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Texas State Auditor’s Reports Find Problems with Parole System

Two audits of Texas’ parole system, in 2008 and 2010, revealed a number of problems and inefficiencies.

According to the first audit, released in June 2008, approximately 1,250 Texas parole officers supervised 77,526 parolees during fiscal year 2007. Five counties – Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis – accounted for over half of the parolee case load.

The State Auditor’s Office determined that the only efficient aspect of Texas’ parole system was in the area of parole revocations. In other areas, both the board that determines parole review criteria as well as parole offices that monitor parolees fell short of acceptable operational standards.

A major factor in the parole system’s inefficiency was its antiquated computer database. In 2000 the state contracted with a company called Sapient to implement the Offender Information Management System (OIMS). OIMS consisted of three modules and was projected to go online in 2001. The first module, used for parole supervision, was not operational until 2004 and still had numerous problems. Modules two and three, used for determining parole releases and parole revocations, respectively, were seven years behind schedule when the audit was performed.

The projected cost of OIMS was $31 million, and two of the three modules had yet to be completed at the time of the 2008 audit. Sapient originally provided 150 staff for the OIMS project. After the Parole Department was unable to resolve differences with the company, it terminated Sapient’s contract in 2003. That left around 20 people to complete OIMS, resulting in cost overruns and unmet deadlines.

The auditors found that OIMS users faced a variety of problems with the portion of the system that was online. User response times were extremely slow. Parole officers were unable to timely access and use information contained in OIMS, which degraded their ability to properly monitor and supervise parolees.

While the Department had contracted with TPM and the Team for Texas to bring OIMS up to speed, it had not done enough to keep them informed of all the problems that existed within the system. OIMS became especially inefficient at the first of the month when use of the system was heaviest.

The Parole Department insisted that OIMS was 99 percent complete, despite the fact that two-thirds of the system had yet to be brought online. Module two, designed to assist the parole board in determining which prisoners were most eligible for parole, came online temporarily in September 2006 but had to be discontinued in March 2007 as user problems began to mount. At the time it was discontinued, only one percent of the parole determination caseload had been considered.

Module three, designed to assist with parole violations and revocations, was not yet implemented. Regardless, the auditors determined that at least one area of the parole system was operating at peak efficiency – revocations.

Of the case files examined, parole review boards found that probable cause existed to revoke alleged violators 96 percent of the time. Revoked parolees received their hearing packets, review panels were convened within the required time frame, revocation hearings were completed within the “40 day rule” as required, and sanctions were implemented by a two-thirds vote of the review panel 100% of the time.

While revocation procedures operated efficiently, the circumstances leading up to the revocation process were not always so tidy. Over half of the parolees were not tested for drug use in a timely fashion; fifty-five percent of the drug tests were conducted one to three months later than the required testing schedule.

Notably, Parole Department guidelines required “parole officers to impose appropriate interventions within five workdays from the date on which the parole officer becomes aware” of a parolee violation. However, “[t]he Department did not always record interventions in OIMS or impose the intervention within five workdays. Seven of 21 (33 percent) imposed interventions reviewed were not recorded in OIMS and only 5 of 21 (24 percent) interventions were processed within the specified time requirements.”

Additionally, GPS monitoring is required of some parolees as a condition of their parole. At times the monitors will alert parole personnel that a parolee is not at a required location or is in violation of his or her curfew. Sometimes these alerts are the result of equipment malfunction; in at least 22 percent of the cases reviewed, parole officers did not resolve problems with the GPS monitors within the required 24-hour time limit.

Parole officers also failed to keep OIMS data current. This inconsistency added to other problems within the OIMS system since the information being shared by parole officials was often incomplete. The end result was that parolees’ files were sometimes mismanaged, especially if they were transferred from one parole officer to another.

The audit further noted that parole officers were not completing their required number of office visits and home visits in the specified amount of time. Inadequate monitoring added to parole officers’ inability to assist parolees under their supervision.

A conclusion not drawn from the report, but which is immediately obvious from its data, is that the inefficient process with which parole officers perform their duties allows many parolees to slowly spiral out of control. By the time a parole officer finally interacts with a parolee in a meaningful manner, the parolee is usually in the process of being revoked. It is at that point that the system becomes efficient – in sending parolees back to prison.

Certainly parolees have a responsibility to follow the terms and conditions of their parole supervision. But it is unreasonable to expect parolees to be serious about adhering to their parole conditions when their parole officers are not serious about doing their jobs. When parole officers only seem interested in collecting fees and revoking parole, it is unlikely that a parolee will turn to them when they need help.

A more recent audit of Texas’ Parole Department by the State Auditor’s Office, released in October 2010, reported some improvements. “The Department tracked 93 percent of the required drug tests and 96 percent of the required offender contacts in [OIMS] for fiscal year 2009 and the first half of fiscal year 2010,” the audit found, with an average of 1,255 parole officers supervising 79,939 parolees.

However, “the Department did not ensure that parole officers entered all drug tests and offender contacts into OIMS within the required three days. Further, the Department did not always maintain supporting documentation for the drug tests entered into OIMS.” The auditors found that 10 percent of the drug tests reviewed and 20 percent of regular offender contacts reviewed were not entered into OIMS in a timely manner.

The 2010 audit determined that parole officers generally completed required training, and that all newly-hired parole officers had attended the Parole Officer Training Academy. It was recommended that the Parole Department update its training curriculum “related to offender contacts and drug testing since it [had] revised its policies in these areas. As a result, the training may not provide parole officers with the most updated information needed to perform their job duties.”

The auditors also noted that the Parole Department had “exceeded the caseload guidelines established in the Texas Government Code and the General Appropriations Act,” and that “the methodology the Department used to calculate the caseload ratios in these reports understates the caseloads ....”

Lastly, the audit found that while the Department had “fully or substantially implemented” most of the prior recommendations in the 2008 audit related to offender contacts, drug testing and OIMS, it should “continue its efforts to improve” OIMS. For example, OIMS users reported losing data when the system automatically logged them out after a 30-minute time-out, and continued to report problems with the slowness of the system. OIMS module three was finally implemented in January 2010.

Beyond the issues reported by the State Auditor’s Office in the 2008 and 2010 audits, courts have repeatedly found problems with Texas’ parole procedures, mainly related to due process violations. [See: PLN, Feb. 2011, p.18; Feb. 2009, p.14].

Source: Texas State Auditor’s Office, 
Report Nos. 08-036 and 11-008