Should Sylvester have already been in prison?

June 26, 2008 9:44:40 PM PDT
Randy Sylvester, the Pasadena man accused of killing his two children, was on probation for a drug conviction and we've uncovered court documents showing his probation officer violated court rules by not trying to send him back to prison. We started by asking people already on probation about the lack of supervision for Randy Sylvester, Sr., and even they were angry.

"The law is completely wrong on that one," said Anna Baird. "They should've done their job."

Sylvester was supposed to get a job. He didn't have one.

He was supposed to pay fees, fines and do community service. Court records say he didn't.

"If you're not checked at least once a month by a supervising office, anything could happen," said Sonny Ayling.

Court rules couldn't be clearer, "if probationer fails to...participate for two consecutive months?submit a motion (for probation revocation)."

That should've been done in March. It wasn't done until June 18 when Sylvester's children were likely already dead.

"He dared the department to do something about it and the department said, 'We're not doing anything,'" said crime victim advocate Andy Kahan.

We've uncovered a possible reason why probation wasn't looking so hard. The state of Texas gives more money to counties that can keep probationers from going back to prison and get people off probation before their sentences are over.

"There's a real push to keep people from being sent to prison for technical violations," Kahan said.

The rules seem set up to cost the county funds every time they revoke someone's probation. We wanted to know if that was true and if it played any role in the Sylvester case, but administrators wouldn't open their door to answer any questions.

Probation's own statistics show they're succeeding at the state's game. The number of people on Harris County probation is going down. But the percentage of people they send back to prison is dropping even faster. And the number of probationers getting off probation early is increasing, shaving months or years off sentences.

Is that dangerous? Probation won't say. Are we just picking one case out of the 39,000 people probation oversees?

Andy Kahan doesn't think so.

"You don't get a pass for that," he told us. "If you're not complying with your conditions, what on earth makes you think you're going to comply with anything else?"

Yet another question probation won't answer.

The state agency in charge of probation funding tells us it looks at how many people are sent back to prison, but doesn't lower funding solely on that one measure.

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