State Monitoring of Dead Parolees Draws Lawmakers’ Ire

Legislators hammered corrections and parole officials Wednesday for running a system that allowed officers to waste time and tax dollars “monitoring” 82 dead criminal offenders. The revelation raises many questions, among them is how closely tabs are being kept on former inmates who’re actually still among the living, they said.

“Its troubling enough to find out that we have employees who are supervising dead people. But those dead people aren’t exactly a menace to society today,” said outgoing Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, during the Government Operations joint subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

“So my greater concern is what about the employees who are claiming to supervise people who are a threat to society, who are a menace to society. How do we know how much of this is taking place, that we have people who are claiming to check on folks and they’re not actually doing that?” he said.

The issue, one of eight highlighted in a damning state report released this week, prompted lawmakers to set a one-year deadline for the state Department of Correction and the Board of Probation and Parole to fix the problems. Pending approval from the Legislature, both agencies will be under the microscope of auditors in a year with a report due back to the Legislature in 2014.

But state officials say the timeframe is not realistic.

“It would take Superman to do that, and we don’t have Superman. He’s a great commissioner, but he’s not Superman,” Charles Traughber, chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole, said of DOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield, whose department is taking over monitoring parolees. Previously, the probation board did that.

The findings were “egregious” and “of such a magnitude that they require an immediate and urgent response,” Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said.

The state report found that Probation and Parole Board workers were still checking in on parolees who had died, some 19 years ago. The report by the Comptroller’s office also found that 80 percent of GPS-monitored offender alarms “appear unmonitored.”

Assistant Correction Commissioner Gary Tullock said the agency fired two parole officers responsible for much of the faulty reporting on dead offenders, but Schofield said other employees likely contributed to the high number of erroneous reports.

According to the Department of Correction, the state monitors 13,000 offenders on parole and 56,000 people on probation. The state also supervises 7,500 people in community correction, a program that keeps less violent offenders out of prisons.

Overall, that’s 3,175 more offenders under state observation this year than last year, though the number of parole officers has not increased, Tullock said.

However, Schofield said it’s too early to say whether he’ll ask the governor to add to his department’s yearly budget.

“The first thing we say is we’re short-staffed. If you look at and examine how we supervise and how we do things, there’s always opportunities to find resources. If we need those resources, we will present that to the governor,” he told reporters.


Redistricting Maps Approved By Legislature

Dispensing with the heavily politicized process of redistricting in its first week in session, the Legislature on Friday has approved a set of maps for state House and Senate and U.S. Congressional seats.

The maps, which will go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his sign-off, dictate the political makeup of voting districts throughout the state for the next 10 years.

“I think it’s the best we can do. It’s the fairest and most legal redistricting plan upon which we could agree,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who sponsored the Republican maps in the Senate. “There’s something about this plan that just about everyone can dislike a little bit, and some dislike a lot.”

The Senate approved its GOP map, 21-12, with two high-ranking Democrats, Minority Leader Jim Kyle and Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga, voting in favor of the plan in exchange for a few concessions. Republican Sens. Kerry Roberts, of Springfield, and Mae Beavers, of Mt. Juliet, voted with Democrats.

“It was part of our negotiating,” Kyle, one of the GOP plan’s toughest critics, told reporters as Norris stood behind him to listen in. “The process of congeniality, accommodating. Folks need to be supportive of the process, and it came to pass, and I voted for the bill.”

The new Senate map lumps Kyle into the same Shelby County district as fellow Democrat Beverly Marrero. The plan also pairs Roberts and Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, in the same district. Roberts’ term is up in 2012, while Summerville’s is up in 2014, meaning Roberts would likely have to wait for another senate run.

The House did much of its heavy lifting on Thursday by approving its Republican-drawn map on a 67-25-3 vote largely along party lines — with the Democratic caucus leader voting in favor of the plan after some compromises. Six other Democrats also voted in favor of the new map.

Lawmakers are required to redraw the districts every decade in conjunction with the U.S. Census to ensure all districts represent roughly the same number of people. By law they must keep as many counties, as well as minority communities, as whole as possible.

Republicans in Tennessee have never been in a position to have complete control over the new district maps until this year. They’ve penciled in the new maps behind closed doors for months, all the while contending the process has been transparent. Democrats say Republicans could have used the Internet to share the maps more widely.

“Be careful what you ask for,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “Obviously, I will say this has been a grueling process, the whole redistricting issue, and it’s tough to draw districts that are both fair and legal — and I believe we did that — and yet have the constraints that we have both constitutionally and legally.”

Republican leaders in both chambers unveiled their chamber’s maps Jan. 4. A majority of both chambers approved the maps Jan. 13.

Republicans says they believe their maps can withstand any legal challenges launched by Democrats, who contend the newly plotted lines may violate the Voting Rights Act. Democratic leaders say they have yet to decide whether they’ll file any lawsuits.

Press Releases

Ramsey: Kerry Won Despite Gov’t Employee Union Opposition

Statement from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; March 8, 2011:

(Nashville) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) congratulated Kerry Roberts on a great victory in tonight’s special election for the Senate District 18 seat formerly held by Congressman Diane Black.  According to unofficial results, Roberts captured a strong majority in the district which includes Robertson County and most of Sumner County.??“I’m very proud of Kerry Roberts tonight,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “Despite strong opposition by government employee unions, Kerry was able to come away with a decisive victory.”

“Kerry is a strong conservative who focused his campaign on job creation and low taxes in Robertson and Sumner counties. He will be a strong asset in the state Senate.”

Senator Roberts will serve on the Senate General Welfare, Health & Human Resources Committee; the Senate Environment, Conservation, and Tourism Committee; and the Senate Government Operations Committee.