Lawmaker Calls Parole System ‘a Failed Experiment’

In a Sunday review of the state parole practices, The Tennessean provides examples of violent offenders going pretty much unsupervised and committing crimes while parole officials were supposedly “supervising” dead offenders.
And some legislators are quoted as saying it’s time for a shakeup.
State Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, who chairs a legislative committee that oversees parole and probation issues…has tried unsuccessfully in the past to abolish parole in Tennessee and said the current state of supervision proves his point.
“I don’t think it’s currently doing what it’s supposed to be doing, what it’s designed to do,” Rich said. “I think it’s a failed experiment.”
An audit released this month accused the Tennessee Board of Parole of not only keeping dead felons under active supervision, but of also falling far short of state guidelines on supervising live felons and failing to adequately punish people who rack up numerous violations.
…House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said Tennessee taxpayers expect better from the state.
“Certainly this is not something that we can tolerate, and it’s not something the taxpayers should tolerate,” Harwell said Friday. “We will expect changes to be made.”
…The Board of Parole blamed the continued supervision failures on increasing caseloads.
“From a historical perspective, the board continued to move forward in addressing supervisory issues in its audits,” said Melissa McDonald, spokeswoman for the Board of Parole. “The board has consistently experienced increases in caseloads as the population served continues to grow.”
She said the number of felons under supervision has increased by 6.1 percent annually for the past 10 years.
It’s a familiar refrain. In 2001, after an audit showed the agency wasn’t fulfilling its supervision duties, it responded by complaining that caseloads had become untenable at 96 felons per parole officer. In 2006, it complained when they reached 100. In 2012, caseloads had grown to 113 for some parole officers.
Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, said the state legislature deserves some of the blame for not funding more parole officers to address caseloads in the past.
“The parole people kept saying, ‘We’re getting too high of a ratio, too high of a ratio, too high of a ratio,’ and never got the funding that they’ve needed,” he said. “The legislature has to be upset with itself, too.”
Rich laid some of the blame at the feet of Board of Parole Chairman Charles Traughber, who has held the position since 1988 with on-and-off stints at the agency going back to 1972.
“I don’t think that Mr. Traughber specifically is the cause, but I believe that, in and of itself, I would be embarrassed to know that under my watch that this has happened,” he said.

Traughber responded only by saying, “I have the utmost respect for Representative Rich.”

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