Federal Communication Commission Takes Steps Reducing Inmate Calling Rates:
On October 22, 2015 the Federal Communications Commission took steps to rein in the excessive rates and egregious fees on phone calls paid by inmates attempting to stay in touch with loved ones. The Federal Communication Commission cut rates for local and in-state long-distance inmate calling, and cut existing interstate long-distance calls. It also closed loopholes by barring most ad-on fees imposed by inmate calling services (ICS) providers, and set strict limits on the fees that remain. These actions build on reforms begun by the Federal Communication Commission in 2013, when it acted on a petition by grandmother from Washington for relief from the exorbitant rates she was paying to call her grandson in prison. The Order adopted by the Commission lowers the telephone rate to $.11 per minute for all local and long-distance calls from state and federal prisons, while providing tiered rates for jails to account for the higher cost of serving jail and smaller institutions.
New caps reduce the average rate for the vast majority of inmate calls substantially from $2.96 to no more than $1.65 for 15 minute intrastate calls for most inmates and from $3.15 to no more than $1.65 for most 15-minute interstate calls. The recaps are as follows: (1) $.11cents/minute for debit and prepaid calls in state or federal prisons (approximately 71% of inmates reside in state or federal prisons). (2) $.14 cents/minute for debit and prepaid calls in jails with 1,000 or more inmates. (3) $.16 cents/minute for debit and prepaid calls in jails with 350-999 inmates. (4) $.22cents/minute for debit and prepaid calls in jails of up to 349 inmates. Rates for collect calls are slightly higher in the first year and will be phased down to these caps over a two-year transition period.
Eliminates unnecessary fees by capping or banning burdensome ancillary service charges, which can add nearly 40% to the cost of a single call. The following ancillary service charges have been capped. Automated payment by phone or website is capped at $3.00, payment through a live agent is capped at $5.95, a paper bill fee is capped at $2.00, third-party financial transaction fees may be passed through with no mark-up allowed, prohibits all other ancillary service charges, mandatory taxes and regulatory fees can be passed through with no mark-up. Defines the term site commission and makes a site commission as a profit, not a cost of providing service, and cannot be passed through to the inmate.
Thousand of Federal Inmates Being Released Early:
About 6000 federal inmates whose drug sentences were reduced will begin the process of being released from custody beginning October 30, 2015. This is the result of a policy change made by the United States Sentencing Commission. The Justice Department has been preparing for the inmate release for the last year and a half, coordinating efforts with immigration, court, prison and probation officials. Approximately a 3rd of the 6000 inmates will be transferred to the United States Immigration and Custom Enforcement and eventually deported to their home countries. Of the remaining, approximately 4000 inmates, about 80% of those will be released from halfway houses or home confinement the other 20% will be returned to their families and loved ones straight from prison under the supervision of probation officers. Texas will receive the largest number of inmates affected by this policy change of approximately 600 and Florida will receive the second-largest with approximately 300.
I have received numerous letters and phone calls regarding the release of the federal prisoners. I’ve had to explain to family members and write to inmates and inform them this release only affects federal inmates. The United States Sentencing Commission has no authority over TDCJ are the state of Texas. Only the parole board has the authority to release an inmate from custody after the inmate has served the minimum time in custody. There is no wholesale release of state inmates in Texas.
NEW PAROLE BOARD MEMBERS:
David Gutierrez Board Member at the Gatesville Parole Board has been appointed to take over Ms. Resse Owens position as Presiding Officer of the Parole Board. Ms. Owens was not reappointed to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Presently Mr. Gutierrez will remain at the Gatesville Parole Board as a voting member.
The Angleton Parole Board has a new Parole Commissioner: Mr. Ira Evans has 18-years experience in Manufacturing and Technical Management in the private sector, joined Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles as an Institutional Parole Officer in 2002, was promoted to Board Analyst in 2010 prior to becoming a Parole Commissioner.
The Gatesville Parole Board has two new Parole Commissioners: (1) Ms. Lee Ann Eck-Massingill has a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Corrections and a Minor in Psychology form Sam Houston State University and has 25-years of Criminal Justice experience. (2) Mr. Roel Tejada has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s of Justice Administration from St. Mary’s University, has experience in both Juvenile and Adult systems with emphasis on Substance Abuse, Special Needs and Domestic Violence with over 13-years of Administrative and Supervisory experience.
The Huntsville Board has a new Parole Commissioner: Ms. Wanda Saliagas has a Bachelor of Science in Social Rehabilitation and Social Services from Sam Houston State University with 9-years experience in social services and 26-years in criminal justice experience.
The San Antonio Board has a new Board Member: Mr. Fred Solis has a Master of Public Administration in Management, University of Texas San Antonio; Bachelor of Science, Wayland Baptist University, U.S. Army Command and General’s Staff College; Texas Master Peace Officer. He is retired U.S. Army Colonel with 40-years of active and reserve duty. He is retired San Antonio Police Officer, Former Police Chief of Olmos Park, Texas, Former Bexar County Criminal District Attorney, White Collar Crimes Investigator, Criminal Justice Adjunct Professor at the University of the Incarnate Word.
PAROLE BOARD POLICY CHANGE:
The Board of Pardons and Paroles approved the modification of the Approval/Denial reasons provided by the parole panel when rendering a parole decision. The changes are to provide clear and concise reasons for the Approval or Denial of parole and are designed to eliminate any ambiguity that may have previously existed. The implementation will be forthcoming once the computer programming changes are complete.
(1) There was no Bill proposed decreasing the mandatory requirement of a person convicted of a 3g offense or any offense in which a weapon was used serving less than 50% of their sentence before they would be eligible for parole. When will people stop believing this rumor? I do not know, but I have been addressing this same rumor for over 10- years, but everyone wants to believe this law has changed. IT HAS NOT. (2) There is another rumor circulating that the Legislature is bringing back mandatory release rule and there will be no longer be discretionary mandatory release review. Inmates must be released when their work time, good time and actual time equals their sentence. This is also NOT true. (3) Again, the inmate rumor mill is still circulating the rumor there is a lawsuit that an inmate has won denying the parole board the ability to use the same reason for denial more than once. This rumor has been going around for some time and I have addressed about two-years ago. This is also NOT true. Remember my civic lesson from my last newsletter about the Texas Legislature. It only meets every two-years in odd number years. The next Texas Legislature does not meet until 2017, so any rumor that begins with the Legislature changed some law is false until the Legislature meets again in 2017.
There was a fleeting moment of hope that the liberals and conservatives could come together and reform the criminal justice system. Those hopes evaporated like a drop of rain on a hot August day in Texas. This Legislature failed to pass legislation that would lower penalties for nonviolent offenders. Is there any wonder why the Department of Criminal Justice general revenue fund grew by nearly a half billion dollars for the next biennium? This Legislature didn’t pass a law treating 17-year-olds as juveniles rather than adults. It doesn’t seem to bother the conservative legislatures to send teenagers into an adult criminal justice system that has hardened criminals residing in it. This Legislature even passed up an easy one. There was a bill submitted that would stop asking individuals if they have ever been convicted of a felony or had a criminal history on-the-job application. By removing this question on the employment form, an individual would at least get his/her foot in the door for a job interview instead of being summarily denied. This proposed law never made it out of committee.
Should any inmate or parolee who is in a sex-offender treatment course be asked to discuss “uncharged but potentially possible criminal events” the person may invoke his Fifth Amendment Right. He cannot be discharged or revoked for asserting his Constitutional Right. However, this right is not applicable to offenses for which there is already a final conviction or and adjudication and he would be expected to discuss these convictions and adjudications during the course of the program or risk being removed.
HB-189:This law eliminated the statute of limitation for the offenses of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault and increases the penalty of other sexual crimes. (See the above explanation on your rights in treatment or interviews). This law takes effect September 2015.
HB-333: A defendant who has successfully completed a state jail felony community supervision can, on a written motion, upon completing 2/3 of original supervision request the convicting court to discharge the defendant and amend the record of conviction to reflect a conviction for a Class A misdemeanor. This law goes into effect September 1, 2015.
HB-710: Parole Division may issue a summons instead of a warrant on a person charged with violating a condition of parole so long as the individual is not on intensive supervision, an absconder, or deemed a threat to the public safety and is charged an administrative violation, a class B or C misdemeanor. This Bill goes into effect September 1, 2015.
HB- 904: This deals with when a convicted individual has been convicted of a felony and is ineligible for release on bail pending appeal, the individual will be transferred to TDCJ. This Act takes effect September 1, 2015.
***HB-1083: requires TDCJ prior to confining an inmate to segregation to have the inmate evaluated by a medical or mental health care professional and a mental health assessment must be performed prior to placing the in administrative segregation. TDCJ may not confine an inmate if the assessment performed indicates that the type of confinement is not appropriate for the inmates medical or mental health. This law goes into effect September 1, 2015.
***HB-1941: Allows the Parole Board the option to give up to a ten-year set- off between parole reviews for those inmates convicted of Capital Murder (life sentence) or aggravated sex cases. These cases will be voted by all 7 Board members and will require 5 favorable votes to receive parole. This law goes into effect September 1, 2015.
HB-2189: This requires TDCJ to establish and maintain a program for intellectually disabled or borderline intellectual functioning inmates which provides a safe environment and has specialized programs and treatment for such individuals. This goes into effect September 1, 2015.
SB-236: This law increases the punishment range on certain controlled substances offenses committed in a drug-free zone. This goes into effect September 1, 2015.
SB-487: Allows a convicted person to submit to the convicting court a motion for forensic DNA testing of evidence where there is a reasonable likelihood of biological material existing. This law goes into effect September 1, 2015.
***SB-578: TDCJ shall identify organizations that provide reentry and reintegration resources and shall collaborate with those organizations to make these resources available to all inmates. This takes effect September 1, 2015.
SB-589: Allows inmates serving a state jail conviction to receive credit against the defendants sentence up to 1/5th of the sentence if the defendant participated in educational, vocational, treatment, or work programs while confined. This law goes into effect September 1, 2015.
SB -662: The convicting court shall appoint an attorney to an indigent applicant for writ of habeas corpus whose sentence has been suspended, reduced to a lesser offense, or the courts have found a law to be unconstitutional. This takes effect September 1, 2015.
SB-746: This very extensive law sets up the procedure for the civil commitment of those person who have been found guilty of a sexually predatory act, sexually violent offense and set forth the definitions of such acts. This law takes effect September 1, 2015.
***SB-790: A parolee charged with committing an administrative violation of release, a new misdemeanor offense and not a violation of family violence or DWI shall receive a bond from a magistrate of the county in which the individual is confined if there is a showing the parolee is not an absconder or a threat to public safety. This law goes into effect September 1, 2015.
SB-1326: This law sets forth the maximum cumulative period a defendant can be kept in custody to determine his competency to stand trial. This law goes into effect September 1, 2015.
(1) It has come to my attention there is a vicious rumor circulating throughout the prison system that I have been blackballed by the parole boards in every region and that anyone who hires me will automatically be denied parole. FALSE: I am in good standing with all the parole boards and their members and continue to be heard by them arguing in my clients’ behalf, as I have for over 20-years successfully. Last week alone, every client I argued for was granted parole. So, I reiterate, there is no truth to this rumor.
(2) President Barack Obama and Congress will be working to reduce the prison population. FALSE: While there is ongoing discussions in Washington regarding criminal justice reform, there have been no bills proposed as of the date of this letter. Also, any reform on the federal level will only affect federal prisons.
(3) Should a close relative die you can petition the Parole Board for a special review of your previous denial. FALSE: Should a death occur, an inmate can petition the Warden for a furlough to attend the funeral.
(4) Any rumor starting with the Texas Legislature has changed the law… FALSE: No laws have been passed by the Legislature in the two weeks the Legislature has been in session beginning January 2015.
A very scarey decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in United States of America v. Marvin Reese came out January 5, 2015. During a hearing to revoke Mr. Reese’s supervised release (federal probation), the question of whether the drugs found on him were illegal drugs was elicited by the United States Attorney through the testimony of a police officer instead of the lab technician who performed the test. The Court states: We begin with the proposition that the revocation of parole is not part of a criminal prosecution and thus the full panoply of rights due a defendant in a criminal proceeding does not apply to parole revocations. Should this decision remain, a police officer could testify in a state parole revocation hearing that the substance found on a parolee was an illegal substance or the officer could testify the girlfriend told the officer the parolee hit or threatened to harm her and the Parole Board could accept this as evidence of a parole violation. The only saving fact is an implied understanding that if Mr. Reese had issued a subpoena and objected to the testimony at the hearing, then there may have been a different outcome. That is why I always issue subpoenas and object at parole revocation hearings to protect my client. I have been fortunate to have not lost a parole revocation at a revocation hearing in 7-8 years.
PAROLE DECISIONS BY BOARD MEMBERS AND COMMISSIONERS FOR THE YEAR 2014
|PAROLE BOARD||BOARD MEMBER||APPROVAL RATE||DENIAL RATE|
|Amarillo||Charles A. Shipman||29.4%||70.6%|
|Gatesville||Lee Ann Eck-Massingill||30.7%||69.3%|
|Huntsville||Roy A. (Tony) Garcia||36.7%||63.3%|
|Palestine||James Paul Kiel, Jr.||30.0%||70.0%|
|Palestine||James A. Hensarling||33.4%||66.6%|
|San Antonio||Juanita Gonzalez||37.8%||62.2%|
|San Antonio||Charles C. Speier||34.3%||65.7%|
|San Antonio||Anthony Ramirez||28.8%||71.2%|
The methodology I used in calculating the total average was to take out the percentage for Rissie Owens because as head of the Parole Board she only voted on approximately 450 cases in the year to date versus most Parole Board Members who voted in excess of 3500 cases year to date. I believe the probability of any inmate of being voted on by Ms. Owens would be a statistical anomaly and the greater probability of a vote by the other members would be more probable.
Of Interest :
I received a phone call from Juanita Gonzalez last week informing me she will be retiring from the San Antonio Parole Board as soon as the Governor appoints an individual to take her place. I will miss arguing cases to her. While she may not have always agreed with my assessment of why my client deserved parole, she always listened and asked very informed questions about my client. That type of individual is always needed on the parole board. This will now make three appointments the new Governor will have to make to fill the existing vacancies at the Angleton Board, Huntsville Board and now Juanita Gonzalez’s position at San Antonio Board.
(1) Mr. Rangel who was a Parole Board Commissioner at the Angleton Board has been moved to the Huntsville Board to assist Mr. Garcia in voting parole cases.
(2) For those inmates with Hepatitis C, there has been a major breakthrough in medicine with the release of Sovaldi from Gilead Sciences Company. This drug can cure Hepatitis C within weeks or months of taking the pill once a day for up to 12-weeks. The bad news is it costs $1,000.00 per pill for a total cost of curing the disease of approximately $84,000.00 for the treatment. Prisons across the country will be facing a dilemma. Treating these inmates could make a big dent in the Hepatitis C epidemic, but finding the money to do it will be another story.
(3) The sole Judge Michael Seiler who hears civil commitment of sex-offenders has come under fire for remarks he made about the offenders who face him in court as psychopaths or once suggesting treating the sex-offender with castration from the neck up. To date there have been 16 Motion to Recuse Judge Seiler from hearing these types of cases and 8 have been granted by three different judges. In at least seven cases, appellate courts have sided with the defense attorney and reversed Judge Seiler’s decision to civilly commit defendants.
(4) For the first time, Texas Appellate courts have overturned the convictions of two teenagers who were certified by the juvenile courts to be an adult. They were subsequently tried as adults and sent to TDCJ. For over a quarter century, not a single juvenile certification had been successfully challenged until January of this year. Based on the opinions in the two cases, the Appellate courts will now require sufficient evidence as to why the youth in question should stand trial as an adult.
Attorneys in Office:
Greg Tsioros is a criminal defense attorney who handles all forms of criminal defense cases and Johnny P. Papantonakis is a criminal defense attorney who handles cases in both federal and state courts and is fluent in Spanish. They are both now accepting parole cases after having worked with me to understand the complexity of parole in Texas. Johnny will be assisting me in representing inmates as well as family members who speak Spanish and need help convincing the Board to release there loved one to parole.
I continue to be contacted by family members requesting my help after having spent their hard earned money on parole representation by other attorneys and receiving a meager 3-page letter begging the Board to release the inmate with a few support letters attached and told that is a parole package. Unfortunately, if that is what people have fallen prey to for around $2,000.00, then money has been wasted as it will have very little if any impact on the Board’s decision. If an inmate receives parole after such a package has been filed, it is most likely the inmate would have been released without the loss of $2,000.00 or the waste of paper the so-called Parole Package was written on. The simple fact is, the Parole Board is looking for evidence an inmate deserves to be released. The only way I know how to get this type of evidence is to gather information and documentation from the various agencies, the inmate, the inmate’s family and friends, and others, review and evaluate that information, and attempt to find mitigating proof the crime my client was charged with was not as bad as the Parole Members may have perceived when they read the IPO summary, or that my client is no longer the same person who committed the act and was sent to prison. To prepare an informative Parole Package (usually some 30 or 40 pages long) and then prepare a persuasive argument to the Parole Board, I have to clearly reflect that my client has gotten his/her life together so the Parole Board feels sure he/she will not receive a telephone call from some reporter demanding to know why that inmate was released instead of made to serve out the entire sentence because now the released inmate has committed a horrible new crime. Remember, the easy answer for the Board is to say NO to a request for parole, instead of granting it. If you really believe a 3-page parole package will convince the Board to grant you parole, simply prepare it yourself instead of wasting money on nonproductive representation.
Parole system and TDCJ update:
For decades, there have been 18 Parole Board Members in the state of Texas. In my last letter I notified my clients that the Legislature had appropriated funds for a new Parole Board Office in Austin, Texas. I verified this during a discussion with Ms. Rissie Owens who is the Presiding Officer of the Parole Board. It took some time for the Governor to appoint the two new commissioners, but as of the date of this letter there is a new Parole Board office in Austin consisting of Rissie Owens, Troy G. Fox and Elvis Hightower. Troy G. Fox was previously a commissioner at the Gatesville Board. His education consists of a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Corrections from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.
His background consists of over 35-years experience in corrections and criminal justice field in positions ranging from probation officer to various management positions with TDCJ-Parole Division and the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Mr. Elvis Hightower was also relocated from the Gatesville Board to the new Austin Board Office. His education consists of a Bachelors Degree from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas. His background consists of 11-years experience as a prison warden.
The Governor then appointed two new Parole Board Commissioners to the Gatesville Board: Ms. Lee Ann Eck-Massingill, who has a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Corrections and a Minor in Psychology from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Her background consists of 25-years in the criminal justice arena. Also appointed to the Gatesville Board is Mr. Roel Tejada who has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Justice Administration from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas. His background consists of criminal justice experience in both juvenile and adult systems with an emphasis on Substance Abuse, Special Needs and Domestic Violence.
Due to the creation of the new Austin Parole Board Office, there will probably be a realignment of the various regions and units with some being placed under the new board and other units reassigned to other board offices. As of the date of this letter, there is no official designation as to what units will be placed under the Austin Parole Board. I anticipate the realignment will occur mainly from those units under the San Antonio Parole Board, Gatesville Parole Board, possibly the Huntsville Parole Board and maybe a few units from the Angleton Parole Board; however, there could be a complete realignment throughout the entire system. Once I have received an official chart indicating what units will be placed under what parole boards I will post it on my website and it will probably be in my next letter that will go out sometime this summer. If you are interested in knowing what units will be voted by what parole board, I suggest you periodically check my web page. Once I have placed this information on my web page it can printed out and sent to any inmate so he/she can be updated as to what parole board will be assigned to what units.
The overall release rate has not changed drastically since my last letter. As of March 2014 the overall release rate is 35.67% which means that approximately 65% of inmates are being denied parole at present. The new Parole Board Members’ voting records have not been calculated as of the posted March 2014 statistics I recently received. I anticipate it will be approximately 3 or 4 months before there is any new statistical information regarding how the new Parole Board Members are voting. Upon receiving this information it will also be placed on my web page and be in my next letter. Generally, when a new Parole Board Member begins voting, they have a tendency to vote very conservatively. Should that occur, it will probably affect the Gatesville Board’s statistics since Mr. Fox and Mr. Hightower were there for a number of years.