“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.
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: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.”
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.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.
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.
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.