By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Correction said he has addressed problems found in a performance audit by the state comptroller’s office that showed at least 82 people who parole officers claimed they checked on were actually dead.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Derrick Schofield talked about the audit and how his department was faring since it took responsibility for certain services in the Board of Parole.
The audit released in October found problems with parole checks that had been reported between January 2011 and May 2012.
Schofield said an internal investigation revealed no wrongdoing by staffers but uncovered problems with a faulty data entry process.
He said the department has since developed procedures for identifying and removing deceased offenders from rosters. This includes using databases that collect information on deaths reported in Tennessee and nationally to cross-reference individuals under supervision.
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.”
At a Wednesday hearing, legislators called it “egregious” that state parole officials claimed they were supervising felons who later turned out to be dead. But what upset them even more, reports the Tennessean, was the fact that two parole officers were not arrested after being caught falsifying some of those dead felons’ files. “Why is that?” asked state Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, vice chairman of the Government Operations Joint Subcommittee on Judiciary and Government.
Gary Tullock, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Correction who oversees supervision of the state’s felons, struggled to respond.
“I don’t have a good answer for you, is it a crime –” Tullock began, when Rich cut him off.
“Falsifying documents, certainly state documents, would be a crime,” Rich replied. “And, if that hasn’t been referred to the district attorney general for the county that the offense occurred in, then I think certainly it would be imperative for you to do so.”
Legislators at Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing blasted the Tennessee Board of Parole in light of a critical audit accusing the agency of supervising dead felons, not properly supervising live ones and failing to double-check parole officers’ work through supervisory reviews.
The subcommittee gave the Parole Board a year to correct the problems before auditors return to check on their progress. Lawmakers were unmoved when Charles Traughber, Parole Board chairman, said that was not enough time.
“Knowing that you’re not giving them enough time to resolve all of these findings and make a serious dent in it, it would take Superman to do that,” Traughber complained. “And we don’t have Superman.”
State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who chairs the subcommittee, offered a blunt reply.
“These findings are of such magnitude that they require an immediate and urgent response,” he said. “So, thank you very much.”
— Note: See also the TNReport rundown, which includes video/
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state audit of the Board of Probation and Parole found that employees were making annual arrest checks of at least 82 dead parolees. The parolees had been dead anywhere from less than six months to more than 19 years.
In at least two cases, officers completed documents stating that the offenders were still alive.
The audit results were released on Monday.
In a statement on the audit, Comptroller Justin Wilson said, “If parole officers are supervising dead people, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars and makes us wonder about the supervision of parolees living in our communities.”
The audit also found that many probation and parole officers were not completing all the supervision requirements. There were many instances of no evidence that officers tried to contact offenders.
— Note: News release below