Criminal Justice Committee Travels to Dallas
The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice made its first trip since the 76th Legislature adjourned, meeting before a standing-room only crowd at the University of North Texas (UNT) systems office in Dallas. Committee members include senators Ken Armbrister of Victoria serving as chairman, Robert Duncan of Lubbock serving as vice-chairman, and Mike Jackson of LaPorte, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Florence Shapiro of Plano, Royce West of Dallas, and John Whitmire of Houston. Also sitting in with the committee was Senator Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth.
Senator West and Dr. Virginia Wheelis from UNT welcomed the committee to Dallas. West then mentioned that he had requested the Chairman hold this meeting regarding the parole system here in the Metroplex saying the parole system in Texas needs to be explored. He says some parole officers have far too many cases, leading to inadequate supervision. He urged the prison system to shift from building new jails to emphasizing keeping former felons clean and on the streets. One major problem according to West is that parole officers simply aren't paid enough
Senator Moncrief then briefed the committee on a meeting he had with fifty parole officers. Some of them have been parole officers for decades without a raise. He said there were many stories of officers working second jobs to make ends meet, and that as a whole they've lost 27 percent of their purchasing power due to no raises while inflation continues. He urged an immediate raise for parole officers saying "...anything we can do to bolster morale is the right thing for this state...Unless we continue to address these bread and butter issues...the department will have a hard time finding new recruits."
Chairman Armbrister then described the legislative process to those in attendance, saying they were not able to make any changes immediately, since the Legislature is not in session.
Mr. Gerald Garrett, Chairman of The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, began the invited testimony, describing the existing parole process and how it might be changed. Wayne Scott and Victor Rodriguez of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) then spoke about the revocation process as well as case load sizes and pay issues with the staff. The largest number of staff vacancies are in the Metroplex. Senator Armbrister questioned the TDCJ figures, saying that they would have to more clearly show a need for more officers if they expect additional funding from the Legislature. An in-depth review of what kind of caseloads the parole officers are carrying followed
Public Testimony followed. A group from the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) told the committee that their top priorities are 1) increasing the number of parole officers 2) raising the pay of parole officers and 3) addressing the disparity between workloads across the state. They also stated that while they are supposed be handling no more than 75 cases per officer, a lack of personnel sometimes makes that impossible. They testified that the reason they don't have enough employees is simple...low pay.
The committee stand in recess subject to call of the chair.