A VAWA grant has enabled the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office to teach other victim assistants how to craft their own packets to protest parole for the worst offenders.
History buffs or Francophiles might know that “parole” means “word” in French. As in word of honor, a verbal commitment by one person to another agreeing to do (or not do) something in the future. A promise.
In the criminal justice system, parole is the supervised release of a prisoner before he has completed his sentence—taking him on his word that he will abide by the terms of his parole. It is a privilege granted to some offenders whose behavior while incarcerated warrants early release. But there are some—and we all can think of specific criminals we’ve prosecuted—who should never be granted parole. These prisoners motivate me to create and file parole protest packets with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP).
Back in 2007, I wrote an article for this journal entitled, “A time capsule for future parole hearings.” (Find it online at www.tdcaa.com/ node/1121.) It was about a task force our elected DA, John Bradley, and I started in our office to keep especially violent criminals in prison; it was comprised of me and a group of volunteers. Three years later we are still producing parole protest packets.
Parole or early release of most inmates is inevitable because Texas prisons are overcrowded. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s 2009 annual report, there were 76,607 parole considerations, 18,554 mandatory release considerations, and 30,389 parole violation cases. That same year, another 2,848 out-of-state parolees were supervised in Texas. The way I see all of these numbers is that we—those of us in prosecutor’s offices and those on the parole board—are in this together. The board members need our help in identifying those inmates who do not merit parole. They told me so the last time we talked, in fact. And I am offering everyone reading this article a chance to learn how to help—free of charge. (Everyone likes free, right?)
Last November, after many months of research, training on grant writing, actual grant writing, and a presentation in front of our county commissioners, our office was awarded a VAWA Recovery Act Grant. (When we got the nod, I felt like Rocky Balboa when he made it up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art!) The grant enabled us to cover the salary, benefits, supplies, and travel of a full-time victim assistant. We hired Carter Snelson, who works on nothing but parole protest packets geared toward the Act’s specifications—that is, helping the adult female victims of violent crimes.
Carter pulls closed case files, extracts detailed information from them, and attempts contact with victims or families in those cases. He creates a book of information with a full picture of the crime from the victim’s perspective. He includes crime scene photos, autopsy reports, news articles, victim statements, and anything that humanizes the victims for the parole board. And because we allocated money for travel, we can train others on how and why they should protest parole, not just for the victim, but also for the safety of the communities in which we live.
Receiving this grant has brought us closer to our community, and it set the foundation for our county commissioners to (when the grant expires) fund a full-time victim assistant position in our office. But most importantly, it is pretty historic that our commissioners recognized the significance of paying someone to make sure that prison sentences are carried out, protecting the victim long after the trial is over. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
I know first-hand how difficult it is to juggle your regular victim assistance responsibilities with creating these parole protest packets. Even with a team of volunteers (whose numbers dwindled from 14 to seven then to one over the course of a single year), we knew we needed a grant to hire an additional staff member. These packets are so worth it, though! I got a call one day from a woman who worked north of Dallas; her name is Evette. She had Googled how to write a parole protest letter, and my name came up in the search. Her sister had been murdered for insurance money, and the woman who did it was coming up for parole. Evette sent me newspaper articles so I could familiarize myself with the details, and I in turn shared our approach to protest packets. About a month later, she e-mailed to say that the parole board had invited her to appear in person, and one member even walked into the meeting with her protest packet in hand! The murderer was denied parole, and her next eligibility date was set off for a few years—and Evette thanked us profusely for helping her. The feedback I get from victims and their families, when parole is denied after board members view their protest packet, is very rewarding.
Carter and I would love to come to your county and show victim advocates or other staff how to effectively create your own parole protest packets. Training can take up to two hours, and you just supply the room. If you’re interested in this training, please contact our office at 512/943-1234 or email us at iodom ( a t ) wilco.org.