Audit raises questions about parole contacts

Probation and parole officers failed to make 22 percent of the required contacts with offenders who have been released from prison after serving sentences for violent crimes, lawmakers learned Thursday about a performance sampling conducted by the Louisiana legislative auditor.

Louisiana has about 70,000 offenders living in communities across the state whose first years out of prison after serving their sentence are supervised by the Division of Adult Probation and Parole, according to Nicole B. Edmonson, director of Performance Audit Services with the Office of Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

“Offender contact is a key aspect of the supervision process because it gives officers the opportunity to inquire into the offenders’ circumstances, such as where he lives, where he hangs out and where he works,” Edmonson said. The audit took a sampling of cases to determine the number and frequency of required contacts officers had with offenders, she said.

The sampling determined that officers failed to make 99 of 448 required contacts or 22 percent of the total, she said. In 57 of the 99 misses, contacts were not attempted by the officers, the audit showed.

“As a layman, as I look at this audit,” said state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, “I am concerned about the safety of the citizens of this state because of the audit that has been issued really reveals that there’s many things that are going undone.”

The Division of Adult Probation and Parole managers countered that everyone is safe, the auditor’s performance sounding was too focused and left an exaggerated impression. The agency is part of the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Gerald Starks, director of the state Probation and Parole office, said officers made conscious decisions to focus on offenders having problems, rather than those having fewer issues. “We’re going to see the person who needs to be seen,” Starks said, adding that the state’s low recidivism rates after three and five years are among the best in the country.

“We evaluated the actual offender supervision process to determine whether required activities were being conducted according to the written policy,” Edmonson said.

The audit made nine findings and recommendations, including a conclusion that officers did not complete 128 of the 571 initial risk assessments on sex offenders within the required 60 days. Some 7,098 of 14,718 of the required risk assessments for non-sex offenders were not completed within the required 60-to-90 day period, according to the audit.

“Conducting initial risk assessments in a timely manner is important to the supervision process because the information provided by this process is used by the division to determine the number and frequency of required contacts that officers need to have with offenders,” Edmonson said.

Starks said auditors wrongly counted those offenders on whom risk assessments were not completed. For instance, many offenders transfer to another state upon release. The new state is required to – and does – write the assessment, but auditors considered the report unwritten, he said.

State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, says the agency officials agreed, in writing, with the legislative audit’s findings. But they appeared before the Legislative Audit Advisory Council complaining about the auditors, he said.

“A legislative auditor just doesn’t make these things up and, as I said, y’all have agreed with each point down the line, boom, boom, boom,” Walsworth said.

After the hearing Genie Powers, deputy secretary at the Department of Corrections, said agency management agreed that accountability reporting should be done systemwide and the agency is installing a new computer system to do just that. But, Powers disagreed with the assertion that Probation and Parole officers were failing to draft assessments.