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Arbitrary Draconian Restrictions on Texas Parolees

by Matthew T. Clarke

Texas parolees have been subjected to a number of draconian measures not necessarily related to their conviction. For instance, parolees who were not convicted of sex offenses have been made to register as sex offenders and take sex offender therapy, parolees with any history of sex offenses (and those with no such history, but who were required to register as sex offenders) have been confined to their homes on Halloween, Thanksgiving and New Years and parolees with any history of DWI or other alcohol related crimes have been instructed to sign pledges not to drive between 7 p.m. New Years Eve and 6 a.m. New Years Day--to be enforced by parole officers checking to make sure the parolees are at home during those times.

Sex Offender Therapy for Non-Sex Offenders

The arbitrary classification of parolees with no sex offense conviction as sex offenders is seen as particularly onerous as they are required to pay for weekly therapy sessions costing $20 to $35 each session, after having had to pay $150 for an evaluation to determine whether the weekly sessions are needed. The person giving the evaluation is usually the same sex offender therapist who stands to make the money off the weekly sessions, triggering concerns about conflicts of interest. Furthermore, parolees taking sex offender therapy are required to cooperate with the treatment, including admitting having committed the sex offenses. Failure to do so can trigger greater restrictions or even parole revocation.

How can I admit a crime that never took place? Or how can I show remorse for a victim that never existed?" asked Raymond Young, a convicted burglar with no sex offense history who is being required to take sex offender therapy.

Parolees treated as sex offenders are in a living hell," according to David O'Neil, an attorney who has many parolees for clients.
Guilt by association is what we've got in the parole system right now," said O'Neil. They can't keep their jobs. They can't leave their counties. They get put on curfews. They get put on monitors. They can't make a living. The deck is stacked against them. [The parole board] just puts on provision after provision.

O'Neil agrees that there are parolees who need strict supervision, but more and more, the system is chewing up and spitting out the people who this was not designed for.

Sex offender parolees have been required to remain in their homes during Halloween and Thanksgiving and were prohibited from displaying any Halloween decorations or having their porch lights on. Parole officers monitored compliance.

Young was subject to normal parole conditions for about a year after being released from prison. He came under the stringent sex offender restrictions after completing a mandatory sex offender evaluation. Those restrictions virtually ruined his life.

A lot of guys get out of prison and they don't try to do nothing for themselves," said Young. I went to work on the back of a garbage truck at BFI until I earned enough money to rent me a semi, take my test, passed it, and now I'm driving trucks.

Under the normal rules of parole, Young could drive his truck throughout the state and earned $800 to $1,100 a week. Now, under the sex offender restrictions, he is not allowed to leave Harris County and earns only $300 to $375 a week.

Sean Buckley, an attorney with ten parolees as clients, describes requiring people without sex offenses to admit and accept responsibility for a sex offense as absolutely perverted because they're forcing a person to lie." His non-sex-offender clients are required to attend group sessions and complain that when they go in there and they hear these other people, like child molesters, talking about it and having to relive these fantasies, they get sick to their stomachs and they're just appalled that they have to be a part of this.

According to Allison Taylor, executive director of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment, Texas does not license sex offender treatment providers. However, the 380 providers they registered are required to meet specific qualifications to be registered. The council does not consider it a conflict of interest to have the same provider who will profit from providing the treatment perform the initial assessment of whether a parolee should receive treatment. Citing her small staff of three, Taylor said she did not know how many sex offenders were being treated by the registered providers. Providers contacted refused to tell how many sex offenders they were treating, claiming it was confidential information.

New Year's Lockdown for DWI and Other Parolees

State parole officials required parolees with a history of DWI or other alcohol-related crimes to sign pledges that they won't drive between 7 p.m. December 31, 2004, and 6 a.m. January 1, 2005. The pledge not to drive became a lockdown when Kathy Shallcross, deputy director for the parole division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, announced that parole officers would monitor compliance, by checking to see that the parolees are at home. Shallcross said the parole officers would also be checking on sex offenders and other high-risk parolees. She said that failure to sign the no-driving pledge would result in revocation of parole.
State senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, expressed concern about the lockdown. Punishment is important, but rehabilitation is equally important," said Whitmire. It appears someone in TDCJ believes these folks should continue to be punished once they are out.

O'Neil questioned whether the holiday driving prohibition is a legal parole condition and advised his clients to sign the pledge under protest.
I'm watching it carefully," said Whitmire. What I'm concerned about is we not unduly prevent parolees from having the opportunity to demonstrate that they want to do the right thing.

Noting that the prison system doesn't provide much in the way of substance abuse treatment, Whitmire said, It's a hell of a note that these same people they want to lock in their homes on New Years Eve were incarcerated for years with no treatment.

Budget cuts two years ago caused the prison system to virtually eliminate its alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs.
Whitmire also noted that, of 4,000 DWI parolees, only about 100 are receiving treatment for alcoholism.

Shallcross defended the holiday restrictions as a part of a new public safety effort and an attempt to randomly check parolees more often. She noted that, regardless of the offense of conviction, most prisoners have a history of substance abuse with up to 90 percent of the 77,000 Texas parolees being designated as substance abusers when they are released.

Sources: Houston Chronicle.

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