August 18, 2011

176 parolees off sex-offender list

8-18-2011 Texas:

In the first disclosure of details, state parole officials said today that 176 parolees have had their classification as sex offenders lifted since May as part of an about-face on a longstanding Texas policy.

Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said information from parole officials shows those offenders — who were officially classified by parole officials as sex offenders even though they had never been convicted of a sex crime — “ were recommended by the (parole) division to withdraw” the designation.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles concurred.

Clark said 300 additional requests are being processed.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday that an undetermined number of parolees had been dropped without fanfare from intensive parole supervision, and were no longer being forced to attend sex counseling classes and register as sex offenders in a statewide database.

That came after parole officials lost the latest in a series of court decisions over several years that ruled their process to make the designations was unconstitutional.

Parole officials had not commented publicly on the about-face in policy, and had not previously revealed how many parolees had been freed of the designation — called “Special Condition X.”

The details were made public under the Texas Public Information Act, after a request by the Statesman.

For more than a decade, it has been state policy to officially classify as sex offenders perhaps thousands of parolees never convicted of a sex crime. That meant that parolees were kept on the most intensive parole supervision, and their designation as sex offenders prevented many from getting jobs or finding places to live.

Many ended up back in prison, as a result, costing taxpayers more in incarceration costs.

House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said the numbers raise additional questions, including why officials left in place the controversial policy despite repeated court decisions that it was unconstitutional.

“I’ve asked for information on costs — what the additional costs of supervising these people has been, because they were on Condition X, and second, what the costs of the litigation has been,” he said.

“Did we not use taxpayer money in the wisest way? I don’t know. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.”

In a brief statement relayed via Clark, parole officials said the policy was changed on May 31 after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — the state’s highest court on criminal cases — required the state to provide a due-process hearing for any parolee not convicted of a sex crime, before the state could impose Condition X.

Parole officials have long argued that the time and expense of holding hearings for those parolees who would be affected would be too costly. By earlier estimates, as many as 6,900 parolees could be affected.

In their statement, parole officials said only three hearings have been held since May. They did not detail the outcome of those hearings. ..Source.. by Mike Ward

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