Most Texas Parole Officers Say They Are Overworked

Most parole officers say their caseloads are too big to properly supervise felons out on parole, according to a recent state report that found that their caseloads exceed state mandates.

The October 2010 state auditor's report found that the average caseload is closer to 80 offenders per parole officer instead of the 60 mandated by the Texas Government Code.

Critics of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Parole Division say overworked and overburdened parole officers can have a detrimental effect on public safety.

"I think the general public thinks we are safe -- the bad guys go to jail, and we don't have to worry about it," Deanna Broadbent said.

A three-time convicted drunken driver out on parole killed her best friends, mother and daughter Candice and Autumn Hull, last Easter.

John Patrick Barton was not supposed to be drinking or driving a car without a Breathalyzer ignition locking system. At the time of the crash, he was driving his wife's car, which did not have such a device.

Broadbent said the trial raised serious questions about the Parole Division and its ability to supervise offenders.

"From what I understand from being in trial is that he wasn't regularly supervised," she said. "More importantly, they didn't check to see if he had a vehicle he was driving. If they had just taken 10 more minutes to walk out and see what kind of car he was driving or even asked him, this could have been prevented."

Barton was convicted again for driving while intoxicated and also on two counts of murder in the deaths of the Hulls.

Broadbent said she is frustrated because she feels their deaths could have been prevented.

"Barton didn't need to drink and drive, and just maybe if someone checked what car he had access to, the Hulls would still be here," she said.

Attorney Joe Padian, who represents dozens of offenders who are currently up for or out on parole, said that there is a problem with supervision.

"The problem is, they need to find a way to prioritize which offenders need heavy supervision and which don't, then concentrate on watching the potentially dangerous offenders," he said.

Padian said he believes parole officers are overburdened by large caseloads that require constant supervision for offenders who don't need it.

"If you have 80 parolees that you are supposed to be checking on every one or two days, you just can't do it," he said. "There just aren't enough days in the month to do it."

It means offenders out on parole can slip through the cracks.

"The more supervision you have over someone, and the more they know they are being supervised, the less likely they are to offend," Padian said.

The auditor's report on Parole Division operations found that nearly 80 percent of all parole officers surveyed reported their large caseloads made it "hard to perform job responsibilities."

"While the department manages parole officer caseloads and tracks offender contacts as required, it should improve its reporting of caseload ratios and tracking of quality reviews," the audit said.

The Parole Division declined to be interviewed.

But in the audit, managers said they would look at all of the auditor's recommendations and work to improve the deficiencies mentioned.

Managers also said they would work to come up with an agreed-upon methodology to determine caseload ratios. They were quick to point out that the General Appropriations Act, which funds most state business, allows for more offenders per caseworker then the Texas Government Code.

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