Saturday, February 16, 2013

Piloting parole: One ship, two captains, and a senator wants one of them to walk the plank

Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman this week reported ("Senators propose removing parole duties from prison agency," Feb. 13) that parole board chair Rissie Owens has been "quietly shopping" a proposal to shift control of parole operations from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. They're also considering more prison closures. The story opened:
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.

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.”
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:
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.

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.
Make's a lot of sense to me.


Anonymous said...

Why not consider turning these facilities into mental health treatment centers vs. closing them?

Or will county jails continue to be a dumping ground at no cost to the state?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Secure prison facilities aren't physically designed to become mental health treatment centers. And none of the staff would be qualified to transfer over. It's not like all these rural units are surrounded by beaucoup de mental health professionals.

They need to invest in mental health treatment, but converting old prison units are not the way to do it.

Anonymous said...

The parole board does not have any idea of the wait time for paroled inmates to get into a program. My son received a parole vote in October 2010, no sooner to start date of March 2011. He is still waiting to get into the program. Yes, I know; it is a privilege, not a right to receive parole. Wouldn't it be financially advantageous to the taxpayers to have more programs so that people who are paroled can exit TDCJ, start work, pay taxes, pay their fines and stop draining the funding for the prisons? How much does it cost for each inmate to be incarcerated? It seems to me that one agency would have more oversight into the programs and how they are managed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:01,

Have you contacted the board office that voted on your son's case?

I don't know anything about your son's case but judging from the amount of time he has waited, I would guess the panel vote was an FI-6R or FI-18R. These programs have some of the longest wait times and is one of the reasons the board now has the option to vote offenders into shorter programs.

The BPP works closely with TDCJ's Reentry and Integration Division and is well informed as to program wait times based upon bed space. In my estimation there may not be an established way that they are identifying offenders for re-vote when they go six months to one year past a program target begin date.

Again if you contact the voting panel office, a question I would ask them is why your son's vote hasn't been more closely monitored. If you don't get anywhere with that phone call, I would contact the BPP central office in Austin and ask to speak with the BPP's Board Administrator. You should be able to reach this office at (512) 406-5452.

Anonymous said...

He was voted a FI-9 . We were told that if we contacted the voting panel office; we might put his parole in jeapordy and that they might rescind the vote. I will take your advice under consideration and keep the Austin BPP number handy. Thank you!