Victims’ rights advocate starts petition to rescind Tenn. parole and probation changes

Joan Berry

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A victims’ rights advocacy group has started a petition to reverse recent changes to the state parole and probation guidelines.

Victims’ rights groups and the Knox County District Attorney expressed concerns in January for the public’s safety under the new state guidelines.

Previous story: Parole and probation changes worry Knox County DA and victims’ rights advocate

Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen says she has been in contact with district attorneys across the state trying to learn more about the parole and probation changes and what can be done to reverse them. She says what she’s been uncovering is disturbing and poses danger in public safety.

The daughter of Joan Berry, founder of the non-profit HOPE for Victims, was murdered in 2004. Taylor Olsen was arrested three years later for violating probation and charged with her murder. Berry says if the new parole and probation rules were in place back then, an arrest may never have been made.

Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen
Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen

“If this was in place when Taylor Olsen was arrested, we might not have ever found out who murdered Johnia because he was picked up on a parole violation,” said Berry.

The Tennessee Department of Correction has now put low risk offenders on telephone monitoring. The state determines which offenders are high risk or low risk based on the parolee’s job, relationship with their family and length of criminal history, not the seriousness of the crime committed.

That criteria doesn’t sit well with Gen. Allen.

“We don’t like the fact that people on murder status or rape status are being allowed to call in and report,” said Gen. Allen.

Allen says district attorneys from across the state have been meeting to discuss the parole and probation changes. She says they are also meeting with their local probation offices and keeping track of any and all issues they are having with the parolees under the new changes.

She says all the research has led to another disturbing discovery. It appears parole and probation officers aren’t catching parole violations that occur out of county, so parolees are being cleared despite having picked up a charge in another county.

“In my opinion, if you are out on parole and you pick up new charges, you are not a successful parolee. You should be violated and return to the penitentiary, and I don’t think that’s what’s happening,” said Gen. Allen.

Berry has started a petition asking for signatures to send a message to the state to stop using the new parole and probation guidelines putting some criminals on minimum supervision.

“With this petition we hope to get this rescinded. It’s not acceptable,” said Berry.

The Tennessee Department of Corrections issued a statement to WATE 6 On Your Side saying:

We have transferred 1,155 offenders off of Standard Telephone Reporting. We want to stress that we stand by the new standards of supervision and the research that shows the department is correct in its use of telephone reporting for low risk offenders. We made the transfers as a compromise so that community stakeholders would feel more comfortable while we work to educate them on the new supervision standards.

TDOC has held multiple meetings with the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism and invited legislators and DAs to sit in and participate in the meetings by voicing concerns and suggestions. As for the concerns regarding charges in a different county, regardless of the county, if an offender receives a charge, and the DA in that county wishes to prosecute, a violation will be issued.

Gen. Allen has also sent a formal complaint about the probation violation issues and says she has not heard back.

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