A policy change in 2012 at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice lead to the destruction of parole support documents for 86,000 prisoners eligible for parole.
In August of 2012, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice streamlined the handling of parole paperwork for the 150,000 prisoners house in the Texas state prison system. TDCJ administrators order employees to stop filing paper copies of the thousands of monthly documents placed in prisoners’ parole files. Instead, the documents were scanned and electronically sent to an offender’s parole file. The original paper copies were then shredded and discarded.
However, for almost five months of destroying documents, the voting members of the parole board have been voting on parole eligibility based solely on the one-sided documents submitted by the state which include documents from the prosecutor, the trial, criminal history reports, and institutional reports. No outside support documentation from friends, family, or potential employers were reviewed.
Once the issue was noticed the policy immediately halted but not after tens of thousands of documents had been destroyed.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice spent approximately $160,000 to correct and replace the shredded documents but the documents were never sent to the parole board and the parole board never initiated a review to determine if any prisoners had been negatively impacted by the destroyed documents.
During this time the department’s targeted decrease of the prison population actually increased by 1,500 inmates due to the denied parole for parole-eligible offenders.
This is a major issue. Many of the shredded documents contained offers of employment and re-entry plans for offenders which easily could have earned a favorable parole vote.
In response to inquiries, TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark would not comment on whether the missing documents might have lead to denied paroles.
Texas Department of Pardons and Paroles spokesman Harry Battson stated he was not aware of how many parole decisions were based on incomplete offender files. He went on to say that it has been a full year since the mistake and no process has been implemented to re-examine any of the parole decisions during that time period.
This level of ineptitude should not go unpunished. During the last legislative session, TDCJ executives received more than a 23% raise increase. The range of increase in executives salaries is from $16,000 to $66,000 per year.
It is clear that no executive at TDCJ will be held accountable.
TDCJ has yet to notify any of the 86,000 inmates who were denied parole with incomplete files.