In September, 2016, one of my former clients, I’ll call him Tom, called my office in tears, and told me that he had just been released on parole after years of incarceration. Unfortunately, his tears were not tears of joy. Instead, he was devastated when his newly assigned parole officer told him that he was not allowed to see his two teen children until after they turned 18. It would be four or five more years. Both kids were very upset at learning this sad news. Tom was devastated.
Although Tom had not committed a sex offense, he informed me that he was being told by his parole officer that the Board had imposed strict sex offender parole restrictions on him anyway. At this point, I became very concerned. Tom’s kids had visited him regularly while he was incarcerated, so it seemed bizarre that he would not get to see them or have any contact with them while on parole. Things just did not add up.
I called the Lead Voter that had voted to parole Tom, and he assured me that he had not imposed sex offender restrictions on him, and he promised that he had not imposed any kind of restriction on Tom’s ability to see his own children. However, he told me that the offense (Aggravated Kidnapping) was one in which the Board automatically imposed Special Condition X, and no Coleman Hearing was even available to challenge the imposition of Special Condition X in such circumstances. Absent a lawsuit to force the Board to stop treating Aggravated Kidnapping as a sex offense, I knew the Lead Voter was telling me the truth about Tom being stuck with Special Condition X, but I still did not understand why Special Condition X prevented parents from seeing their own kids. So, I tried speaking to the Parole Officer assigned to Tom.
The parole officer was a complete jerk. He was rude, arrogant, and he was completely uncaring of the situation my client and his children were dealing with. He was also unwilling to discuss the problem like a professional. He basically told me that he did not have to speak to me, so that was that, and he hung up. Following our exchange, I left several messages for his supervisor, and neither he nor anyone from his office ever called me back. Nice, huh? Our tax dollars at work.
In November, 2016, the father of one of my other recently paroled clients, let’s call him Dave, called me and informed me that Dave was being told he could not parole home to his wife and kids because he was “convicted of a sex offense”. He was not technically convicted of a sex offense, but there was some inappropriate stuff that happened which might have caused a problem. Dave was 20 at the time of his offense, and his time spent in prison was really difficult, especially with a wife and two very young children sitting at home. Once again, I was seeing a situation where a parole officer was telling a parolee that he was not allowed to live with or see his own children. This just HAD to be wrong, and Dave’s situation was eerily similar to the situation I’d witnessed two months earlier with Tom.
I was very familiar with both these men and their entire history. There is just no way either one would ever harm their children. Ever. I found it highly unlikely that the Board was intending to prevent either one of them from being with their own families while on parole Once again, I called the Lead Voter, who is an experienced and intelligent Parole Board Member. He told me that he never intended for this man to be prevented from being with his wife and kids. He even went so far as checking into the situation a little bit, and he told me that he hoped I would be able to somehow rectify the situation. He claimed he could not easily interfere with the Parole Division’s day to day operations. Excuse me? He’d been appointed by the Governor of Texas to sit on the Board of Pardons and Paroles. If he couldn’t interfere, then who could?
I soon came to discover that both of the Lead Voters in these two separate cases had told me the truth; the Board had not knowingly imposed conditions on these men that prevented them from seeing their children. It was people working in the Parole Division of TDCJ who were orchestrating things. I decided the best thing to do at that point was to find out why the express intent of the Board of Pardons and Paroles was not being carried out by the Parole Division of TDCJ. It is important to understand that the Board of Pardons and Paroles does not oversee the parole operations because the Parole Division of TDCJ is not actually a part of the Parole Board, nor is the Parole Division subject to direct control by the Parole Board.
Although the parole officers in both cases flat out refused to speak with me, I did get one of their supervisors to give me a few minutes of her valuable time. She told me that sex offenders on parole in Texas do not get to live with their own children, except in very limited circumstances. I would have thought it was the other way around. In fact, I was still a little bit suspicious, but she swore she was telling me the truth. She was unwilling or unable to give me any indication as to what we would need to do to ensure that specific offenders did get to live with their own kids. Finally, she ended the call by telling me that if the parolees don’t want to follow the rules, they could always simply elect to go back to prison. She was not kidding, and she was not willing to further discuss the fact that the Board had not voted to deny these two parolees access to their own kids, and yet that’s precisely what was happening. She implied that this sort of thing happens all the time.
As frustrated as I was, I took this woman at her word; there was simply no recourse within the Parole Division. After all, she’s a Parole Supervisor, right? I reluctantly told both clients that even though the Board had voted in a manner that did not intend to keep them away from their kids, it looked like that was the normal way parolees were being treated. It seemed the Parole Division has the freedom to administer the parole of their sex offender parolees however they pleased . Therefore, I advised both men that they needed to try to make the best of the unpleasant situation, and do as the Parole Supervisor had told me; just follow the rules or risk going back to prison. Both men did as I advised and tried to cope and accept the harsh reality of the situation.
It really bugged me that the Parole Board Member and Parole Commissioner had both told me that they had never intended to restrict these men from seeing their own kids, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many other families out there were dealing with this same kind of unjust situation. Something just wasn’t right if the people empowered to set parole conditions (the Board) are having their intentions systematically ignored by TDCJ Parole Division.
I went online and located a copy of the Sex Offender Program Supervision Guidelines as promulgated by TDCJ Parole Divison. See PDF of manual here. This 23 page policy and operating procedure specifies the rules the Parole Division is supposed to follow when supervising sex offenders. I did not expect to find any relief for Tom and Dave in the policy manual put out by the Parole Division. When I reached page 6 and page 7, however, I was stunned. The Parole Division’s policy was clear, and it was also clear to me, at least in the only two cases I had been inquiring about, that The Parole Division was NOT FOLLOWING ITS OWN POLICY!
Both of my clients were supposed to be able to see their own kids, per the Parole Division’s own policy. One of these men had been on parole for nearly three months!
PD/POP-3.6.2 H states:
“Offenders…shall not be allowed to live with or have unsupervised contact with children unless the offender is the legally recognized parent of the child, or the Board has imposed a condition allowing contact.”
In other words, if the kid is yours, you get to see your kid. The policy manual makes a distinction between situations in which the other parent wants to allow no contact, and where the other parent wishes to allow contact. Since both of my clients cases involved kids whose mothers wanted contact, there was no valid basis in these cases to prevent these two parolees from seeing their own children.
Tom has now gone 3 months on parole without getting to see his kids. His parole officer threatened to give him a polygraph last week because he did not believe Tom has obeyed the parole officer’s illegal and improper command that he not see his kids. Tom said “give me the test”. The next day, Tom was assigned a new parole officer. He will meet her next week. I gave Tom a copy of the Parole Division’s rules, and I highlighted the applicable ones for the PO’s convenience. Hopefully, the new parole officer can read, follow rules, and treat people like human beings. As for Dave, we’ve now gotten him access to his wife and kids, even though the parole officer told both Dave’s father never to call him again. I guess he was forced to follow his employer’s own policies and he was pretty sore about it.
I wonder how many other parolees out there have been illegally prevented from seeing their own children while on parole. I also wonder if parole officers are being encouraged not to follow their own employer’s policies, or if these people simply don’t care.