published Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

State of Tennessee monitors dead people

Looks like it's time for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to do a little housecleaning.

A state audit of the Board of Probation and Parole has indicated that board employees conducted annual arrest checks on at least 82 dead parolees. One of the offenders had been deceased for nearly 20 years.

It must've been very difficult for parole and probation officers to determine if these parolees were deceased, right? Not exactly. State auditors took a few seconds to enter state parolees' names into Google to determine which ones had gone to be with the Great Parole Officer in the Sky. That's it. That's all it took.

The incompetence didn't end there. Auditors also found that parole and probation officers didn't bother to attempt to supervise parolees, as required by law. Only 43 percent of the oversight of "regular offenders" was "in compliance with all board supervision requirements during calendar year 2011."

Worse, only 11 percent of GPS-monitored offenders (those required to wear those ankle bracelets made so fashionable by Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan in recent months) were monitored properly last year, according to the audit. In fact, 26 sex offenders tracked by GPS equipment "had not been properly monitored for sex offender treatment."

In other words, these probation and parole officers were cashing their checks, but not doing their job of properly monitoring offenders and ensuring the safety of Tennesseans.

Fortunately, some of the responsibilities that the audit discovered the board handled with the greatest degree of incompetence are no longer a role of the board. On July 1, the Department of Correction took over the probation oversight duties formerly handled -- and bungled so thoroughly -- by the board. That leaves the board, now called the Board of Parole, to focus only on deciding which eligible felony offenders will be granted parole and released from incarceration. Not that the board is any good at that, either.

According to the audit, the board "fails to comply with state law regarding [parole] hearing decisions." Nothing could be more important to an incarcerated Tennessean or his loved ones than learning when he might be paroled. But in 31 percent of cases, the notifications about whether an inmate would soon be a free man were sent more than 30 days after the decision.

The board also failed to include information related to an offender's right to appeal a decision by the board to deny or revoke parole.

Apparently fairness and civil rights aren't of a great importance to the Board of Parole -- and that needs to be fixed. Granting freedom is not a matter to take lightly. Neither is the proper management of an agency that cost Tennesseans $86.1 million last year.

By holding the board's executive director and seven board members accountable, Haslam can show Tennesseans that he is vigilant in the defense of justice and serious about how tax dollars are spent.

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