In a surprise move to reverse a 23-year-old merger of Texas’ criminal justice agencies, a key legislative committee moved Wednesday to shift all parole operations and programs from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to the Board of Pardons and Parole that now just votes on releases.Grits contacted Huntsville parole attorney Bill Habern to ask his view of the proposal to move TDCJ's Parole Division to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and he responded that, "During Sunset Committee several of us testified that the board should be unified as one agency. I also opposed it being split back in the late 1980s," he noted. Further, said Habern:
In addition, a Senate working group writing the first draft of the 2014-15 state budget proposed closing two private prisons that house state convicts to save $97 million over two years, and hinted it might push to close or mothball even more lockups in a system that now has thousands of empty bunks because of a declining convict population.
“It’s time to move ahead with doing what needs to be done,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who a day earlier had castigated prison officials for what he said were almost 11,000 empty prison beds.
“The parole board should oversee parole operations, instead of having that managed by the prison system. I know we merged it in 1989, but that was then and this is now,” Whitmire said. “The system has changed.”
I do not think the Legislature, the board or the division understands how those unresolved Parole-Board/TDCJ internal disputes and jurisdictional questions trickle down to affect parolees and their families. Once these families hit the wall built by the confusion that having two agencies creates, then they hire lawyers like me who have to untie all this mess. The lawyer can talk to employees in both agencies and get conflicting responses, and find confusion over who is in charge.Make's a lot of sense to me.
Creating a single agency to deal with all aspects of parole is the better way to operate. If I were a board member and voted to impose a specific condition of parole, I would want to have the power to ensure the exact condition I impose was enforced. Under the current system there is no guarantee the condition will be enforced as intended when imposed.
Both Austin federal district judges have made any number of comments in cases in their courts where they find the Parole Board or TDCJ's Parole Division hiding behind the skirt of the other agency. Finally the 5th Circuit suggested it should stop. I was at a case conference called by Judge Sam Sparks in which the judge pointed out to the AG's office that they should ensure that the parole agencies understood the comments by the 5th Circuit that "hiding behind the other agency's skirt" had to stop. Judge Lee Yeakel has been just as forceful about the topic.
Seems to me that where there is only one ship there is no need for two captains. Voting parole decisions and ensuring those imposed parole conditions are carried out should be the job of a single administrator, with advice from his/her management team. Currently the board can impose a parole condition, but the division decides what is meant by that condition when it is enforced. The board votes a prospective parolee to "a program" and the prison decides which program. If I have a drug problem. and the board says I need to go to "A PROGRAM," the prison should not be able to send me to anger management. I need to go to drug treatment. The current two-agency system sucks. There should be one Board Chairperson and he/she should be responsible for how the agency works. Not two Chair persons with separate management views.