Legislature: Too much paperwork, say parole officers

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

By DON JENKINS, Columbian staff writer

OLYMPIA, WA- Parole officer Pat Campbell figures he's more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome than to be shot at by bad guys.

He said that sums up the one of the major problems with the Department of Corrections: Too much paper work and too little time for supervising people released from prison.

The union representing 1,400 parole officers responded Monday to Gov. Gary Locke's belt-tightening budget proposal that calls for ending post-prison supervision for all but the most dangerous offenders.

Instead, the parole officers called on their managers to lighten their paperwork load, and on lawmakers to plug $1 billion in tax loopholes.

"What we're doing is too convoluted. It's bureaucratized supervision," said Vancouver resident Campbell, one of three community corrections officers who criticized their department at a press conference hosted by the Washington Federation of State Employees.

The governor's proposal would reduce the supervision caseload from an average of 67,167 offenders at any one time to 16,719 in the next biennium.

Rank-and-file parole officers criticized the plan, arguing that close supervision can deter low-level offenders from a life of crime.

"They're the ones we can change the most," said Campbell, who lost last year in the Republican primary to 17th District Rep. Marc Boldt of Hockinson. Campbell already has started campaigning for 2004 and again has his eye on Boldt's position.

The parole officers offered their own ideas for cutting department costs, including more work crews, shorter sentences for drug offenders who must undergo treatment in addition to serving time and closing a state-operated "boot camp" in Spokane County.

"We know reductions are going to take place. We're just saying there are places that don't make sense to cut," union spokesman Tim Welch said.

In hopes of easing the cuts, the union will recommend to lawmakers in the next couple of weeks how the state can gain at least $1 billion in revenue for the 2003-05 budget by eliminating tax exemptions, Welch said.

"We know we have to put up or shut up," he said.

Campbell and the two other community corrections officers, Walt Delano of Port Orchard and John Crawley of Marysville, said the department could provide more service by cutting paperwork.

The department has turned community corrections officers into clerical workers instead of on-the-street watchdogs, they complained.

"We are a department of redundancy," said Crawley, a 30-year corrections employee.

Campbell became a community corrections officer 13 years ago and said he spent about 20 hours a week making unannounced visits to parolees. He said he's down to four to six hours because of the mounting paperwork.

"I never thought I'd get carpal tunnel syndrome," Campbell. "I thought I'd be shot at."


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