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.

Or, as Levin puts it, "It all goes back to, you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip. However, I think we can make a marginal difference by holding offenders more accountable and looking at ways so that offenders are in a position to make a living and make the victim whole. "

Stewart thinks TDCJ should make it easier for inmates to earn money while in prison.

"They should let us work and start paying as soon as we can," says Stewart. "If I'd have been able to pay during those four years I did, I think I would've been able to even complete my restitution."

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.

The prison system does have an inmate work program, but Stewart says he did not qualify because of the type of crime he was convicted of. Prison spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says that's not true. The Prison Industry Enhancement program, in which private companies hire and pay prisoners, is open to all inmates, she says. It's up to the companies to decide who they choose to hire.

The profits prisoners earn largely go toward saving taxpayer money by paying for room and board, but a small portion is also used to pay for dependent support, victims programs, offender savings, supervision costs and restitution. Over the past 14 years, according to TDCJ, inmates have paid more than $14 million toward room and board — about 49 percent of the total amount inmates contributed — whereas slightly less than $138,000 — less than half a percent of the total amount inmates contributed — has gone toward paying restitution. Lyons says the reason for the small overall percentage is that, although offenders in the work program who owe restitution are required to hand over 10 percent of their wages toward paying restitution, not all of the inmates working owe restitution.

It's been two years since the parole division successfully discharged Stewart. He knows he owes Cleggs money, though the amount is in dispute. Stewart claims he paid more than $3,000 in restitution. Cleggs says she received $145. And TDCJ, according to information provided through an open records request, says that Stewart paid $420. Lyons says that TDCJ stands behind its number and there is no explanation for the discrepancy.

Regardless of the amount, like many offenders, Stewart doesn't think he should have to pay Cleggs any remaining ­restitution.

"I did four years [in prison]," he says, "which was basically my whole sentence, so I've paid my debt to society. I got out, successfully completed my parole, so my debt is paid."

Cleggs was opening her mail one afternoon a couple of years ago when she noticed a letter sent from TDCJ. Her heart raced as she tore it open, hoping for good news, perhaps even a check, and then sank when she pulled out the contents. It was a form letter simply stating that Stewart had been issued a discharge certificate and was no longer under the parole department's jurisdiction. In only a couple of sentences, the letter spelled out how much Stewart should have paid, how much he actually paid and the remaining balance. The letter ended, almost sarcastically, says Cleggs, by thanking her for her cooperation.

"I got so angry about this letter," says Cleggs, "that I got on the phone and called them right up."

The form letters are inexcusable, says Kahan.

"What a kick in the pants," he says. "There has to be a better way of telling a victim that they've been screwed so royally by our system other than sending a form letter. I can't imagine getting one of those, I'd be so irate."

Like Rockowitz, Cleggs spoke to a cashier.

"They told me they just didn't have the manpower to handle all the paperwork and I'd be wasting my time to fight it," says Cleggs. "They said that there was nothing I could do, there was nothing they were going to do, so I should just chalk it up and move on with my life."

Cleggs says she cannot afford an attorney to file a lien and feels discouraged from even pursuing the option after the cashier told her she'd be wasting her time.

"Actually, what I want to do is to sue the state of Texas for not enforcing their own damn law," she says. "I want to sue not only for the money but also the mental anguish this has put me through. I'm at the point where even when something about Texas comes on the news, I turn it right off because the state of Texas disgusts me so much. It's really so unfair and so unjust what happened to me and what continues to happen to victims in Texas. Like I've said, the whole damned thing is treated like a terrible joke. I mean, $145? That's way less than five percent."

And just $25 more than what her brother was killed over.

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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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