Thousands of convicts eligible for parole are filling crowded Texas prisons because the state Board of Pardons and Paroles has not followed its own parole guidelines and because alcohol- and drug-treatment programs are not available, members of a state panel charged yesterday, reports the Austin American-Statesman. “If you’d just followed your own guidelines, we wouldn’t have a (prison) capacity problem right now,” state Sen. John Whitmire told parole officials during a hearing by the Sunset Advisory Commission that was marked by intense criticism of Texas’ justice system.
Texas’ 153,000 prison beds are full, and the state is leasing 1,500 additional beds from county jails. A sunset commission staff report says the state’s seven parole board members and 12 parole commissioners do not follow their own guidelines in deciding who is freed and who is not, especially when it comes to low-risk convicts. Details of how the system is failing to rehabilitate offenders in increasing numbers, or even to follow its own mandates, sparked an intense debate that could be a precursor of what the Legislature will face next year. Among other problems, “nine hundred people who have been approved for parole are still in prison, because we don’t have the treatment beds for them,” Whitmire said. “It’s a horrible waste of money.”