Last month, two parolees allegedly shot a Houston
police officer while out on a weekend pass from a halfway house. Derrick
West was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced to seven to seven
years in prison in October, 1992 and was paroled in June, 1994. Kevin Hines
was convicted of burglary of a motor vehicle in June 1989 and received two
years; was paroled in July 1989. In 1991, Hines was again convicted
of aggravated robbery and theft and was assessed a total of twenty years.
Hines was paroled June 1994.
In reality there is nothing new about the above scenario, however I am about to take you through a journey that you, i.e.. THE PUBLIC, are not entitled to know.
A federal law enacted in 1987, aimed at protecting people who seek treatment, prohibits programs from revealing information that would reveal identities and has thrown a cloak of confidentiality over thousands of Texas prisoners. It is estimated that over 7,000 inmates will be cloaked from the public by the end of the year.
Some of the headaches already taking place include victims not being able to find out if their perpetrator is in prison, counselors who need an inmate's approval to review their case with parole staff- (FOR REAL) - law enforcement haven't a clue if the person they arrest is in treatment and no one, I mean no one, can find out the names of convicted felons either incarcerated in special treatment units or released to therapeutic halfway houses. Heck, even the inmates own family are not supposed to know where they are.
While in the penitentiary, West and Hines were assigned to participate in a treatment program that lasts anywhere from nine to twelve months, with after-care that follows release from prison. There are twenty half-way houses located throughout the state, five of which are in Houston. Confidentiality laws prohibit officials from confirming the existence of these centers as well as who is assigned there.
Upon calling the halfway house to confirm the fact that the above named parolees reside there, I was questioned by the director mainly on how I found out their existence. I was advised by the director the due to federal confidentiality laws they could not confirm or deny their existence, let alone who resides there. The director stated that most inmates sign a release of confidentiality form; however, the prisoners decide who they can release information to.
In my opinion this is a major Pandora's box that needs to be opened. This is another example of the public's right to know being squelched by the rights of convicted felons. The fact that these invisible halfway houses exist in our neighborhoods without our consent is incredulous, as is the fact that the public cannot be told who resides there. Officials claim most of their clientele consists of non-violent offenders, however because all information is confidential, how do we, i.e. the public verify this?
The fact that you are not allowed to find out if convicted felons are living in your neighborhood reminds me of a script out of the twilight zone. I strongly urge all concerned law-abiding citizens to contact their elected officials and voice their opinion as to whether they feel convicted felons should be shielded under the cloak of confidentiality. OH! By the way, this article is protected under the confidentiality laws, so don't tell your friends or neighbors. Upon reading this article, this paper will self-destruct in 5 seconds. Just kidding!!!!!
In a Senate vote of 33-6, Virginia passed a proposal to eliminate parole
from state prisons. The House of Representatives soon supported the
measure with a 88-10 vote. Governor George Allen said "I am just as
pleased as I can be" after the measure passed.
As a candidate and then as governor, Allen was made aware by the voters of Virginia that they did not believe that government is meeting its obligation to public safety. They were rightfully disgusted with a deceitful criminal justice system that releases convicted violent criminals after serving only a fraction of their sentences.
In the last five years, crime has risen by 28% and although the current crime rates are frightening, the prognosis for the next ten years is even worst if they continue the present trend. Governor Allen's plan will also lengthen sentences, by 125% to 500%, for people convicted of murder, rape, robbery, and burglary of a habitat. Drug sentences will remain about the same and many non-violent offenders will be sent to a work camp or be confined to home detention. The proposed number of inmates in prison today will more than double in the next ten years.
Allen estimates this plan will cost $1 billion dollars over a 10 year period; however, Legislature suggests a $2 billion dollar tab. The money for this expansion of 27 new correction facilities is not from new taxes or cutting spending on education or transportation; but by borrowing the money, if the voters approve. In the new federal crime bill, there are provisions to reward states that eliminate parole is expected to cover some of the costs.
As you can guess, there is much opposition to this proposal from defense attorneys and correctional management personnel. Defense attorneys claim it is financially irresponsible claiming it is too expensive. Corrections have used parole, as a tool, to maintain control over inmates while they are incarcerated. There is much support from the citizens. An anti-crime organization called Safe Streets Coalition collected over 100,000 signatures on a petition in support of Gov. Allen's plan.
Allen commented "I am pleased that my plan has received broad bipartisan support in the General Assembly. But citizens must demand prompt action if the current fraudulent and lenient system is really to be changed."