UNION CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities say a former Obion County drug court probation officer has been charged with stealing more than $63,000 from probationers she had been monitoring.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Monday that 44-year-old Martha Sue Moore has been indicted on two counts of theft over $60,000 and one count of money laundering.
Investigators say Moore reported incorrect amounts of money she collected from probationers while working for Westate Corrections Network. The TBI says Westate discovered a discrepancy in money collected while preparing for an audit.
According to the TBI, the state comptroller’s office conducted an audit that showed Moore stole more than $63,000 from 2006 until early 2013.
Moore was booked into the Obion County Jail on $150,000 bond. Her initial court appearance is scheduled for Friday.
Family and friends of about 20,000 inmates in the Tennessee prison system now must pay a commission to a private for-profit Florida company when they want to send money to the inmates’ trust accounts, and the state will get a cut, too.
Further from The Tennessean:
Under a contract awarded late last year and recently expanded, JPay of Miami charges fees of up to 4.5 percent to forward money to Tennessee inmates. The state under the contract also gets its share of the payments, a 50 cent fee for every transaction.
Advocates say the arrangement amounts to a kickback for the state and places an unfair burden on relatives of inmates, who often have limited resources.
“It’s a tax on citizens with the least ability to pay,” said Alex Friedmann of Prison Legal News, who said that he has received several complaints from relatives of inmates.
He said that many of the complaints involved lengthy delays in getting the money in the inmates’ accounts.
Corrections officials, however, say that the new system is an improvement, and that thus far the state’s income from the contract has been only $15,000.
“The vast majority of families and friends who have contacted us are pleased with the service and the convenience it offers,” corrections spokeswoman Dorinda Carter wrote in an email response to questions.
…The state never formally advertised for bids on the contract, though officials say they did review a proposal from another company, which, like JPay, had been recommended by a national association of state purchasing agents.
JPay also offers an email service for inmates, with the state getting a 4 percent commission.
,,,The contract replaces a system under which deposits in prisoners’ accounts were mailed directly to the 15 correctional facilities.
…n addition to the requirement to use JPay for inmates’ deposits, the state recently expanded JPay’s role to include payments of probation fees imposed on released inmates.
In addition to the money forwarding services, JPay’s contract also provides for video visits, songs or albums on an MP3 and a JP4 player.
For those services, the state’s commission jumps to as much as $10 per purchase.
Inmates are entering Tennessee prisons faster than they’re being released, and the Correction Department says the unforeseen trend is busting the agency’s budget, reports WPLN. The state prison system has asked for an extra $50 million to make it through this year.
Last year, 2,000 more inmates than the state projected entered the system after being sentenced by local courts. At the same time, the number of prisoners released into the community dropped by more than a thousand.
Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield lays partial blame on the Parole Board, which comes into play on both ends. It has a tarnished record tracking felons released on parole and overseeing offenders who get probation instead of jail time. Schofield says his goal is to rebuild trust with judges, who have discretion with sentencing.
…The department doesn’t expect the prison population to subside anytime soon. On top of the $50 million to get through this year, the agency is asking for a budget increase of $100 million next year.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole is graduating 30 probationers and parolees from a special program aimed at helping them make better decisions.
Parole Board Chairman Charles Traughber says “Thinking for a Change” is a behavior change course for offenders that includes cognitive restructuring, social skills development and development of problem-solving skills.
Those graduating Monday have completed 25 lessons.
Says Traughber: “This program has been successful in helping people develop stronger life skills. People with these skills are less likely to commit crimes.”
Records show that Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole is “an agency in which officers have faced years of crushing caseloads, a revolving door of employees and an increasing inability to properly supervise some of the state’s most dangerous criminals,” reports The Tennessean.
As examples, the article cites cases of two sex offenders found in contact with children. In one case, the child died after the offender served as a baby sitter.
Even the agency’s leadership acknowledges that inadequate resources may have compromised their ability to oversee some of the state’s most dangerous sex offenders.
Adding to their woes is a new program this year that will allow roughly 2,000 prison inmates to be released early over the next 12 months.
“Unlike some agencies that cause a great inconvenience to people if they’re not doing their job adequately, this is a public safety issue,” said state Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams.
“That’s one of the paramount responsibilities of government, to keep people safe. And I’m not so sure we’re doing it based on what I’m hearing.”
At least two offenders under supervision have been charged with murder in Davidson County in the past year.
Probation officers have warned of inadequate staffing and inexperienced supervision of sex offenders since at least 2008.
The agency has rarely met its own supervision standards and has regularly failed to meet its goals to reduce staff turnover and the rate at which offenders break the rules.
In spite of a larger pool of officers, the agency’s hiring has not kept pace with the increase in offenders it supervises.
Performance audits since 2001 have criticized the agency for poor supervision of offenders due in part to high turnover and caseloads — caseloads that are higher in 2011 than a decade ago.
Charlesl Traugher, who heads the BOPP, wrote a column responding to the Tennessean story. Excerpt:
The BOPP’s approximately 800 officers carry a caseload of just over 66,300, up from 63,753 at the end of June 2010. Our caseloads grow by about 5 percent each year. Looking more closely at last year’s statistics, only 11,987 of the offenders were paroled by the board.
The remaining 51,766 were probationers assigned to BOPP by the courts or were Community Supervision for Life offenders like those in The Tennessean’s front-page article June 26. These offenders’ sentences have expired, but because of the law under which they were convicted, they are required to report to a probation and parole office after release.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After discovering that inmates in 2009 filed more than 2,000 false tax returns, collecting $659,997, Tennessee prison officials said they know they have a problem.
Nashville television station WSMV reports that an audit given to Congress in January shows that state prisoners filled out fake forms, cited nonexistent jobs, and used Social Security numbers from other inmates to collect refunds that they were not entitled to.
“We understand that this basically is stealing thousands of dollars from taxpayers,” Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said. “Especially if it’s being committed inside the prison walls. We want to do what we can to prevent it, to stop it and to pursue criminal prosecution.”
The audit showed inmates from Riverbend Maximum Security Institution filed 73 false returns in 2009. Inmates from Lois Deberry Special Needs Facility filed 49, and 51 fake returns were filled out by inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women.
Investigators believe the inmates received help from the outside and are pursuing criminal charges.
An Internal Revenue Service spokesman declined comment about how the government intends to get the money back, but sent a statement that said the IRS is “substantially increasing our enforcement efforts in this area. However, it is clear that more needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Correction is working to determine how so many inmates got the tax forms, even though many of them haven’t had a job for years.
“We are looking at reviewing our policy, what we do, and make sure we are not making it easy for anyone to commit tax fraud,” Carter said.