October 21, 2010

Political grandstanding drives GPS tracking grant

10-21-2010 Texas:

From Grits for Breakfast

Using federal grant money, Texas is putting GPS monitors on several hundred additional parolees who the Governor says are dangerous sexual predators. But some of them have never been convicted of a sex offense, aren't on the sex offender registry and have been out of prison for many years. Reports the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward:

Though Perry and state corrections officials say the mandate will make the public safer, questions linger about why parolees who were considered good enough safety risks to remove from monitors are now dangerous enough to need them — $1.7 million worth, paid for by a federal criminal-justice grant to improve public safety.

"If they've been determined to be a high-risk offender, then they are being reviewed for a GPS bracelet," said Bryan Collier, deputy director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and a former state parole director. "Why are some who did not have monitors now being placed on GPS? This grant has enabled us to monitor some who we didn't have the resources to do before."

In his Sept. 27 announcement in Houston, Perry touted the new monitoring initiative as a way to "provide greater protections to our citizens by taking our efforts in dealing with sex offenders up yet another notch."
Maybe so, said Huntsville attorney Bill Habern, who represents Jennings. "But why, now, all of a sudden, have some of these parolees who have been off monitoring for several years been determined to be a high risk?" Habern asked.

"It begs the question about how the risk is being determined."

By last week, at least 153 parolees had been ordered onto GPS monitors.

Parole officials said more than 500 others, most of them with crimes against children in their backgrounds, were being reviewed for inclusion as well.
An all-but homebound parolee in Dallas suffering from congestive heart disease and diabetes told Ward, "I go out once or twice a week, is all. I'm not able to do more ... To have a monitor on me is a waste of money. This seems like political grandstanding."

He's right: It is grandstanding. Nothing but an election year gimmick that actually makes the public less safe by diverting limited supervision resources toward non-evidence based approaches. Larding on extra conditions for successful parolees who've been out for years makes little sense when the greatest risk of recidivism - and thus the greatest need for close monitoring - is in the first year or two after release.

Last year, Parole Board Chair Rissie Owens was found personally liable by a federal court for applying sex offender registration conditions on offenders not convicted of a sex crime. Some of those targeted by the Governor's initiative appear to fall into the same category, making me wonder what federal courts will think of this program if it's ever challenged. ..Source..

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