Wednesday, December 04, 2013

TDCJ SNAFU reduced parole chances for thousands of inmates

Last week, KHOU-TV in Houston reported (Nov. 27) that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles failed to include letters of support from friends, family and even potential employers in as many as 86,000 parolee files, denying parole board members important information that reduced the inmates' chances for release from prison. Given that the entire Texas prison population is just over 150K, that's a substantial majority of inmates. Reported the TV station:
“We believe about 86,000 files (were affected),” explained TDCJ Spokesman Jason Clark. 
“Different inmates, somewhere in the correctional system?” The I-Team asked Clark.
“Yes,” he responded.
Those 86,000 files are parole files that may not have included support letters urging voters to approve an inmate’s release.
As the I-Team first reported, for months those letters were part of “general correspondence” that was electronically stored, but not put into inmates’ parole files.
Instead, those documents were shredded as part of a policy change inside TDCJ.
But Clark admits no one from TDCJ ever told the Board of Pardons and Paroles about the policy change.
So for months parole voters had no idea they were potentially reviewing incomplete files when deciding cases.
“Is it possible people are sitting in prison right now who legitimately would have had a chance to be paroled had this information been in there?” the I-Team asked Clark.
“You know, how this general correspondence would have influenced the parole decision, I can't speculate,” Clark said. “Those decisions come down to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.”
So the I-Team took the question to the parole board.
A spokesman for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles said the Board doesn’t know how many reviews relied on an incomplete file and admitted that a year after the Board learned of the mistake, it had not initiated any process to re-examine any cases to see if they were affected.
However, that spokesman, Harry Battson, wrote in a statement that the Board, “closely monitored approval rates since December 2012 and identified no discernible differences with previous months.”
Mr. Battson's statement, though, was contradicted by Lance Lowry, leader of the union representing Texas prison guards. In response to the KHOU story he sent Grits and other media an email that read, in part:
Capacity issues are becoming a problem in TDCJ.  During the middle of session the population for TDCJ was around 152,000 inmates.  Now the population has increased to over 153,000.  Instead of the targeted decrease in population, the population has increased in Texas prisons, despite increases in funding for re-entry programs. 

The Board of Pardon & Parole should be targeting a reduction in the overall inmate population in Texas prisons, but is not. ...

Texas can't afford a high prison population due to its fiscal limitations and expanding needs.  Mistakes such as the one cited in the investigative piece by KHOU can not be tolerated. Losing 86,000 parole files may cost the state millions, if not billions in the long term. 

Texas needs to use it's available parole resources and continue on the model of getting Right on Crime by decreasing the population [and reducing] this fiscal burden.  With extreme underfunding, the prison system is a constitutional liability to taxpayers with Federal court intervention a major risk.
This is a major SNAFU. To the extent these letters contained offers of employment or places for convicts to live with family upon reentry, their omission could easily have caused the board to reject applications for release that would have otherwise been granted.

TDCJ executives received substantial pay hikes after the last legislative session, but the ones responsible for this screw-up should have received pink slips instead. One also wonders how parole board members and staff failed to notice when letters of support suddenly began to disappear wholesale from all the files they were processing. The level of negligence here across the board was pretty breathtaking.

At a minimum, TDCJ should notify the 86,000 inmates whose files were rejected and let them know that, if their families or others sent letters of support, they were shredded and never submitted to the parole board. And in cases where information was missing and the parole board denied release, there should be some process established for revisiting those cases. Even if it only affected decisions in a few thousand cases, that would make a big difference in a prison system hovering near capacity.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, we wouldn't want to play second fiddle to any other place in the world in our reign of mass incarceration.

sunray's wench said...

TDCJ should definitely let the inmates know - but I doubt TDCJ can now say which inmates were affected by this scandalous abuse of power.

David W. Collingsworth said...

Inside TDCJ actually means TDCJ-PD, (Parole Division.) Someone is trying to blame TDCJ as a whole when there are 2 divisions within TDCJ. TDCJ-ID and TDCJ-PD. I pay them a money order every month, trust me. Why?

Anonymous said...

I've seen riots break out before Roots aired it's first commercial and when they tried to make us take showers in Feb. with no damn hot water. KHOU and three other TV Stations were alerted and did absolutely nothing. Nor did the so called Church people that visited. And it affected way more than 86K humans.

This particular bullshit criminal conspiracy to keep inmates in the system in order to submit invoices that bring in more money, will travel faster than a comet via chains' and there is no friggin doubt that riots will be the end product.

The ones wiring up everyone to riot will be those having no chance in hell of being paroled anytime soon, if not, ever. Those affected will be pissed off enough to join in the raindeer games and everyone will be charged for participating and rec. additional time.

This was a planned, calculated scheme and hell yes they all should be fired and charged with appropriate crimes. But, we all know that ain't happening. Where is Gov. Perry? Planning his exit strategy. This is going to get very bad, bad, bad.

Q. anyone wanna guess how many folks just lost the will to live, lost their wives / husbands /families, lost their houses, lost their potential jobs?

Anonymous said...

Something else, we didn't learn about this by any inmates or their familes due to the outgoing mail being intercepted and shredded or, by any Officials self reporting.

We have a prison guard union leader to thank for doing the right thing. He should be honored but, something says he'll be targetd and Rules will be made up that prevent crimes from being shared with the public in the future.

Thank you Mr. Lowery.

Linda Roller said...

TYPICAL! They should take away all rec, phone, mail, hot water, heat, visitation, commissary, and put them in a cell for 24x7 for 30 days like they do the inmates

SEMPERFINE said...

A real good tip: Send the support letters to the voting Board members, or even better, to the Board of Pardons and Paroles General counsel.Then follow up with telephone calls to attempt to verify if the letter was received. If feasible, send it certified so you have a verifiable tracking.
Now, in the interest of fairness, did the same fate apply to protest letters? Just Asking.

Anonymous said...

I was terrified that this would steal all of the hope my husband had left when he found out about it. His response wasn't what I thought it would be. It was worse. He laughed, and told me that when he was in Abilene when he first went in that at one point he was in seg, and people were committing suicide on the seg hall at his unit. Up and down the hall, people would hang themselves and stay hanging in their rooms all night. No one would find their bodies because CO's just never did rounds to check on them in spite of the huge incidence of suicides that were taking place.

He watched a guy get shot in the torso for "attempting to escape." even though the guy was standing in the yard calmly talking to another inmate and was shot by an officer who was facing him, without warning for a reason my husband still doesn't understand. Just murdered for no reason.

So the possibility that his parole packet was shredded means nothing to him. At least he wasn't murdered or his dead body left hanging in a seg cell for 2 days.

I respect that prison isn't supposed to be fair. What I don't respect is the existence of an agency that my tax dollars support with zero accountability or oversight. Way to contribute to rehabilitation there, Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Anonymous said...

My son and other inmates have been and are harassed and beaten by guards at the Middletown Prison. Other times they have cameras, but the Wardens excuse have been, that "Those cameras are not there for the inmates to use but for the guards to keep watch" this happened at another prison, but I'm sure it happens at any other prison! I wanted to report it and my son asked me not to, due to there will be repercussions!! And no one will listen or do a damn thing about it. We're told that these inmates or family members lost their rights or that they have no rights!! That no one will listen to them, but they're wrong!! This is why a lot of them hang themselves!! They need our support, their families. I tried to get a hold of someone that is supposed to leaned a hand to the inmates, but nether my son or I heard from them. So these letters are just going to be thrown under the rug as everything else, WHY? To keep these supposed Corrupted Wardens, guards employed!! I know that there's a lot of them in these prisons and should be punished! Many few are not!

Anonymous said...

I worry about my guy who is incarcerated at TDCJ and is currently up for parole. He says they are roach infested and the guards are always giving cases and extra duty. The chow is horrible and the commissary is always out of everything at the unit he is in. He goes to work, keeps to himself, and does what he is told. He doesn't want any trouble.