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Texas Parole System Sick From Top to Bottom

Texas Parole System Sick From Top to Bottom

by Gary Hunter

Parole in Texas has never been very reputable. During the 1920s and 30s Miriam Ma Ferguson, Texas first female governor, and her husband Pa Ferguson, who preceded his wife in office, enriched themselves with bribes of land and cash in exchange for parole. Ma Ferguson paroled or pardoned about 100 prisoners per month. Pa Ferguson, who set the standard, is the only Texas governor to ever be impeached.

Legislative changes were made but by the mid 1940s corruption came in a different guise. Professional parole seekers would build personal relationships with board members to obtain their clients early release. No sentence was too long, no crime to heinous for those who could afford the services of the seekers.

In 1947, the legislature enacted a disclosure law to address this concern. The law required anyone appearing before the board to file an affidavit affirming or denying having been paid for their assistance. However, the law was not put into effect until 1953.

By 1989 parole seekers had come to be called parole consultants and paying for parole had again become common. Consultants often charged large fees for little work. Successful representation was based on the buddy system as opposed to the merit system.

Many consultants were former board members. So grave was the concern of abuse that in 1989 former parole employees were prohibited, by law, from acting as consultants for two years after leaving the board. When that had no effect the limit was lengthened to 10 years in 1993.

Corruption came to a head again in 1994 when former parole board chairman James Granberry was convicted for federal perjury. Granberry lied about the number of prisoners he had represented from the time he left the board in 1991.

Records disclosed that parole consultants had manipulated the early release of convicted murderer Kenneth McDuff. Granberry, who was on the board at the time, voted for his parole. McDuff is believed to have killed at least nine more women after his release.

Desperate for a solution the legislature eventually enacted a law that only allowed attorneys to act as parole consultants. It hasnt helped. If anything attorneys showed more adeptness at getting around the law.

In 2005, 535 attorneys filed the required disclosure forms. Records reflect that they earned over $3.6 million for a total of 3,700 cases. Over 80 of those attorneys failed to list client names or fees paid.

Its a mess, said veteran parole attorney William Bill Habern. Its just another example of how the parole system in Texas is sick beyond the telling of it from top to bottom.

Texas currently houses well over 150,000 state prisoners. In 2005, 19 parole employees reviewed over 70,000 potential parolees. Many files received less than 60 seconds of consideration. Of the 70,000 prisoners considered for parole less than 20,000 were actually released.

Prisoners and their families are aware that to receive serious consideration they must hire a lawyer to represent them.

Families shop around for someone who can promise, We can handle this. We have a great success rate, said attorney Paul Leech. Most have been on the parole board or say they have influence with them.

Failure to file the appropriate forms annually is a misdemeanor but it is seldom enforced. Even many state-hired attorneys violate disclosure laws. The parole board hired 234 attorneys in 2005, at a cost of $733,600, to work on parole revocation cases. Few filed the annual report.

If the original intent of this law was to keep parole from being sold ... it serves no useful purpose now, points out Austin parole attorney Gary Cohen. No place in state law are attorneys required to disclose specific fees like this, and even if you know what someone charges, you still cant make any judgment about whether qualified or reasonable services were provided.

Still, Parole Division Director Bryan Collier suggests that a stricter enforcement of disclosure laws may be in order.

If we're supposed to be doing it, we should be doing it right, he said.
Former board members who are found in violation can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor which carries up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Attorneys in violation can be fined up to $500.

Source: Austin American Statesman

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