Thursday, June 2, 2016

TX: Advocates Push For Early Release of Severely Ill Sex Offenders

Charles Dill spent 14 years in prison after being convicted of indecency with a child in Collin County. His wife, Helga, recalls how he suffered from heart problems behind bars and had several operations.

Three weeks after his release in 2014, he died. His wife says she learned later that he had leukemia. She thinks the state's refusal to release her husband earlier, like they sometimes do for other inmates with severe medical issues, was both cruel and a waste of taxpayer resources. She's hoping that lawmakers will consider changing the state's rules regarding medical release of sex offenders next session.

One top lawmaker on criminal justice issues sympathizes with Hegla Dill's point of view but believes his colleagues won't touch the thorny issue out of fear of how it may be used against them.

"It takes 15 or 20 minutes to explain it, and somebody beats you up in a 30-second TV commercial: 'John Smith supported paroling sex offenders,'" said state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

When Texas prisoners become so sick that they are deemed too incapacitated to be a public threat and have just months to live, prison doctors will sometimes recommend them for medical parole.

That option is not available to inmates who were convicted for sexual offenses unless they are in a vegetative state.

Helga Dill recalled how the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles blocked her husband's medical parole efforts three times, she said. 
The board eventually released him from his 20-year sentence with standard parole. She is now an advocate for other sex offenders in Texas prisons.

Inmates with terminal illnesses or requiring long-term care like her husband are not physical threats to their communities anymore and should be released into nursing homes or back home, with electronic monitors, saving the state millions in health care costs, said Helga Dill, former chairman of the Texas Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (Texas CURE).
Helga Dill said she fought for five years to secure the early release of a blind, double-amputee prisoner. The struggle, she said, was over the fact he was a sex offender. He was in no position to harm another person, Dill said.

"We want to make sure people understand that these guys are not hurting anybody," she said.

Under medical parole, officially known as Medically Recommended Intensive Supervision, the parole board approves early parole and release of offenders with terminal illnesses or other severe illnesses or disabilities, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The parole board decides each case based on recommendations from the Texas Correctional Office of Medical and Mental Impairments, which screens prisoners.

Sex offenders who aren't in a "persistent vegetative state or do not suffer from organic brain syndrome with significant to total mobility impairment are not eligible for MRIS," according to the department. 

While Whitmire, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees the state's prison system, supports re-examining the issue, his counterpart in the House doesn't agree.

"It is unlikely that we would lessen the stringent guidelines for the MRIS program as it relates to these offenders," said Martha Bell Liner, chief of staff to state Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, who chairs the House Corrections Committee "Chairman Murphy's official stance is that the safety of all Texans is his top priority, and we do not want to take any actions that would erode the safety of our communities."

As of 2014, it cost Texas $54.89 a day to support prisoners and $4.04 for those on parole supervision, according to the Legislative Budget Board. Sick prisoners can cost significantly more.

Some years, the state's costs for caring for certain particularly sick prisoners have hit $1 million, Whitmire said adding that if their illness effectively neutralizes them as a threat to society, the issue becomes a fiscal concern.

"If they're a public safety concern, I wouldn't be for them being out. End of conversation," Whitmire said. "But if my colleagues and others are worried about the politics of letting someone out that has a serious crime 20, 30 years ago that is now unable to pose a public threat, put them in a nursing home that is supervised."

Whitmire said expanding eligibility for medical parole would be tough but smart policy.

A major hurdle to overcome might be the general perception that sex offenders have a high recidivism rate, said Mary Sue Molnar, executive director of Texas Voices For Reason and Justice, an advocacy group that promotes changing laws affecting people who have to register as sex offenders. More than 87,000 people are on the state's registry, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

A majority of that population does not commit another sex offense after being released, Molnar said, pointing to findings from around the country, as well as a 1997 Texas report, which found that 4 percent of sex offenders released from prison during a three-year period were arrested again in relation to a new sex crime.

"There's perception, and there's myth, and then there's truth," Molnar said. "I think they need to start looking at the research before they start making that decision."

Despite his support for changing the current rules, Whitmire said he doesn't plan to file a bill next session because he believes it will go nowhere. Supporting medical parole for certain sex offenders may save money but remains politically toxic, he said.

"But if you're too scared," he said, "you shouldn't be in this business."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."
~Adlia Stevenson U.S. Vice President (1893–1897) and Congressman (1879–1881)

On a Personal Note

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts regarding the issue of citizens’ rights, particularly addressing certain sex offenders’ crimes that do not fit the devastating, inequitable and endless punishment given.

As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.

Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
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“Dear President Obama,

I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.

But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?

All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
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What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….

We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.

Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
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“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.

It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
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I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”