served her full sentence. The subsequent review by corrections officials found that she still had a year to serve.

"There's no doubt about it, there were layers of review," said Seth Unger, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "This is a very unique case in which you're applying sentencing laws that were in place three decades ago to a case today. There were certainly opportunities along the way for mistakes to be made."

Olson was serving a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty to the attempted bombing of Los Angeles police cars in the 1970s and a 1975 bank robbery in a Sacramento suburb that left a customer dead.

An error led officials to believe Olson was serving a 12-year sentence instead. Prisoners typically serve half their sentence, leading to Olson's release earlier this month after serving six years.

Corrections officials say her actual release date is in March 2009.

The Symbionese Liberation Army, started in 1973, was a group of mostly middle class college students who hoped to foment a violent social revolution. It was best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and a 1974 shootout with Los Angeles police in which six SLA members were killed.

Olson, then named Kathleen Soliah, became a fugitive and fled to St. Paul, Minn., where she married a doctor and raised three children. She was recaptured in 1999 and negotiated plea agreements in the California cases.

(ap.google.com)

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