RUFUS ADAMS, who was convicted of an especially grisly murder by a D.C. Superior Court jury last month, is no stranger to the criminal justice system. When he killed Alfreda Garner by twisting a garrote around her neck and stabbing her more than a dozen times, he was on parole from Lorton Reformatory, where he had been serving a sentence for other crimes of violence. For a year before the murder, Mr. Adams had kept a diary, which was introduced in evidence at the trial. The entries include detailed descriptions of sexual encounters with men and women and reveal that the writer was stalking women in a search for someone "to hurt."

In addition to a string of arrests and juvenile offenses, Mr. Adams has a frightening record of criminal convictions, which began when he was 17. In 1963, he was convicted of assault, and two years later he was convicted of receiving stolen property. Neither offense resulted in a prison sentence. By 1966, he was charged with rape and assault with a dangerous weapon and pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit rape. He served four years of an eight-year sentence on that offense. Shortly after his release he was in trouble again, and by 1972 he had been convicted of two armed rapes, two armed robberies and assault with a dangerous weapon in a case that involved the stabbing of a woman on the street. Sentenced to 7 to 21 years in Lorton, he was paroled after the minimum time had been served. Why was he released?

The D.C. Board of Parole looks at six factors in making a parole determination: the offense, prior history of criminality, personal and social history of the offender, performance while in prison and the availability of community resources to assist the parolee. Is it reasonable to assume that Rufus Adams passed these tests? The fact is that most applicants for parole are found to have met these standards at the very first opportunity for consideration. Under D.C. law, the board has authority to release a prisoner after one-third of the maximum sentence has been served. In 1980, 431 of the 593 adult prisoners who applied after completing the minimum sentence were released. Studies indicate that more than half are arrested for new crimes within two years of release.

This is a grim picture. While the parole board clearly has a difficult job, it is accountable to each of us for its decisions. Something is wrong when dangerous and violent criminals like Rufus Adams are set free at the first opportunity. Perhaps the board needs more resources or less discretion. Maybe it just needs tougher standards.