Lori Pampilo Harris, the city’s homelessness strategy officer told City Council during an Oct. 29 work session that some of the influx of people coming to the city’s downtown homeless shelter was owed to a state system in which anybody released from prison in Texas is sent to Austin. The system, Pampilo Harris told council members, required those recently released from prison to check in with the Austin Transitional Center, then required them to stay in the area for a specific amount of time.
The comments from Pampilo Harris are incorrect, according to officials from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as well as an operator of the Austin Transitional Center—a residential reentry center, also called a halfway house, in Del Valle.
“There is an [Austin Transitional Center] where parolees from across the state must come to Austin to register and then, additionally, it is my understanding that they have to stay in Austin,” Pampilo Harris said. “So, you’re wondering where that inflow [to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless] is coming from. The inflow is coming from many systems who say here’s the ARCH, come and get help.”
The comment caught some council members off guard, who later asked Pampilo Harris to clarify. Pampilo Harris clarified that her knowledge was preliminary but then repeated the claim.
“Anybody who is released in the state of Texas needs to come to Austin to get certified or checked-in to the [Austin Transitional Center],” Pampilo Harris said. “My understanding is that once they are checked in, they cannot leave the area for a certain period of time. Even when I was out [in front of the ARCH] there was a few people who said that’s where they were coming from and that they wanted to go home, but couldn’t.”
Jeremy Desel, director of communications with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state agency that oversees the process of exiting incarceration in Texas, said the comment was demonstrably false. The agency’s website also shows that the Austin Transitional Center is one of eight halfway houses and one of 15 residential substance abuse facilities in the state.
“No, all parolees in Texas do not go to, travel through or have to check-in anywhere in Austin,” Desel said.
Desel said when offenders are released on parole, they are released with a home plan, which is developed with and approved by the parole division prior to release. The home plan includes an approved address, which is often in the county of their legal residence. The only time they are released somewhere other than the county of their residence is if they are released to an approved halfway house.
Brandon Bissell, a representative of CoreCivic, a service provider who contracts with the state to operate the Austin Transitional Center, said parolees released to the center reside at the center.
“Clients who are released from prison to that facility actually live there and are not discharged unless they have a valid home plan, which includes a physical address that is approved by the parole officer and a sponsor who lives at that address—also verified and approved by the parole officer,” Bissell said in an email.
Desel said many parolees are required to have “gainful employment” before their release. He did say that some are released with a halfway house as the approved address until they are able to get on their feet. He said all parolees are required to check in with parole officers within 24 hours of their release.
There are exceptions to this, however. Community Impact Newspaper spoke with a few people camping outside the ARCH over the summer. One person said he did not want his name used because his parole officer thought he was staying with a friend in the area, not living outside the ARCH. Other people Community Impact Newspaper spoke with said they had just gotten out of jail, and outside the ARCH was the only place they knew where they could be safe and homeless.
“This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some parolees who go to [the ARCH] to receive some services in or around that building, but no, all [Texas] parolees do not go to Austin in any way shape or form,” Desel said.