About 5% of Kentuckians on probation or parole vanish, but most are tracked down

tpettit@herald-leader.comDecember 13, 2012 

About 42,000 people convicted of various offenses remain under supervision of Kentucky's court system, even after many of them have served time in jail.

But some who are on probation or parole don't always follow the rules — and some of them vanish.

More than 5 percent of them, or 2,824, are absconders, those who have disappeared from the system.

"These are people who have stopped showing up for their parole hearings or have not met the requirements the court has set for them," said Tim Carman, director of probation and parole.

In Fayette County, 291 people are absconders. Of those, 95 are on parole and 196 are on probation.

Violators tend to disappear when problems crop up that they are trying to avoid, Carman said.

"Lots of times it is drug and alcohol problems, "Carman said. "They could have relapsed. They might owe restitution and they don't have the money."

In each case, an offender is supposed to follow various requirements set up by the court if they are on probation, or the parole board if they are under parole.

These can include drug tests, steady employment and any court-mandated counseling.

"These are simply the conditions of their probation (or) parole," Carman said. "It's whatever the court mandates, which could be anger management or substance abuse counseling."

In the parole and probation system, the officer assigned to each case is responsible for monitoring each individual, unless the person stops reporting to the officer.

Why do some vanish?

"Things seem overwhelming," Carman said. "There are these new conditions they have to meet and their stress level rises."

Dealing with their assigned officer in addition to classes, paying possible restitution and other requirements could differ greatly from how they lived before, causing stress.

"Their coping skills are probably one of the major issues they have." he said.

After an individual has stopped meeting with his officer, the first step is to check places where they might be.

"The first thing is a home check," he said. "We make attempts to go get them."

These attempts can exceed local enforcement's reach, sometimes requiring assistance by federal marshals.

Jonathan Parker, a task force officer with the U.S. Marshals, focuses on parole warrant fugitives in Eastern Kentucky.

"I get all the parole warrants, and I'm responsible for finding and arresting them," Parker said.

Marshals can interview family members, visit known addresses, interview past employers and interview past girlfriends and boyfriends.

In order to increase the chance of catching someone, Parker said the marshals will place certain addresses under surveillance.

"We set up surveillance to see who is coming and going from there," Parker said. "We want to see the fugitive coming and going from there."

The process to catch an absconder can be difficult, as Parker said about 90 percent are actively avoiding being found.

"They are usually staying at places they don't think we know about," he said. "Sometimes we run across a few people that may have colored their hair, but most don't" try to conceal their identity.

Parker said his priority is always violent offenders.

"I work the most violent ones," Parker said. "The robberies, the assaults and even murder. They are more likely to re-offend. They need to be taken off the streets, more so than someone who just owes child support."

And he said safety when dealing with these type of offenders is paramount.

"There have been plenty of situations where we've pulled firearms off people or ran on foot," Parker said, "If they are hiding in a house, maybe hiding in a closet, you don't know if they've got a big dog in the closest with them or what kind of weapons they have."

Parker said he averages 100 catches a year, but can dedicate as long as three months on one individual.

"Sometime you are confident that they have skipped the country and it's hard to stay on top of that person," he said.

"On average, it takes between three days to a week to catch somebody," he said. "When they are there just thumbing their nose at the parole board... it's important to get them back to reality."

Once someone is found, authorities focus on creating environments where they won't feel the need to flee. Drug rehabilitation and stable housing are keys.

"We hope it will curb any problems down the road as far as addiction goes," said Todd Gaunce, supervisor of the Fayette County corrections division.

"We just want them working better in society."

But the success of these programs is based on the individuals, he said.

"It all comes back on the offender, if they want it to work," he said. "We're focused on getting them re-entered back in society."

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