Scott Henson, over at Grits for Breakfast is upset over the governor's veto of HB541, which would have allowed parolee's to bail out of jail when they're arrested on a blue warrant (parole revocation warrant).
I want to preface my remarks by saying that Grits for Breakfast is the best criminal justice blog in the state of Texas (and maybe the nation). I enjoy reading it every day, and 99% of the time I agree with it. Mr. Henson knows what he's talking about.
But I have to disagree about HB541. A blue warrant is an arrest warrant issued when a parolee has violated his parole and a revocation hearing is to be held to see whether the parolee will go back to prison or not. A blue warrant is not bailable -- the parolee will remain in jail until the hearing is held and the results are known. Then the parolee will either be released or sent back to prison.
Parole is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. It is a privilege granted by the Parole Board, and that privilege can be revoked at any time for a violation. It's not like he was waiting to go to court to see if he's going to be convicted. For most crimes, those waiting to go to court should be granted bail (after all, they haven't been convicted of anything yet).
A parolee is someone who's already been convicted of a felony and sent to prison. The hearing is to see if he'll lose the privilege of parole and have to go back to prison. The chances are very good that a parolee sitting in jail on a blue warrant will be sent back to prison, and most parolees know this.
Because of this, there is a much greater risk of a parolee not showing up at his hearing, than that of a bailee not showing up for trial. Then you have a convicted felon running free and unsupervised, and highly likely to commit another crime to keep his freedom. That is why blue warrants are not bailable -- to protect the community at large.
Scott says parole officers abuse the blue warrant by jailing offenders they do not wish to revoke. I'm sure that may be true in some instances. But is this such a bad thing if it straightens out a parole violator? Do we really want parole violators to remain free?
There has to be a better solution to county jail overcrowding that turning parole violators loose. Maybe the state should pay the county for housing these prisoners. Maybe the state should build its own temporary detention facilities. After all, we are not talking about an extended period of time before the revocation decision is made.
One of a parole officer's duties is to protect the community. They cannot do that if parole violators are allowed to run free.