More than 20 years after Texas limited the responsibilities of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to approving or denying cases not supervising parole officers or parolees a new state report is sparking debate about whether to expand the agency's duties again.
Such a change, if approved, would be the biggest shift in Texas' corrections system in decades — and the idea has sparked a turf war between the parole board and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs state prisons and currently supervises parole officers.However, Ward notes, Sunset staff did not recommend merging duties. The Sunset:
Texas has more than 75,000 men and women on parole, one of the largest such systems in the United States. Although parole decisions and cases generally are not public, several examples have surfaced in the past year in which the parole board voted to impose restrictions on convicts as a condition of their release, and then a parole officer later modified or removed that condition without the parole board ever knowing about it.
In other cases, restrictions were imposed on parolees by the parole division without the parole board approving.
"analysis did not find significant problems, certainly none large enough to recommend dismantling the functions, nor were there significant cost savings related to an alternative structure," according to the commission's report.Mike also provided some institutional history that's likely new to most Sunset Commission members:
The report found that most of the problems stemmed from poor communication between the agencies and urged the agencies' managers to resolve those problems.
Before 1989, the parole board was totally in charge of the state's parole process — supervising parole officers who supervised the parolees, as a separate agency with a separate budget and mission from the prison system, then known as the Texas Department of Corrections.
That year, to create what was then termed a "seamless" system of criminal justice, the Legislature put parole officers under the new Texas Department of Criminal Justice and left the parole board — a separate agency created by the Texas Constitution — as a scaled-down entity that voted on paroles and clemency requests.
Continuing issues between parole and prison officials have played out several times in courtrooms, where judges have criticized the two agencies for making overlapping and sometimes contradictory decisions about the conditions of parole for a convict.
The agencies have also been blasted for taking conflicting legal positions on convicts' rights to a parole hearings.Grits can see the potential wisdom on both sides of the merger suggestion, but Ward took away from last week's hearing a much stronger sense than I did that the Sunset process might undertake a merger to resolve the "communications" issues identified by Rep. Bonnen and other legislators.
See coverage of the hearing from the Texas Tribune and Grits' earlier write-ups: