2 officers fired for checking dead felons, more may be involved
Oct 3, 2012 06:14 PM
Reported By Chris Bundgaard, Reporter - bio | email
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -
At a hearing Wednesday on Tennessee's Capitol Hill, it was revealed that two parole officers lost their jobs after a state audit said they were claiming to monitor dead parolees.
Afterwards, the Department of Correction commissioner responsible for the Board of Parole indicated more may be involved.
"I find it hard to believe it was just two people," Derrick Schofield said.
The hearing before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Government Operations Committee examined a state audit released Monday that "found 82 offenders were still actively monitored after their death."
One of the offenders had been dead for 19-years according to the audit.
"We do admit that we had a couple of officers who falsified some records, and those officers are no longer in our employ," said Gary Tullock, who oversees the field parole officers for the Department of Correction, after holding the same job for the Board of Parole.
The findings reported in the 2011 state audit occurred when the Board of Parole was not overseen by the Department of Correction like it has been since July 1 of the this year after a state reorganization.
"We admit we were not diligent over time in searching these death records," said Tullock.
Jennifer Garoutte, who led the inquiry for the Division of State Audit told lawmakers the now-fired parole officers said they had actually made contact with some of the dead parolees.
"They were documenting that they had contact with that individual or a family member," added Garoutte at the hearing.
"I want to make doggone sure these are the only employees who have committed this act," responded Rep. Barrett Rich.
Outside the committee room, Correction Department Commissioner Derrick Schofield could not be sure that was the case.
"We say there were 80 or whatever the number was, so I find it hard to believe it was just two," added the commissioner.
He'll be responsible for implementing changes quickly urged by lawmakers.
"These findings are of such magnitude that they need an immediate and urgent response," said Sen. Bo Watson.
The committee recommended another state audit conducted next year to see what's been done to address seven other major findings in the audit.
The audit also raised questions about parole officers not responding in a timely way to alarms indicating offenders wearing GPS bracelets had gone into places where they are prohibited.
Tullock, who is now an Assistant Commissioner for field services in the Correction Department said, "Everyone of these we responded to."
He blamed some boxes of an exhaustive computer checklist not being properly checked by the paroles officers.
The Correction Commissioner was asked if the public can feel confident about the Board of Parole functions.
"My position is you start feeling confident now because supervision of felony offenders is about accountability," he said.
Charles Traughber, the longtime chair of the Board of Parole, saw it differently.
"You are not giving them enough time to resolve all these findings and make serious dent in it, it would take Superman to do that," Traughber told lawmakers.
He added that felons in Tennessee have grown 5% annually for years, but no new parole officers have been added for the heavier caseloads.