Parole officers assigned to sit in parking lot of empty building

Even though the sign for the two agencies is now up, the City of Columbus has only granted partial occupancy permits for the building. Problems with plumbing and fire suppression inspections were coupled with construction delays. (WBNS-10TV)

COLUMBUS – For nearly a month, parole officers from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction were assigned to sit in the parking lot of an empty building.

The reason: the department sent out reporting instructions for ex-prisoners stating that around October 1, they were to report to a large warehouse on Fisher Road to meet with their parole officers, sources told 10 Investigates.

There was just one problem – no one was in the building.

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The building is slated to become the new headquarters for both the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and Department of Youth Services – the two departments are entering into a shared services agreement and leasing the space, 10 Investigates has learned.

Construction delays and problems with plumbing and fire suppression inspections have delayed the move-in date for both departments, city inspection records show.

As of this report, the city’s building inspectors have only granted a temporary occupancy permit for the second floor of the building.

As a result of the move-in delay, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction decided to assign parole officers to sit in the parking lot of the new building just in case parolees showed up and were confused that no one was at the new Adult Parole Authority office.

“Is this the best use of your time?” 10 Investigates asked senior parole officer Roger Wicks.

“Well, we had to have somebody cover this assignment…Are we busy? Sure. Everybody is,” he said.

But the move to assign parole officers to watch a parking lot surprised some department insiders who say these parole officers are already overwhelmed with work.

It also shocked the families of murder victims who have blamed lax supervision in part on the reason their loved ones were killed.

“I think that’s a joke,” said Zachary Carpenter, whose sister, Mariah, was killed in June in what police called a murder-suicide. The man police say was responsible, Quantaine Tate, was a convicted felon who violated the terms of his parole and legally could not own a firearm. During his time on post-release control, the department twice declared him a parole violator-at-large – meaning the department lost track of his exact whereabouts.

Two days after his sister’s death and Tate’s suspected suicide on June 8, 2018, Columbus Police, acting on a tip, discovered a large cache of weapons in a storage unit they say belonged to Tate. Any one of the guns discovered could have potentially sent Tate back to prison.

The families of two other murder victims in the past 18 months – Reagan Tokes and Rachael Anderson – have also raised questions about the abilities of the Adult Parole Authority to closely monitor the most violent prisoners once they’re released from prison.

In both their cases, 10 Investigates reporting helped expose gaps in the system and lapses in the department’s monitoring the families say helped contribute to their loved ones’ deaths.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction declined repeated requests by 10 Investigates for an on-camera interview to explain the decision.

The department also declined to provide a copy of the reporting instructions that were given to ex-prisoners.

In an emailed statement, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith wrote:

“Reporting instructions are part of a parole record and not public per 5120.21(f).

For reasons of public safety and out of an abundance of caution, the decision was made to have a Parole Officer on site in order to verify that an offender reported to the Adult Parole Authority as instructed, or on the contrary, to identify any offenders who may have failed to report as instructed.”

Numbers show struggle to keep up

Internal audits reviewed by 10 Investigates found the department has sometimes struggled to keep up with its demands.

An internal audit from October of 2017 (the most recent conducted for the Columbus area) showed parole officers have sometimes failed to keep up with their required number of contacts with the ex-prisoners now under their watch. The same was true of other APA regions throughout the state, 10 Investigates found.

Supporters of parole officers, including their union reps, have said that they are overwhelmed with caseloads.

A review by 10 Investigates found some parole officers have between 50 to 100 cases at one time. Current DRC figures show there are 455 parole officers in Ohio assigned to cover more than 37,000 ex-inmates under post-release control.

“To take a couple of officers off their work site and off the street to sit out there and maybe intercept some people that come out there. It just makes no sense to me,” said one department insider who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal for himself and others.

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