Crime Doesn’t Pay(back): A Houston Press Special Report on Court-Ordered Restitutions in Texas

More than 90 percent of Texas parolees walk away without paying off what the state ordered them to.

But of course, barring any additional court intervention, he will not.

"The only comment I can make about parole," says Rains, "is that once a person is off parole, you'll never get any money."

In early August, Rockowitz told the Press that she knows Woodson will be discharged from parole this spring but is absolutely certain that, despite the pittance she's received so far, Woodson will have to make her whole before being discharged. After all, it is a court order.

Gregory Stewart is one of thousands of parolees successfully discharged despite not paying off his restitution.
Gregory Stewart is one of thousands of parolees successfully discharged despite not paying off his restitution.
Regina Cleggs and her nephew, Davonte Parker, remember family member Rick Galloway and say Texas's restitution system is a joke.
Ken Blaze
Regina Cleggs and her nephew, Davonte Parker, remember family member Rick Galloway and say Texas's restitution system is a joke.

After talking to the Press again a week later, however, Rockowitz became concerned the money would never come and called TDCJ. Rockowitz says she spoke to a woman cashier in Huntsville.

Rockowitz was stunned to hear not only that Woodson most likely won't pay her in time but that she should not expect any money after Woodson is discharged.

"The reality of being totally screwed is setting in," she said after getting off the phone with the cashier. "My stomach is in knots. Even if we had gotten back $25,000, that's something. But $100? It's horrible, just horrible. There's got to be something that can be done to make criminals accountable, because right now we're the ones with the life sentence."

Collecting restitution is a problem across the country, and some states seem to take it more seriously than others.

According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, California garnishes wages; Iowa takes money from trust funds; Colorado seizes tax refunds; Arizona, Missouri and Minnesota have at times hired collection agencies; Kansas lets victims access offenders' personal financial information; and Kentucky has gone so far as to say that offenders who do not pay off their restitution will remain on parole, ­indefinitely.

At the moment, none of these methods are in place in Texas.

"Victims have little or no recourse to them because the system as we have it is not working for them," says Kahan. "But hopefully, looking at cases and looking at the research and the numbers can be a catalyst for change. Casting of blame is fine, but I'd much rather find a solution."

Republican State Representative Jerry Madden of Plano is trying to do just that. Last year, he proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to garnish wages to pay restitution, as it does for child support payments. The measure did not get to a final vote, but Madden is optimistic and plans on submitting it again during the next legislative session.

Two other measures were filed last year that might help the problem, but they also did not make it to a final vote in the Legislature. The first was a bill aimed at making it easier for convicts to obtain professional licenses, enabling them to get higher-­paying jobs and thus pay victims faster. The second was a bill calling for added transparency, requiring the parole division to make quarterly reports to TDCJ on restitution payments by parolees and then for TDCJ to publish the information in an annual report.

"Logistically, the constitutional amendment and other bills are relatively easy," says public policy expert Marc Levin. "I won't say, however, that those will solve all or even most of the problems."

The parole division did request that parolees fork over their tax refunds this year, but even that doesn't sound like a requirement or a top priority.

"That is something we've looked at as far as following up on," Jenkins says. "We did notify the offenders that our expectation was that if they were delinquent on fees...then we expected [their tax rebate] to go toward the fees."

Ideas such as garnishing wages, extending parole indefinitely, hiring private collection agencies, putting parolees in jail over the weekend for nonpayment — called "shock-jail" — or designating a collection task force within the parole division or the Attorney General's office have both advocates and detractors.

"Wages should be garnished," says Kahan, "and we need a specialized unit like we have for sex offenders and child support. We need to go after parolees who owe restitution. I would go into a person's home and see what property they have. You have a computer, a TV, a cell phone, hey, I'll take it and put it on eBay. But unfortunately, we don't think like that."

As it is now, says John, the parole officer, it's easy for offenders to cheat and avoid paying restitution. Officers verify an offender's employment by looking at his paycheck stubs, he says. If a parolee says he gets paid in cash or that he just doesn't have a job, there's almost nothing an officer can do.

"If you tell the officer that you're unemployed," he says, "how's the officer going to verify it unless he goes by the house and sees the individual there every day? And of course we can't do that because all our visits are scheduled. We don't do random visits, so you can hide the TV and you can hide the cash."

Madden says passing legislation to extend parole until the offender pays all his restitution is a long shot.

Jenkins agrees that hiring private collection agencies may be a good idea, but it's not one the parole division has thoroughly investigated. As for shock-jail, he says, "I think it's a good idea once we've exhausted all other options."

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That was a joke and a slap in the faces of the victims family. Must get Rick Dingleperry out of office.

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