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Sheriff: New Parole Law Could Free Up Beds

The Houston Chronicle via YellowBrix

December 13, 2010

HOUSTON – Parole violators languishing in county lockups are running up millions of dollars in jail costs for Harris and other large Texas counties, compelling sheriffs to campaign to get state law changed so nonviolent convicts can post bail.

Parole officers issue so-called blue warrants, which are used to arrest former Texas prison convicts accused of violations of their parole. However, Texas law does not allow the convicts to post bond until a parole revocation hearing is completed.

Each month, an average of 2,286 state parole violators are housed in Texas jails, a policy costing taxpayers at least $42 million a year. Harris County has the largest tab — estimated at $7.6 million. This year, Harris County has had from 900 to 1,250 parole violators in jail each month.

As local and state budgets get increasingly tightened, Sheriff Adrian Garcia and other members of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas are asking the Legislature for help with jail costs.

“I stand with sheriffs across Texas who have agreed on allowing state parole violators who are in our custody for technical reasons, and technical reasons only, to post bond,” Garcia said in a statement released by his office. “Allowing them to make bond for technical issues makes sense because we need jail space for those violators who are committing new crimes and have yet to go through the criminal justice system.”

Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk, who chairs the association’s legislative committee, said changing the law to allow bond for parole violators is the group’s second-highest priority for next year’s legislative session, trailing only border security issues.

“The folks that are under parole violation (warrants) eat up a lot of our beds in our jails across the state, and bed space is a very precious resource for the counties,“ Kirk said. “So to lose 10 to 20 percent of your beds to parole violations is a terrible impact on that resource.” Bills failed in 2 sessions

In 2007, a bill allowing bond for parole violators was passed by the Legislature but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, insisting it would jeopardize public safety. During the most recent session in 2009, similar bills were introduced but were not voted on after objections were raised by prosecutors.

Staff members of the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association said they have not seen the proposed legislation, adding that their organization does not take a stand on individual bills. However, they note several of their members requested Perry’s veto due to concerns a violent convict could be released on bond.

Staff members of the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association said they have not seen the proposed legislation, adding that their organization does not take a stand on individual bills. However, they note several of their members requested Perry’s veto due to concerns a violent convict could be released on bond.

Kirk stressed that bonds would not be allowed for sex offenders, violent criminals or convicts who had been fugitives.

“The threat level would have to be assessed before the bond could be issued, but if there’s not a threat, we think it’s perfectly appropriate for them to have a bond,” Kirk said. “Truly, if they were a threat, why were they released in the first place?”

Texas sheriffs have complained that many of the jailed parolees are being treated to a dose of “jail therapy” by their parole officers, who don’t always follow through and actually revoke their parole.

“This is a policy issue for the Legislature to decide,“ said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “We recognize the impact this has on counties and have procedures in place to issue summons in lieu of warrant, arrest and incarceration in county jails for low-risk offenders who are not absconders.”

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley described legislation to allow parole violators to bond as “a weak-on-crime, bad bill.”

“It’s one of those bills that creates more problems than it solves,“ said Bradley, adding that forcing quicker parole violation hearings would be a better solution. ‘A blanket policy’

Donald Lee, executive director of the Council of Urban Counties, said the group is drafting a bill to address objections the state prosecutors association had to legislation during the 2009 session. On average, parolees’ wait in county jail ranges from 45 to 70 days before the revocation process is completed, he said.

“All urban counties have blue warrants in their jails and are frustrated by it,” Lee said. "And remember that all counties are coming under jail overcrowding stress and significant financial stress; budgets are tight and getting tighter, and it looks like we are in a prolonged recession in the tax base.“San Antonio defense attorney John Ritenour supports allowing bond, noting a blue warrant can be issued by a parole officer if a parolee fails to report, does not pay all his parole fees, has a positive drug test, or is the subject of an unproven allegation. Parolees arrested even for minor crimes are not allowed to post bond because their arrest triggers the issuance of a blue warrant, he said.

“I can see where the sheriff association would be upset because it does require them to house people, and it takes up jail space for their local offenders,” Ritenour said. "They (parole commission) have based that decision not on public safety; it’s just a blanket policy. "

Sheriffs believe the parole commission, and not local taxpayers, should bear the expense of housing violators.

“The biggest problem we have is it makes no sense for the counties to provide a resource and have no management involvement,” Lee said. “It would make more sense for the state to pay for places to hold these people because the state manages the process.”

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    Here in Washington.. We are only alloted so many violator beds in our local jails.. and yes.. DOC pays for these beds. I agree..and have often wondered.. Why not Just return them back to prison to wait for their hearing? I think its a matter of convienence and cost. There would be a lot of long distance driving/transports for violators. Our nearest Male prison is an hour that McNeil Island is closing..

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Taxpayers just don't want to build more prisons. Some technical issues and waiting time need to be looked at. The Gov of the Great State of Texas just doesn't want to appear soft on crime. I did vote for him.

  • Img00074_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Cook County Jail stopped taking in state violators and would ship them to the state within 10 days. A lot of our technical violations were a serious waste of resources though. We had guys who get kicked out of their "baby mommas" house and be TV'ed until someone could call his mother and hear her agree to let him live their. OThers were over bad press............

  • Borat_lebanon0109_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I've been hearing of many pissing matches nationwide between Sheriff's and DOC's regarding parole violators being held in local jails. Many jails are now refusing to house violators and they have to be lodged at either state prisons or other local jails. Regardless, allowing parole violators to post bond is rediculous. They are not innocent until proven guilty, each parole violator is a convicted felon and have a very high rate of failure to appear if given the opportunity to walk out of jail on a bond. However, I do understand the local sheriff's needing more funding to hold parole violators and the state should pony up some cash for this practice.

  • Police_link_badge_max50


    over 4 years ago


    The straight to prison arrest has been going on for a long while.....A simple arrest and a parole violation from the parole officer........It's nice!!!!!

  • Thinker_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Parole violators should be taken directly back to prison and wait there for the revocation hearing...

  • Blade_runner_4_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I know of Sheriff's Offices in California whose jail refuses to accept prisoners who were arrested only for a parole violation. This makes some agencies take their parolee arrests directly to the prison.

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