Saturday, January 13, 2007

Low-level, parole-eligible offenders filling up Texas prisons

As legislators struggle to decide whether to spend $150 million on stronger probation or $1 billion on 3 new prisons to solve Texas' overincarceration crisis, ironically the Board of Pardons and Paroles could resolve the whole problem pretty quickly if they chose to do so.

According to TDCJs 2006 annual statistical report (pdf), currently more than 89,000 people, that's 58% of inmates in Texas' prison system, are eligible for parole. More than 50,000 of those parole-eligible inmates - about a third of all Texas prisoners - are non-violent offenders (p. 14).

During questioning of parole board personnel at a recent Sunset hearing, Sen. John Whitmire hit upon this key point: There would simply be no prison overcrowding problem if the parole board followed its own release guidelines for the lowest level offenders.

TDCJ categorizes offenders who are eligible for parole into seven risk levels, and under the current guidelines, level 7 offenders (those identified as the least dangerous) should be approved for release between 76-100% of the time. But take a look at the approval rates for Level 7 offenders at Texas' six regional parole panels from the Sunset report (pdf, p. 31):

Parole Panel Approval Rate for Guideline 7

Amarillo 42.96%
Angleton 54.47
Gatesville 38.29
Huntsville 45.71
Palestine 57.88
San Antonio 53.14

Not one of these parole boards comes close to approving Level 7 parole candidates at even the lowest part of the guideline range. One member of the Sunset Commission pointed out, the parole board is actually more likely to follow its guidelines for the most violent, dangerous offenders than they are low-level nonviolent ones. That makes little sense.

I'm not sure what the fix here would be, but there must be some way to cause the parole board to follow best practices for making decisions who to release. (Another key reform proposed by the Sunset Commission was to improve ethics rules to reduce conflicts of interest; e.g., Parole board Chairwoman Rissie Owens' husband, Ed, is deputy executive director of the prison system..)

We'll see what bills get filed on this score, but this seems like an area ripe for legislative involvement. The current system obviously isn't working like it's supposed to and contributes significantly and needlessly to Texas prison overcrowding.

19 comments:

AlanBean said...

Low-level, parole-eligible offenders are generally small-time drug dealers--the sort of people we have chosen to warehouse through mass incarceration for as long as possible. If you see these people as supurfluous, a surplus population, you don't want them back on the street--ever. It's a simple calculation: would I feel safer with this guy on the street or behind bars? A concern for public safety trumps every other consideration. That, tragically, is the regnant mentality in Texas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

A whole bunch are DWI and property offenders, too. Also, it's worth mentioning that most drug cases in TX are for possession not dealing. But I agree with the "surplus" analysis - some folks just don't realize that a) they have to pay (through higher taxes) for the externalities, and b) almost everybody eventually gets out anyway.

Anonymous said...

The way to fix the prison system is to remove some of the persons who are married to others is command. It is job security to them, the more prisoners the more they feel needed.

We don't need new prisons, we need to destroy the old ones, i.e. The Walls built isn 1895 and if anything build a true rehab unit there. Also, stop making all persons released go back to that horrible place, more punishement fot them and for their loved ones.

The legislature had better pay attention to the suggestions given to them by the Sunset Commission, some of them will be up for re-election again and we are tired of the DA's making the calls on what to do and Gov. Perry listening to John Bradley instead of the people he is supposed to be representing and he does not try to make things better, just himself.

I don't believe in taking drugs, but if they were to legalize them, then there would not be this huge problem. Just the one who are intoxicated by the drugs, i.e. alcohol is a drug and remember prohabititon? Well, that was finally removed and only those who have a drinking problem cause the problems and they need help, not prison time. Why send someone to prison who is just using, those who are manufacturing and selling, is a different matter, but something is very wrong with out system.

Release those who pose no threat to society and make the BPP do their job and either fire Rissie Owens or move dear old Ed to another job away from the closeness she and he have in their jobs.

I have never worked where another family memeber was allowed to even work in the same unit before and I am a professional medical person.

Out legislature better do what is right and I am sorry Mr. Perry, this is your fault, you are the Governor and you make the final say, regarless of your denying it. You do something this term. Remember, you just barely won this last time and there will be another time coming faster than you realize.

Larry Williams said...

A single case illustrates the Parole Board’s stance of denial at all costs and against all reason. My son is nearing the end of 5 & 8 year sentences for intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter, respectively. Because the jury ruled the automobile as a deadly weapon, he was not eligible for parole until he had served 4 years (1/2 his longest sentence). He has been denied parole 3 times with the last decision a “serve-all.” Per their own Parole Guidelines, he is classed as a 4 or Low Risk. He is a first-time offender with no history of substance abuse or criminal activity. This first and only offense occurred at age 17 as a high school senior. He has been a model prisoner with not a single disciplinary case in over 7 years of incarceration; has completed every program required for parole consideration; has presently accumulated over 18 years credit in good time, work time, and calendar time; and has a parole file filled with letters of support from family, teachers, attorneys, ministers, police officers, and jury members. Two of his jurors wrote to the board (after they had learned of his repeated denials) expressing the jury’s consensus that they did not regard him as a threat to repeat his offense and that they fully expected that he would have been paroled at his first eligibility. When I questioned board member Juanita Gonzalez as to the why of the last denial, her response was, “Somebody died and somebody was injured. That matters above all else.” Make no mistake, the Parole Board and TDCJ are all about keeping the beds full, not about rehabilitation, reintegration, or even public safety.

sunray's wench said...

Mr Williams, your story is typical and I truely wish it wasnt. If that is the parole baord's stance on 'aggravted crime' then why on earth put the inmates and their families through the parole process at all? Why not just be honest about it and say anyone who is convicted of an aggravated crime will serve the entire sentence no matter what courses or family support they have?
(of course, I dont advocate this at all, just making a point)

Anonymous said...

Why not look into using scram on DWI-3rds and maybe DWI-2nd's with increases into probation and lower caseloads- DWIs should be controled without prison time. They could remain productive members of society with controled measures. You need to get probation to run effectively- prison is a final stage.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I found your site.
My fiance' is serving a 10 year sentence for a first offense drug charge. felony 2 possesion. Non-aggrivated.His is 48 years old and I know we know he new better.But how is there justice in a 10 year sentence? In our area of the state, you can kill people and get away with probation, but if you have a possession charge, you are locked up for as long as possible.
To quote him;" It's not about rehabilitation. It's not about why drugs are a bad thing. It's not about helping to reprogram your mind to different thoughts in order to adjust to living different. It's all about being sure you know who is incharge. And they show you what they can get away with doing to you and you not being able to do a thing a bout it. In the "world" they call it Assault. Aggrevated Assault." Where is the logic?

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this sight looking for a way to contact the Parole Board/Commission via email. Surprise they don't have one. Well not published anyway. My husband is currently serving time in TDCJ for, get this, a $1500 check that he put a stop payment on back in 1988. He was convicted and sentenced to 6 years deferred adjudicated probation and fined. He did his time and paid his fees but because 2 counties (Harris and Travis, imagine that) couldn't/wouldn't communicate, share information, document correctly or pass the fines/fees to the jurisdictional county in 1998 my husband was revoked stating that he absconded and didn't finish paying his fines (Load of HORSE MANURE)We hired an incompetent attorney who gave us really bad advice to sign for 4 years in order for him to appeal. Well come to find out one cannot appeal adjudicated guilt. My husband was out on an appeal bond for a little over a year, and we found out (On our own) that the appeals case was dismissed. We thought the actual case was dismissed as by this time our attorney was no longer reachable. So we went to the county clerk's office retrieved the dismissal paperwork and took it the bondsman's office, they read it, copied it and said you are through with us, have a good life. We thought the nightmare was finally over. We walked out and continued on with our lives. Now my husband since 1999 has been through numerous background checks and was even allowed to get his driver's license online with DPS in 2005. 7/8/06 we were pulled over for expired tags and at that time we were told that my husband had a warrant out for his arrest, we were completely shocked as my husband doesn't even have a ticket on his record. We asked for what and they said he had a warrant for him to start doing TDCJ time. We just knew this was a mistake and thought we would be able to get it cleared up. NOPE!!! On 8/29/06 my husband was transferred to TDCJ and started doing 4 years for a $1500 check revoked probation. He was granted parole on 12/22/06 but stipulated he had to take a 3 month rehabilitation class that could start no sooner than 4/07 giving him a release date of 7/07. My husband actually was able to start his class 1/10/07 but because the San Antonio Parole Board put it in his parole guidelines that he couldn't start his class any sooner than April giving him a release date of no soooner than 7/1/07. We as tax payers have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a $1500 check from back in 1988. I have emailed everybody from the Mayor to the President of the United States and anybody in between regarding this travesty. The response I got back from the Governor was that he has no jurisdiction over the Criminal Justice System and that he couldn't help us. I have been sending Ms. Rissie Owens a letter weekly along with Mr. Aliseda of the San Antonio Parole Board pleading that they reconsider my husband's parole stipulations and allow him to be released upon completion of his class in April, I have yet to have received a response from either party. BIG SURPRISE!!!! No Governor Perry we don't need more prisons we need the parole board to follow their own guidelines and instead of granting parole to deserving inmates but stipulating that they can't be released for many months after being granted parole, make the stipulation of rehabilitation (if that's what you want to call it) but allow the inmates to be released upon completion rather than having them serve additional time after completion of the class. I'm appalled at this state's judicial system, it is ever failing and most of the time the punishment never fits the crime. 1 year behind bars for $1500.00 HMMMM makes me wonder!!!!

Anonymous said...

my husband is in ellis unit for 10 years over a 85 dollars check been up for parole 2 times and the parole barod said no i dont get it at all he dont have a back ground for hurting anyone or for durgs or ever been in a gang but the parole broad seems to allways let out the drug sellers or child malester or rapers frist iam sick of it some one needs to step in and do something texas sucks in its laws hear oar people on probation in texas for murder thats not right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! my husband got to do another year befor he can even see the barod again !!! people need to start a protest in austin tx over all this get out the word let thim hear usnow!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

My husband currently went back to t.d.c.j on a parole violation.Yup thats it just a parole violation.They revoked him he has served 5 yrs on a 10 year sentence and has done 3 years on parole.They just did not care about our situation . They need to realse them all fo the low risk offenders and parole violators.Someone needs to do something .

Anonymous said...

My step-son is up for his first parole in may of 2008 for taking the rap of Injury to a child for a family member and it is aggravated he is now in the TDCJ after serving almost a year in jail and is serving a 15 year sentence.

My questions are Does anybody think he will be paroled in 2008 for good behavior? or will he more then likely serve the whole sentence?

He has not received any other charges since he has been in prison /jail and has received his G.E.D. just if this helps..

Thanks for answering in advance..

Anonymous said...

I have a friend that has served 20 years of a 40 sentence. He has never had a case brough against him while in the prison system and he earned every certification put in front of him. He has complied with all rules and regulations placed upon him. This past September he was up for parole review. They gave him 5 minutes of their time in which they asked him very few questions. It is my understanding that this time is to be used to show the accomplishments they have done and to voice their remorse for the crime that was commited. The parole board consists of one person doing the interview in which they should go in there without prejudices, without already having formed an opinion, and to also be prepared to what accomplishments have been obtained. My friend has a loving wife, a beautiful home, friends and family that will provide their full support, and a wonderful outlook to obtain respectful employment. It is hammered into our heads that once someone is released from the prison system, we are to acknowledge that they have paid their price to society. Well, when on God's green Earth will it be acknowledged that those that have done nothing but show exemplary behavior and is doing everything in their power to better themselves with the resources available to them will they be acknowledged? In answer to your question on if parole will be granted on the first time review; No, I don't think so. The Texas Pardons and Parole System still plays Judge and Jury.

Anonymous said...

Low-level,parole-eligible offenders are the offfenders, TDCJ wants to keep and especially so for private prisons who can't even control a small unit like Mineral Wells, PPT in Texas. The day after my nephew landed there after a tour of texas (numerous 4:00 a.m pointless moves with taxpaper dollars) he saw a new young in-mate almost beat to death, by a gang. Folks this was in July 2008. This is for low-level offenders. Wake up Texas your loved one or you could be next. TEXAS BPP IS OUT OF HAND. These young first time offfenders need rehab not idle prison time to learn how to be a criminal. Waiting lists on most all classses to ensure they can use that against them on their parole hearing. Need more classes for rehabilitaiton. Please, Please someone listen.

ttuck said...

I am at a total lost; i know that this is not new information to anyone who has family or friends that are in or have been through the Texas system. My brother is there and has been for 17 years; he went as a kid 17 years old that made a mistake no one was hurt or killed. It was aggrevated robbery; he has been set off at least 5 times. The saddest part is that he accepted 35 years because his attorney did not care, nor did she try to defend him. The boy that he was with went to jury trial and got 7 years!!! This is sad and ridiculous. He has been and ideal prisoner. No problems, never in trouble and has managed to get a degree. But everytime he comes up for parole he gets a set off?

He had actually gotten an approval 3 years ago and before he was let go it was pulled back, changed to a 1 year set off. And then the next review was given another set off this time for 2 more years. It is like it is a joke to these heartless people.

But why does it seem like no body cares; yes we do but our hands are tied. Why is this so hush hush and not brought forward in the news; brought to the attention of somebody who can make a change!

Especially as we face this trillion dollar deficient in this country and the states are wasting money just to be hateful to people!

My brother was a kid who deserves a chance to start his life; he made a mistake; if this was who he was it would have surfaced again long before now. He is a 34 year old man now!

ttuck said...

(regarding my last comment) Juanita Gonzales was behind these many set offs given to my brother as well; is there no one goverening these processes to make sure that they are being handled fairly?

I am so upset; Dallas Texas is spending money to free folk that were sentenced wrongly with the help of new science developments (which is great for those folk that were wronged!)

But there seems to be no help; no outlet for the young folk that seem to be serving sentences that far exceed the crimes; so that they can keep beds full!

Anonymous said...

My husband is going up for parole aggr robbery this is his 4 time he has served 10 on a 12 sentenced do you think he has a chance this year his been staying outta trouble but has been in seg for 3yrs

Anonymous said...

Keep the drug dealer off the street as long as possible. It makes a difference in many peoples lives. You have no idea....when the "connection" is gone. There is a better chance of change.

Anonymous said...

OK here goes my Fiancé, we wanted to get married on Valentines dad 2015. She is doing 2 years for violating probation. Drug charges, but she didnt have any dope. The arresting officer was this bully cop, here. Pulled me over for no reason (no seat belt what he said) ( I was wearing one should have been on the dash cam) proceded to give me a dwi test I was sober helping a friend move my car full of thier stuff it was like 11:30. The ole lady I was helping had a wiod daughter who heated out her thier house. So I beat the pant off the the field sobriety test, still arrested, at station I passed the second breath test the pigs said it was broken. Took me to hospital and forced me to give blood which all showed I wasnt fucked up sober. After the whole drill of bonding out and pleading not guilty with a court appointed lawyer I get my day in court and I studied up my lawyer was good he made the cop look like the moron he was on stand. Not Guilty yeaaa well after about 15 or more times this cop had pulled me over He did so again in my driveway and like he usually did he starts going thru our stuff but this time he was standing in my driveway. We where telling him I had been working all day which was true I was installing radiant barriers in attics (not easy) he was asking me hurtfull stuff like "so wheres your kid at" when he knew damn well that he got cps on us himself and pretty much stole our newborn. We didn't really give the cop attitude or anything because we were use to the abuse but damn sure didnt have any of some damn drug we bearly even heard of. So illegaly searching my girls purse off camera he finds GHB supposedly in a 5 hr energy bottle and just by the way he was acting We could tell by his fake personality deviation thwt he was trying to pull some bullshit. "Whats this, Looks like it could drugs" , we came from using being at a soft ball game across the street. So with thier bogus (supreme court ruling that narco pouch that cops carry are all hearsay because thier about as accurate as using a bird in a bird cage to select the winning lotto numbers. After they try to turn us into narcs they realize that we arent snitches because snitches end up in ditches and its wrong to do anyway. Then they arrest my girl and tell me to go get her meds cause she is bipolar and they dont want to deal with it I get em it take me like 5 or 6 min they almost left I saw the video tape and did digital enhancements to hear audio and whatever I could. The video was choped ajd edited the cop at one point tells hus friend at the station he is finally going to bust me by making my girl narc me out really rude to her the whole time on may of these occasionals he searched my girl to try to cop a feel. Our lawyer for my girls charges was confident he could easily get this gone. Well tye next tije he was her to take a plee bargen and we asked him to request more of the court paperwork we had never seen that was in the case as evidence another video and info about who talked to my girl in jail and why. The lawyer said he woukd try to subpoena the stuff it was seal I later find out many months go by the judge even though told him we were waiting on evidence threatens he will raise the bond so high there would be no sense even trying to bond out. The lawyer was getting meaner and calling us profanities like dumb fucks and stupid asses court appointed lawyer go figure. Well the cop even continued to harass us pulling me over still broke my front door to my house searched the hours for a long time telling neighborhood we were going to jail again for nothing the worst us still to come he gets my pistol from inside my home loades it and booby traps it with the hammer back so that it would fall and discharge * no shit* (part 1 end)

Anonymous said...

* no shit* lucky for us we didnt get a mad and barge back in the room and my dogs were acting strange and warned us. My girl couldnt complete probation on a violation one time she was in she violated because we couldn't afford the price of probation drug tests like 65 a pop and didnt even go towards the principal. So this one time durring a month stay in revocation she was in minimum and she supposedly had a bad dream and thought the place was on fire and woke up causing a comotion. Well I went and visited her like clockwork she took forever to show up for visit and when she did she was like a zombie on drugs thought he daughter was floating above our heads playing the glass like an iphone it still makes me almost cry thinking about it or excuse me cant say almost and trust me im a hearty fellow. I talked to everybody I could no one would tell me what meds they gave her I got a written letter of power of attorney still no awnsers when she got out she was mostly back in the head but she was crossed eyeed slightly in one eye it took a while with therapy to fix. So she did only a month that time in county. Now she has been in plane state since june and eligible since sept. wrote a really good packet best I bet they ever seen major improvements to finances thru long nights of double job hard labor. I just need/want/deserve her back I cant afford a parole attorney thier ridiculously expensive for what I ask they get count as a vote or a tie breaker on tge actual parole board one told me himself how is that or any of this justice it has made me so bitter toward the law but I really want peacefullness to raise my family and nit have hot headed broke bitch cops drumming up crime factory producing crime at a pace they can accommodate being awarded like heros for shooting innocent people. Thinking thier above god they are worse than most criminals. I guarantee that all and any criminal violence directed toward any police is provoked. One last blog point then im flustered enough to need a break the criminal justice system is more profitable than any other business period and they claim theres a shortage in funding god please. I hope this long true story which I coukd have gone into more horrible details can help some people realize that good people are destroyed by the system daily.