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October 2, 2012

Well, ... at least these parolees had a zero recidivism rate (unless they're zombies)

Contract-Killer-ZombiesThe title of this post is the snarky reaction I had to this new local article from Tennessee, which is headlined "Parolees monitored, but no longer alive."  Here is how the (unintentionally amusing) article begins:

Tennessee’s Board of Probation and Parole reported in the past year that dozens of dead offenders were alive and being monitored, according to a state comptroller report released on Monday.   The state-funded office, which at the time of the audit had an $86 million budget, claimed that at least 82 dead people on probation or parole were still alive, a mistake the comptroller attributed to “inadequate supervision.”

“It’s obviously a problem,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “With that many dead people supposedly being supervised, it makes you wonder how many live people were also not being supervised.”

In one instance, a criminal who died in October 2011 was reported to be “bedridden at home.” In another case, an officer documented contacting a parolee who, the comptroller’s office learned, had been dead for 19 years.

The comptroller’s office declined to identify individual officers, and neither agency was able to say whether anyone had been disciplined for reporting errors. But Comptroller Justin Wilson echoed Kelsey’s concern that the audit raised questions both about the expenditure of public funds and the supervision of parolees statewide. “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,” Wilson said.

The state’s Board of Probation and Parole, which keeps track of about 60,000 offenders, has long faced heavy caseloads and contended with high employee turnover. It also has been widely reported that the agency’s resources have been stretched so thin that its ability to monitor some of the state’s most dangerous criminals has been compromised.

Since the economic downturn, the agency has rarely met its supervision standards. Though more probation officers have been added to the ranks, a high turnover rate has made proper supervision nearly impossible, according to previous reporting by The Tennessean. Most officers are tasked with overseeing about 100 offenders.

Deborah Loveless, the comptroller’s assistant director for state audit, would not comment on whether the errors were made by one individual or by many at the agency. How much the blunders have cost taxpayers is unknown, according to Loveless.  The audit does suggest, however, that “tax payer resources were used in an ungrateful way,” she said.

In a written response included in the audit, the board admitted that reporting dead people as alive was a problem.  All staff will be trained to better detect deceased offenders by the end of the year, the agency said.  On Wednesday, the comptroller’s office will present the audit to state legislators, at which point they will recommend whether to continue to fund the agency, or relocate the probation and parole program under a different government arm.

The 83-page audit referenced in this article is available at this link.  And while I am being snarky, I have to comment on two lines I love from this article. 

First, what a great response from Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole: "staff will be trained to better detect deceased offenders by the end of the year."  I am so glad to hear there will be extensive staff training to make sure workers can better detect which offender are truly deceased.  After all, we would not want staff to be fooled by offenders who were only pretending to be dead.  Even worse, if some seemingly deceased offenders are in fact undead (i.e., are zombies), they may need to be placed under more intensive supervisions.  Based on what I have seen in various movies, it seems that zombies have remarkably high violent crime rates.

Second, I adore this double-speak phrasing from the state auditors: by monitoring the deceased, "tax payer resources were used in an ungrateful way."  To begin, I question whether this is statement accurate because I suspect that living parolees are in fact grateful that they are being monitored less because dead persons are still being monitored.  Moreover, what a polite was to lament government waste: taxpayers should not be angry about massive criminal justice systems misusing our money, we should just not be "grateful" about waste of the scarce state resources devoted to keeping society safe.

October 2, 2012 at 10:06 AM | Permalink

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Comments

If this is how good "monitoring" is, no wonder people distrust it and prefer incarceration. When supervision is this much of a joke, it's absurd to think that parole provides even a smidgen of public protection.

Next time we hear that parole will keep us pretty much as safe as imprisonment, remember this article.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 2, 2012 10:33:25 AM

" " reported in the past year that dozens of dead offenders were alive and being monitored" "

Then they can vote democratic, cf. IL, TX.

[There's your felon enfranchisement, Che.]

Posted by: Adamakis | Oct 2, 2012 1:16:02 PM

Nothing unusual here. Florida has been tracking and listing on the sex offender registry dead men for years.

here is the last article i've seen on it.

http://www2.orlandoweekly.com/news/story.asp?id=8531

GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE
Are dead sex offenders really dangerous?

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Curtis Talley, 83, is a sex offender living in Seminole county. If you go to the FDLE's sex-offender registry at www3.fdle.state.fl.us/sopu and type in Talley's name, you'll find his listing and photo. You'll see that he committed sexual battery. You'll see that his crime was against a minor. You could study his yellowed eyes and note that his last known address is in Altamonte Springs. You might wonder why men like Talley are out on the streets, but if you live in Altamonte Springs you'll likely be thankful that the FDLE has alerted you to this menace. Now you can be vigilant, right?

No need. Talley won't be bothering you. He's been dead for three years. He's one of hundreds of "ghosts" on the FDLE's website who, for one reason or another, are never taken off, even though they've shuffled off this mortal coil. The only thing Talley's record – and the hundreds like it – does these days is inflate the number of sex offenders users of FDLE's website believe are loose on the streets of Florida.

And there are a lot of living people on the FDLE site who are no threat to you either. Offenders who live outside Florida, are in prison or who have been deported are all listed among the 36,037 sex criminals registered with the FDLE. All told, nearly half of that number are not here, in one way or another. Which means two things: The FDLE's website is exaggerating the threat posed by sex offenders, and you aren't getting a clear picture of who is and isn't in your neighborhood.

DAWN OF THE DEAD

As of Nov. 16, there were 541 dead or reported dead on the state rolls. It's FDLE's policy that offenders' names will remain on the rolls for one year after their death.

"If the public is checking regularly, they can be informed that an offender living nearby is no longer alive," says FDLE spokeswoman Kristen Perezluha.

That's a ridiculous policy in and of itself, says Jim Freeman. "What possible threat can a dead person pose to the public?"

Freeman is co-founder and legal affairs director for Sohopeful International, a group whose mission is to challenge overzealous and ineffective sex-offender laws. He thinks the policy of not immediately removing the dead from the rolls only contributes to an atmosphere of fear and hysteria. It's an arguable point. But often enough the FDLE isn't even following its own rules. Orlando Weekly found that of Central Florida's 57 dead or reported dead offenders, at least 23 died more than a year ago. (Most deaths were confirmed by counties, but nine were confirmed by www.rootsweb.com, a site recommended by an employee in vital statistics.)

Preston Lane Huff is registered as a sex offender in Volusia County, but he's been dead since 2001. Ernest G. Martinez is still listed even though he's been dead since 2000. And Allen P. Hubbard, who is registered in Seminole County, has been dead since August 1997, more than eight years ago. Hubbard, according to the FDLE's site, is "reported deceased." His last known address, a post office box, was posted on the FDLE site in 2001, four years after his death.

The FDLE says the reason for dead offenders populating the rolls is that it hasn't received confirmation of death. The responsibility of maintaining the website doesn't fall on any one person at FDLE. Instead, many state agencies, such as the Department of Highway Safety and the Department of Corrections, that might receive new information on an offender have the ability to update the FDLE's registry.

Perezluha says there are FDLE analysts who remove dead offenders from the site, but the system for reporting dead offenders is virtually nonexistent. There's no agreement between counties and the state to send death certificates to the FDLE. If the FDLE hears from law enforcement that one of its offenders might be dead, it's the department's responsibility to get verification, which often doesn't happen for more than a year, if at all.

This haphazard approach to updating the website is why dead people like Hubbard and Talley live on in virtual reality.

Besides the dead, there are thousands of other offenders still on the site who pose little or no threat to the public. For instance, 807 offenders have been deported, and 7,173 have moved out of state. (The high number of out-of-state offenders is likely due to Florida's requirement that sex offenders must register within 48 hours of entering the state, meaning many on the list might just be passing through.)

But the largest chunk of listed offenders who don't currently pose a threat is the incarcerated; 8,260 on Florida's rolls are in custody at the local, state or national level.

Why list people behind bars? As a precautionary measure for when they're released, says the FDLE. "A lot of offenders will stay in Florida once they get out," Perezluha says. "We're just making sure the public is informed."

If you're going to track people in prison, you'd better be diligent about it; many aren't getting out for years, and some, like Calvin J. Austin, 29, a sex offender registered in Volusia County, are in for life.

"I ask again, what purpose does it serve to list people who are in jail or aren't even in this state?" says Freeman. "They can't harm anyone while they're in custody."

FEAR AND HYSTERIA

When Megan's Law passed in 1996, it was intended to "require the release of relevant information to protect the public from sexually violent offenders." The FDLE's website is the highest-profile means of releasing that information. It's where people go when they want to know if they need to be a little extra cautious around the neighbors. According to a 2001 Department of Justice summary of sex offender registries, the FDLE's website draws about five million hits per month.

The default search settings on the site do filter out the deceased, the deported, the out-of-state and the incarcerated (except for offenders locked up in county jails).

But when you ask the state of Florida how many sex offenders it has, all of the above are included in the figure.

Besides portraying Florida as crawling with offenders, the overall figure can help determine how much money Florida gets to comply with registry laws. Under the Jacob Wetterling Act, one of the first sex-offender registry laws, the U.S. Department of Justice's Sex Offender Management Assistance Program offers grants to states to aid in compliance with registry requirements. The law states, "In allocating funds under this subsection, the director may consider the annual number of sex offenders registered in each eligible state's monitoring and notification programs."

More sex offenders equals more money. And Florida will need it, if a bill introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson makes it into law. Nelson has proposed the Sexual Predator Effective Monitoring Act of 2005, which would require tracking ankle bracelets for offenders. In the first year, the law would disperse $10 million to the states to help implement the tracking program. The proposed law states that a "share of the funding under this Act [will be] based on the total number of eligible states and the population of sex offenders to be monitored with global positioning systems in those states." Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Nelson, says the initial $10 million will go to the states that request and show a need for the money. If all of the states' requests add up to more than $10 million, then the allocations would be based on the number of offenders in each state. Florida, with its reported 36,037 offenders, is near the top of the list nationally.

Nelson's bill to crack down on sex offenders is one of at least five introduced at the federal level this year. To illustrate the need, Nelson remarked to his fellow senators, "In our state alone, we have over 30,000 registered sex offenders." Soon that number had shown up on CBS news and in the Christian Science Monitor, and in the months following it would be repeated on CNN and other broadcast news outlets. Two months after Nelson introduced his bill, Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings introduced the House version and again threw out the 30,000-plus figure to prove the need for the legislation.

It's a big, scary number, to be sure. If all the state's sex offenders, as reported by the FDLE, were grouped together, they'd fill the TD Waterhouse Centre to capacity. Twice. Unfortunately, the number has no relation to the reality of the problem.

Freeman, of Sohopeful, thinks the bloated figure is a danger in and of itself, as it makes it hard for people to separate the truly dangerous from the rest of the pack. "All this adds up to is fear and hysteria," he says. "That doesn't help keep people safe. But it can help politicians pass laws. It can help make them look better."

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 2, 2012 1:48:14 PM

The real reason the dead are tracked for years. Is right here.
"Besides portraying Florida as crawling with offenders, the overall figure can help determine how much money Florida gets to comply with registry laws. Under the Jacob Wetterling Act, one of the first sex-offender registry laws, the U.S. Department of Justice's Sex Offender Management Assistance Program offers grants to states to aid in compliance with registry requirements. The law states, "In allocating funds under this subsection, the director may consider the annual number of sex offenders registered in each eligible state's monitoring and notification programs."

Once report i saw put that amount at about $12,000 per name per year.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 2, 2012 1:52:26 PM

You should file a qui tam action, rod.

Posted by: anon | Oct 3, 2012 10:34:36 AM

I'm not a lawyer and i don't speak latin so i have no clue what that even is LOL.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 3, 2012 1:04:58 PM

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