Thursday, August 13, 2009

TX Troubling Sex Offender Policy : Sex offender policy on parolees troubling.

A case pending before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin raises some serious concerns about the way the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles conducts business. The board apparently has established a policy that allows corrections officials to classify some parolees as sex offenders although they have not been convicted of a sex crime.

The finding does not involve a jury or judge. It is based on a psychiatric evaluation ordered by the state and an internal finding that the parolee could pose a public safety threat. Until June, the parolees were not given copies of the state-mandated evaluation and they and their lawyers were not allowed to attend the hearings.

That policy was modified as the case before Sparks prepared to go to trial. Still, parole officials insist there is no legal requirement for a live hearing and note that to give everyone a hearing would cost $1.7 million in additional staff, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

There are apparently about 650 parolees who have been placed under sex-offender rules without sex-crime convictions.

In the case pending before Sparks, parolee Ray Curtis Graham claims the restrictions imposed on him by state corrections officials meant he had to undergo sex-abuse therapy and barred him from becoming a minister and going to church, the Austin newspaper reports.

There have been at least three other similar lawsuits filed in Austin over the board's policy, along with more than a dozen other lawsuits across the state. This type of policy undermines the criminal justice system and is not good public policy.

The courts are looking over this issue and several federal judges have questioned the legality of the state's policy. But it could take years in the legal system before the matter is resolved.

The parole board needs to reconsider this policy before the taxpayers are left with a huge tab for legal fees over a very questionable policy.