Atascosa County Sheriff Tommy Williams recently began instructing deputies to turn away parolees arrested solely on so-called "blue warrants," for technical violations such as failing to report to a parole officer or failing to provide a change of address.
"We have so many of them here and the state leaves them here a long time," said David Soward, chief deputy of the Atascosa County Sheriff's Office. "We've had them stay over a year."
Soward said the policy isn't applied to parolees who commit new crimes. The jail will continue to accept them, he said.
But the sheriff's office won't continue to absorb the cost of housing violators of technicalities when the county could make money by leasing the same bed space to other law enforcement agencies.
Adan Muñoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said there's nothing his agency can do to force sheriffs to house technical parole violators.
"There's no provision or statue that they can get penalized," Muñoz said. "That's their decision. If he or she can live with that, then it's their discretion."
But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice isn't as understanding.
"If they have violated the law, I would think it's their obligation for them to enforce the law," department spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. "The reality is it may not be against the law, but it also doesn't seem right."
No, Ms. Lyons, what doesn't seem right is you blaming the vicitms of bad policy, in this case Sheriffs and jail administrators, when the real culprit is your own, broken agency and the Governor who vetoed the Sheriffs' preferred solution. Instead you're blaming them for a problem caused by your agency and the Governor.
The problem by no means affects just this one county. Reported the Express-News, "About a third of the Bexar lockup's 552 parole violators were arrested on blue warrants and have not committed any new offense." What's new here is that the Atascosa Sheriff may have found a way for Sheriffs and local jail administrators to turn the table on the Governor's ill-conceived veto. More Sheriffs with overcrowded jails should replicate this this policy.
In the meantime, local Sheriffs, courts and other law enforcement agencies right now need to prepare to implement HB 2391 when it takes effect Sept 1. That's the one significant overcrowding solution the Governor did approve.
At least until 2009 that may be all the help they're getting, unless Sheriffs follow their Atascosa brethren's lead and begin to help themselves.