Supervision includes home, field visits
TDCJ parole officers keep tight tabs on
sex offenders throughout state
He’s been described as a very polite person. But people unaccustomed to Ed Ramirez’s home visits might have a different opinion.
|Region IV District Parole Officer Ed Ramirez talks with a paroled sex offender during an unannounced visit to his home in San Antonio.
Photos by David Nunnelee
Not only does Ramirez show up uninvited and unannounced at all hours of the day, he also starts poking through cupboards and closets moments after receiving permission to look around. He also methodically checks out the contents of the refrigerator before moving to the bathroom to inspect what’s being kept in the medicine cabinet and under the sink. He even takes a long hard look at what’s been tossed in the kitchen trash can!
Intrusive? You bet. But Ramirez makes no apologies since he doesn’t drop in on just anyone. His visits are to the homes of sex offenders released to San Antonio and the surrounding area.
“When we do the visits, we look for signs, we look for possible violations,” said Ramirez, a 65-year-old former U.S. Air Force security police chief who has been supervising sex offenders out of the Parole Division’s district office in San Antonio for nearly 10 years. “I go into the bathroom, for example, and look for little shoes, floating toys, anything that might indicate that there have been children present. I go through the cupboard. Is there any baby food? The refrigerator... is there any beer in there? The trash can... are there any beer bottles? I look for anything that would show that this guy has not been in compliance.”
On this February afternoon, Ramirez stops his car on a tidy street on the city’s south side to inspect the home of a man on supervision since 1999 for sexually assaulting his 8-year-old son. He finds nothing suspicious and sits down with the man to talk about how he’s progressing with his mandatory counseling and therapy sessions. Once he’s heard the man’s report, Ramirez leaves to drive to the job site of another man imprisoned in November 1986 on charges of indecency with a child and delivery of drugs. This particular offender has been on Ramirez’s caseload since release to mandatory supervision in August 1998 and today co-owns a successful company. Ramirez counts the former drug abuser as one of his success stories.
“For the first time in his life, this guy has tasted the right kind of success,” Ramirez said. “And he loves it. Work is now his addiction. He replaced one addiction with another.”
Before driving back to his office near the Alamodome, Ramirez stops at the expansive Bexar County Sheriff’s Office & Detention Center to tell a convicted sex offender where to report to him once he’s released from jail. While waiting for the offender to be brought from his cell to a front office, he exchanges information with Armando Diaz, the sex offender registration officer for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department. Here, Diaz maintains a computer database for public consumption that lists details of the roughly 3,000 registered sex offenders in San Antonio, and even displays maps pinpointing where they live.
Ramirez and six other TDCJ parole officers working out of the San Antonio I District Office supervise sex offenders exclusively. On average, their “specialized” caseloads consist of 30 to 35 offenders convicted of such crimes as aggravated sexual assault of a child, possession of pornography, kidnapping, and online solicitation of a minor. Upon their release from prison, offenders covered by current law must register with the law enforcement agency of jurisdiction within their locale. Depending on their crime, offenders must either register regularly throughout their lifetimes, or continue to register periodically for at least 10 years after completing their sentence. Sex offenders not covered by current law are not required to register.
|Even the kitchen trash can is subject to inspection during Ed Ramirez's visits to the homes of sex offenders paroled to San Antonio.
TDCJ houses approximately 32,000 sex offenders, and about 3,000 are on supervision throughout the state. Roughly 1,000 sex offenders are on some form of probation in San Antonio.
Ramirez and his colleagues now supervise approximately 300 sex offenders released to Bexar and seven surrounding counties. Each must report to their parole officers at least once a month, attend treatment programs, and submit to regular polygraph examinations. Officers also make unannounced visits to an offender’s home and place of employment to ensure that they are complying with the terms of their release.
A list of restrictions is placed on sex offenders by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Offenders who sexually assaulted a person under age 17, for example, cannot come within 500 feet of a school, daycare center, park, arcade or any other place where children commonly gather. The “child safety zone” is roughly the equivalent of a standard city block.
Further, sex offenders whose victims were under 17 cannot have unsupervised face-to-face contact with minors. Nor can they live or work with minors. No sex offender can contact their victim by any means of communication, and all sex-oriented materials are off limits to sex offenders in general. Nor can sex offenders work as community volunteers without prior written approval from their parole officer. To attend college, a sex offender must get approval from a Parole Board panel and his or her victim get notified. Further, those judged to be at a high risk of re-offending can be tracked through electronic monitoring or global positioning satellite devices. All sex offenders are assigned a risk level before leaving prison and are supervised according to their level.
“The public is safer from the standpoint that the chances of them re-offending while they are on parole are very low because we do place restraints on them, a lot of restraints,” Ramirez said. “It’s about public safety and preventing recurrences.”
Last Halloween, Ramirez and a colleague stayed out well past midnight patrolling the neighborhoods of known sex offenders in San Antonio, none of whom are permitted to have displays or lights that might attract children out treat-or-treating.
“We wanted to make sure that these guys were home and that they were sober,” Ramirez said.
“It’s our public duty to make sure we take that extra step, to make sure that there’s not another victim,” added Region IV Parole Director Mike Lozito.
Like Ramirez and his colleagues, parole officers routinely start out supervising a “regular caseload” of offenders. They say sex offenders are a different group altogether.
“Sex offenders, especially those with child victims, are the most skilled manipulators there are,” Ramirez said. “They tend to sway people and they’re very good liars. So you have to make an effort to get to know what’s inside the man. And after a while, you can get a sense of when he’s lying and when he’s not lying.”
“They’re always trying to fool you,” Lozito said. “These guys want to please you.”
Because sex offender officers must contact their clients more frequently than officers with regular caseloads, Ramirez and his associates supervise fewer offenders a ratio of about 30 to 1 compared to a regular caseload ratio of 75 to 1. While the lighter caseload allows them to hone their focus, the high level of attention makes the job of supervising sex offenders more challenging. Officer Alfredo Rodriguez, who supervises 35 sex offenders out of the San Antonio I Office, says he and his colleagues are well aware of the public’s anxiety.
“It is justified,” he said about the attention given to sex offenders in the community. “The majority of sex offenders we supervise have committed offenses against person that were 17 years of age or younger. So you better believe that’s out there. But I maintain that while these people are under parole supervision, the community should be less concerned because we take care of business. We do supervise these people.”
“There’s an edge to it,” Ramirez says about the job of supervising sex offenders, “but we take it very seriously. When I left the Air Force, I thought I would never again work with professionals of that caliber. But lo and behold, that’s the kind of people you’ll find here in the Parole Division. They’re dedicated professionals that care about the results of their jobs. These are professionals second to none. And because of that, the community is safer.”
While mindful of the scrutiny on sex offenders, Rodriguez said the key is to treat everyone the same.
“They deserve the opportunity to prove themselves, that they can, and that they will, comply with their parole requirements and go on with the rest of their lives,” Ramirez said. “I treat them with dignity and respect, the way a human being deserves to be treated. And they respond to that. The key is to get them to want to comply with their parole requirements in order to succeed. Is that easy? No, it’s not easy at all.”
To increase a sex offender’s chances at success, Ramirez says he and his colleagues practice “persistent supervision.”
“The best thing we can do is use all the tools of supervision, through the conditioning process, if you will, for him to be repeating positive behavior over and over until it is a normal behavior pattern,” he said.
Those who refuse or fail to comply with the conditions of their release could end up back in prison. But the officers charged with supervising them in the community don’t feel they’ve failed when revocations occur.
“We try to catch them before they have another victim,” Ramirez said. “And if you do that, have we failed? We failed in not having this person comply with all aspects of his parole requirements. But we succeeded in preventing another victim. We succeeded in protecting the public. That’s our charter. That’s the most important thing.”
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