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Sex offenders' parole violations ignored

8:05 AM, Oct 22, 2012   |    comments
  • Sex offender Christopher Federico hid children in his crawl space. / Submitted
  • Sex offender Floyd Leroy Craig's home was a day-care center. / Submitted
    
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By Brian Haas, The Tennessean

Of all the places Floyd Leroy Craig could have called home, this was perhaps the worst.

He's a registered sex offender, convicted of murdering his first wife in the 1970s and fondling a 12-year-old girl in 2004. He refused to go to sex offender treatment programs, skipped out on paying fees and ignored orders to get a polygraph test, state records show.

And on April 20, 2011, probation and parole officers found him living in a home where his current wife was operating a day care.

Craig is one example of probation and parole officers ignoring sex offenders' repeat violations of their supervision rules. A blistering audit of Tennessee's parole and probation system, released earlier this month, cited other instances where officers ignored GPS alerts on sex offenders.

Officers also fell behind on basic tasks like checking out the addresses offenders provided, visiting them at home and making sure they were given drug tests, it said.

Some sex offenders have found easy access to children while supposedly under state supervision.

"We're talking about children or women - some of the most vulnerable members of our society - who we are putting at risk if we're not paying attention," said Assistant District Attorney Kristen Menke, who works in Davidson County's Child Physical and Sexual Abuse Unit. "It's very important to monitor these people very closely, because we're trying to prevent repeat offenders."

Craig's attorney didn't return a phone message, and Craig had no listed phone numbers.

The task of supervising offenders on parole and probation was transferred from the Board of Parole to the Tennessee Department of Correction earlier this year. Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield, in response to the audit, has begun a full investigation into the findings, including allegations parole officers claimed to be supervising felons who turned out to be dead.

"The Department of Correction is committed to enhancing public safety," said Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the agency.

Legislators say they expect big things from Schofield and in a short amount of time. They've given the state a year to put fixes in place before another audit begins.

"Tennesseans should be shocked, appalled and dismayed and quite frankly mad about it. I know I am," said Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville. "I've had no confidence in that agency until Commissioner Schofield took that over."

The stakes are high.

"These are people that absolutely must be closely monitored, and they never should have unsupervised contact," said June Turner, executive director of the advocacy group Nashville Children's Alliance. "When children have been victims of abuse, they are more likely ... to experience physical health problems, depressive disorders as adults, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

"Children are not going to forget it."

GPS alerts ignored

Auditors looked at several aspects of supervision, including how well some sex offenders were tracked on GPS. The state began monitoring some of its most dangerous offenders by GPS in 2005.

Today, about 800 felons statewide - most of them sex offenders - are supposed to be monitored daily by GPS.

But auditors found that parole and probation officers were not "clearing" alerts they received from their third-party GPS monitoring system - checking where the sex offender is or whether he or she is tampering with the GPS monitor and confirming it in the system. For example, they found that officers cleared only about 18 percent of alerts triggered by sex offenders' GPS units going into an area they were prohibited from entering, such as a school zone.

Auditors found that officers missed home visits in nearly 40 percent of the cases they audited, didn't make sex offenders get drug tests in almost half of the cases and failed to ensure sex offenders were going to treatment in 40 percent of the cases.

That last point should give citizens pause, said Menke, the Nashville prosecutor.

"Sex offender treatment is one of those things I think you cannot make mistakes on," she said. "Every sex offender who is required... needs to be doing it. In my opinion, that's more important than GPS."

When everything goes right, children can be protected or rescued from dangerous situations, such as in the case of sex offender Christopher Federico.

In 2010, his parole officers noticed through GPS that he was living near a daycare in Nashville. They followed up when he failed to attend his sex offender treatment program or pay his state supervision fees and skipped out on polygraph tests he was supposed to take.

That triggered a home visit on July 26, 2010. Parole officers found two children sobbing in a crawlspace.

Authorities rescued the children - one of whom was Federico's original victim. Federico was convicted of violating his sex offender provisions and will spend at least the next year in prison.

Carter said the department has ordered that every parole officer must make face-to-face contact with all sex offenders by the end of October.

Caseload adjusted

The Board of Parole's goal was 25 sex offender cases as the ideal maximum load for parole officers. Tennessee's officers handle an average of 40 sex offender cases, which the audit said can contribute to problems with oversight.

A footnote in a report written after Craig was found living at the daycare noted, "Sex Offender Unit has had inadequate officer staffing since (December) 2008 and Craig's case has been passed on to new hires who don't seem to stay with the agency long enough to completely address compliance issues in the files."

Similarly, a 2009 note in Federico's case file warned, "Unable to complete home visit due to time restraints and caseload size."

Sarah Davis, another Nashville prosecutor, said that many of the problems appear to come down to budgeting - an excuse she said should appall Tennesseans.

"They should be outraged, because that's part of not just the Board of Probation and Parole but also our responsibility in the state in supervising these citizens and making sure they're rehabilitated," she said. "They should be writing their representatives or their congressmen."

Parole visit standards

While supervising sex offenders, Tennessee's probation and parole officers are supposed to include visits, testing and check for new arrests.

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