published Monday, February 27th, 2012

Tennessee bill to transfer parole services advancing

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    Derrick Schofield, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Corrections
    Photo by Tracey Trumbull /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PAROLE SERVICES BILL


Read HB2386 at http://capitol.tn.gov.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee correction officials say a proposal to transfer certain services from the Board of Probation and Parole to the Department of Correction will save thousands of dollars and improve public safety.

The legislation would move certain functions relating to probation and parole services and the community corrections program, which assists victims and offers more options to local courts, to the Correction Department.

The transfer is expected to “result in increased stability, increased efficiency and continuity of supervision delivery and rehabilitative efforts,” according to the proposal, which passed the Senate 32-0 earlier this month.

The companion bill is scheduled for the House Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the move would save the state about $714,000 in the first year. While the savings is important, he said the state wants to provide the best supervision and services for offenders so they don’t come back into the system.

“Every time we hand that offender off, what happens is we create an opportunity to lose track or to have a break in the system where they can manipulate us,” Schofield said. “What we want to do is have that under one area from start to finish, regardless of whether he’s called a probationer, a parolee ... he’s supervised by that same agency.”

Parole Board Chairman Charles Traughber agreed the transfer is a good idea. Under the proposal, the board would remain a separate entity and continue to make parole decisions.

“We support this 100 percent,” Traughber said. “We reduce recidivism, and that’s the whole big payoff for this.”

The transfer is actually the latest move by both entities to create more efficiency.

A report last year on parole practices cited a collaborative effort between the Board of Probation and Parole and the Correction Department as an effective way to assess the needs of offenders when resources are limited by budget restraints.

The report noted the focus of the departments’ Joint Offender Management Plan in 2009 was to reduce correctional costs to the state, “particularly through reducing parole and probation revocations.”

To do that, funds were shifted from the Department of Correction to the Board of Probation and Parole to support treatment interventions in the community through a network developed by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.

The overall collaboration saved the state $33 million within its first year, said state officials, who launched the program with the intention of saving taxpayers money, reducing recidivism, preserving expensive prison beds for the most dangerous offenders and making communities safer.

Officials say money saved from the latest collaboration can be used to hire more probation and parole officers, as well as support programs like Courage to Change, which provides counseling for domestic assault offenders.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s crime package includes legislation to crack down on domestic violence by proposing fines and jail time for second and subsequent convictions of domestic assault. The measure is stalling in the Legislature because of the estimated $8 million cost to local governments to lock up offenders.

Haslam has appropriated close to $800,000 in his budget for the legislation and sponsors of the bill are working to reduce its fiscal impact.

John Geas is a probation and parole officer who works with domestic violence offenders. Geas, who favors the transfer of supervision services, said the Courage to Change program has helped a number of offenders change their abusive ways. But he said the stricter legislation is needed for others.

“I’ve got guys on my caseload that have five, six, sometimes eight types of domestic violence, or aggravated assault,” Geas said. “Eleven months, 29 days (in jail), that’s just like a slap on the wrist and tells the victims they’re not important.”

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