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Press Releases

Parole Officer Arrested for Theft of Court Ordered Fees, Fines Paid by Offenders

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction; January 17, 2013:

SEVIERVILLE – An extensive investigation by the Department of Correction’s Office of Investigations and Compliance has led to the arrest of a probation/parole officer on charges of theft. The investigation revealed Officer Joshua Keith DeBord misused funds paid by offenders under his supervision. The offenders thought they were paying court ordered fines and fees but DeBord kept the money for his personal use.

“These allegations are a serious violation of the public trust and the oath our officers take to uphold the law,” Commissioner Derrick Schofield said. “The vast majority of our officers take their sworn duty seriously, those who do not will be held accountable for their actions to include possible prosecution.”

DeBord has been charged with theft over $500. He was booked into the Sevier County Jail. He is on administrative leave pending termination.

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Press Releases

DOC Assistant Commissioner Resigns, Agency Calls for Investigation into Dead Parolee Supervision

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Corrections; Oct. 4, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, TN – Commissioner Derrick Schofield has directed the Department of Correction’s Office of Investigation and Compliance to conduct a thorough investigation into performance audit findings related to probation and parole supervision of deceased offenders. Upon conclusion of the investigation follow up information will be provided.

In a related matter, following Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing, Assistant Commissioner Gary Tullock submitted his resignation, effective immediately.

“This is about accountability and our commitment to the public. We want the citizens of Tennessee to have full confidence in our ability to supervise offenders,” said Commissioner Schofield. “We will continue to work diligently to ensure we will not compromise public safety when it comes the supervision of felony offenders.”

 

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Press Releases

Audit: State Still Checking In On Long-Dead Parolees

Press Release from Comptroller Justin Wilson; Oct. 1, 2012: 

The Comptroller released today an audit of the state Board of Parole that found, at a minimum, annual arrest checks were completed on behalf of 82 parolees who had been dead for varying lengths of time, ranging from less than six months to more than 19 years. At worst, officers documented contact indicating offenders were still alive.

The audit also noted that many files managed by probation and parole officers were not in compliance with all board supervision requirements and were not regularly reviewed by management. In some cases, officers failed to complete or document their attempts to complete all of the required face-to-face contacts with parolees. In other cases, officers did not perform required home visits of regular offenders. The audit also showed some sex offenders tracked by GPS equipment had not been properly monitored.

“Inadequate supervision of offenders results in increased public risks and jeopardizes public safety,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “If parole officers are supervising dead people, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars and makes us wonder about the supervision of parolees living in our communities.”

Auditors also found a number of other issues with the Board of Parole’s operations, including questionable practices for providing notice of hearing decisions and upcoming board meetings.

To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/SA/pa12036.pdf

Categories
Liberty and Justice News

Tempers Flare Over ‘Smart’ Crime Bill

Partisan acrimony boiled up on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday when an East Tennessee Republican tried to alter a bill Democrats have been carefully crafting and claiming as a core element of their legislative agenda this session.

The proposed “Smart on Crime” bill, HB2813, would take away the discretion of Tennessee judges to sentence certain first-time perpetrators of “non-violent property offenses,” typically involving damages of less than $1,000, to jail terms. Instead, judges would sentence them to “community corrections, probation, pre-trial diversion or judicial diversion.”

At the same time, the proposed legislation would require that the more serious crime of armed robbery be added to a list of offenses for which the possibility of early release from prison is diminished.

“To make prison space available to ensure that these violent offenders serve a sentence of sufficient length to remove them as a threat to society and to deter others from committing these offenses, it is in the public’s best interest that certain non-violent property offenders currently serving prison sentences for less serious offenses be given alternative sentences not involving incarceration,” according to the bill. “By doing so, the property offenders are able to work in order to pay restitution to the victims of their crimes without threatening public safety thereby permitting longer sentences for those offenders who do threaten public safety.”

But during House debate on the bill Monday night, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, proposed an amendment to remove several offenses — shoplifting, passing forged checks, burglary from a motor vehicle and burning personal property — from the list of 19 crimes for which a judge couldn’t sentence an offender to jail time.

“I like a good part of this legislation, but I also think that if you do any of these four things…you should serve time,” said Hill.

Democratic Party Leader Gary Odom, the chief House sponsor of the legislation, became visibly agitated when responding to Hill and the proposed amendment.

Odom expressed disappointment that Hill hadn’t raised his objections earlier and didn’t “(think) enough to bring the concerns or the proposed amendment to me so I could speak with (Hill) about it.” He also accused Hill of “misrepresenting what the judge can do with these situations.”

“This bill does not give anybody a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Odom. “There is no reduction in sentencing under this bill. The time that someone would be in the custody of the Department of Corrections would remain the same for all these personal property crimes, most of them less than $1,000 in value. What this would do, though, is move them to a different location where they pay their debt to society.”

Odom also said Hill’s amendment would “destroy the legislation” by throwing the fiscal impact estimations of the bill out of whack.

According to the Fiscal Note for HB2813, Tennessee is averaging 1,012 prison admissions a year for the lower-level property offenses defined in the bill. On average over the past 10 years, 669 people have been sentenced each year for aggravated robbery.

In sum, the state would incur additional new costs of about $10 million for the additional incarceration under the terms of the bill.

Odom said the drafters of the bill calculated that moving the small-time property criminals to community corrections and diversion programs would cost the state only five dollars a day instead of $65 a day. By doing that, he added, armed robbers could begin serving roughly six years in jail, up from from the current average of 2.4 years.

“We got up to 74 percent of the minimum sentence (for armed robbers),” said Odom. “All of our other violent crimes in the state, you serve 85 percent. And we couldn’t get all the way, but if you start picking and choosing, you are going to destroy the balance we have in this bill.”

Hill was unmoved.

“Everyone in the state would agree that people that commit the violent crimes that you’re seeking to have serve more of their sentence time — we want them to serve that sentence time,” he said. “That being said, I’m also not interested in a get-out-of-jail-free card. But I also see this as having strong potential to just not going to jail at all.”

Odom made a motion to table Hill’s amendment, but that effort failed on a 47-50 vote, largely along party lines. Only Dennis E. Roach, R-Rutledge and Curry Todd, R-Collierville, left GOP ranks to vote in favor of tabling the amendment. Memphis Democrats John J. DeBerry and Ulysses Jones, Jr. joined with Republicans in opposing Odom’s motion, as did Mark Maddox, D-Dresden. Speaker Kent Williams, the lone “Carter County Republican” in the legislative body, voted against tabling the amendment.

A vote on the actual bill was postponed until later this week.

Andrea Zelinski shot video and contributed reporting for this story.