Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ward: Sunset may shift parolee supervision back to parole board

Mike Ward at the Statesman has more coverage of the recent TDCJ Sunset hearing, though IMO he overstates the chance that the parole board's authority will be substantially expanded. The story opens:
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.

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.
 However, Ward notes, Sunset staff did not recommend merging duties. The Sunset:
"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.

The report found that most of the problems stemmed from poor communication between the agencies and urged the agencies' managers to resolve those problems.
Mike also provided some institutional history that's likely new to most Sunset Commission members:
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:

3 comments:

SEMPERFINE said...

The consolidation, a brainchild of the then General Counsel of the Board of Criminal Justice, wasn't designed for any altruistic concept of efficiency; it was a hostile takeover of the Board of Pardons and Paroles by TDCJ, formerly known as TDC.
The true purpose was to allow the prisons to be able to use parole as a tool to maintain compliance with the RUIZ overcrowding sanctions that were a serious financial and logistical threat.
This action caused the mandatory release of up to 750 inmates per week, some directly from Ad-Seg.The resulting increase of violent crimes in Texas, including the infamous McDuff rampage,during the late 80's until the late 90's, was a direct result of this consolidation.The backlash led to the increase in the number of prisons, as well as the harsher sentences codified in the 90's.
This consolidation of the agencies led to the replacement of extremely qualified parole administrators, most of whom were decorated veterans, by persons promoted from the ranks of the TDC hierarchy. These deliberate actions cost the taxpayers of Texas untold sums of monies awarded to Plaintiff's suing TDCJ for Employment violations and blatant discrimination.
Prison guards and parole officers have decidedly different functions and focus; and cannot be treated as interchangeable cogs. The use of Parole as a relief valve for overcrowding was a badly designed attempt to avoid Federal sanctions, and it's result was a devastation of the lives of thousands of Texans.

Donna said...

>> In other cases, restrictions were imposed on parolees by the parole division without the parole board approving.
>> The Sunset: "analysis did not find significant problems....

OK, maybe it is "poor communication between the agencies." But I have a huge problem with them saying it's insignificant. The community may suffer when restrictions are lifted without parole board approval; the parolee surely suffers when restrictions are added. What hope is there to improve communication with an outside agency when TDCJ doesn't even facilitate good communications between parole officers. Parolees get new parole officers for various reasons, and the "what restrictions shall we use now" game starts all over again.

Gary said...

The imposition of unwarranted/unreasonable parole conditions by parole officers is a significant problem that simply does not get reported enough because the majority of parolees fear retaliation or feel helpless against reporting abuse.
Likewise, the communication breakdown between parole officers does not get reported nor exposed enough.
I am an S.O. (adult victim) trying to move-out of the Dallas Transitional Center into my new apartment (rent paid-up and phone activated for monitor) but officers out of Dallas Parole Office III and IV can not even communicate to process my home plan.