TDOC: Monitoring violent offenders during pandemic poses difficulties

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Monitoring violent offenders during a pandemic requires several procedural changes, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

TDOC went from requiring people who are low- or high-risk on parole and probation reporting to their office for scheduled visits to requiring them to call in.

Mark Leissure is a retired Memphis Police homicide sergeant who says he’s been involved in cases where repeat violent offenders have gone off the radar.

“Unfortunately, it happens quite frequently,” Leissure said.

According to a 2019 Sycamore Institute report on criminal justice reform, 72% of Tennessee’s corrections population lived under community supervision in 2018. There were nearly 58,000 on probation, 11,000 on parole, and 8,000 in the Community Corrections program.

“The system itself is pretty good. The tracking systems that they use, the monitoring system, is great, but if the individual that is responsible for monitoring doesn’t stay on top of them, the individual will slip through the cracks,” Leissure said.

In Tennessee, most inmates are released into community supervision, like Jonathan Turner.

A jury convicted Turner of rape and kidnapping back in 2015.

He served five years of a 16-year sentence because of time served and good behavior.

A parole board granted his release from prison in September of 2020.

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Turner received community supervision for life.

TDOC confirmed a Risk Needs Assessment was conducted and placed Turner at high risk.

He was placed on the appropriate supervision level, GPS monitoring, and a needs-based employment referral was made.

Memphis Police say Turner admitted to shooting Nastasya Gooden, his girlfriend, four times on Feb. 24 and then driving to the Raines Police Station to admit what he did.

A TDOC spokesperson confirmed Turner reported regularly during his supervision, including in February and during a home visit conducted 21 days before his girlfriend’s murder.

But TDOC says the officer who supervised Turner did not fully follow policy in his supervision.

The officer is no longer with the Department of Correction.

FOX13 discovered the former officer failed to follow up with Turner to ensure he recharged his GPS unit.

Deandre Brown is the CEO of Lifeline to Success, a program designed for people recently released from prison.

“We are dealing with lives. Not only of the lives of the individuals we are monitoring but the lives of victims if the monitoring is not in place,” Brown said.

Lifeline to Success specifically deals with people considered high risk and currently on probation and parole.

“Their job is actually life and death when you consider individuals that sometimes have already taken life or attempted to take life,” Brown said.

Multiple sources within TDOC said officers are carrying caseloads well into the hundreds.

TDOC confirmed the current caseload per officer in Shelby County is 121.

Several states have pushed to cap the caseload at 60 to 80 cases for parole and probation officers to avoid costly mistakes.

Brown says that’s where programs like Lifeline to Success come in, to help TDOC make sure these criminals stay on track to avoid any further trouble with the law.

“We understand the need for constant contact. When you take someone’s life to make them no longer a criminal, it takes intention and communication. Monitoring doesn’t do that. Monitoring is hope that they don’t break the law,” Brown said.

After answering questions through email, TDOC ignored several requests to speak with someone from their office.

FOX13 is still waiting for a response.