More than 3,700 probation or parole violators now at large in TN

More than 3,700 convicted criminals under the community supervision of the Tennessee Department of Correction are now at large, according to state records reported by WJHL-TV. TDOC confirmed all of those people are in “warrant status” for violating the terms of their probation or parole.

The station highlights one Northeast Tennessee example of a now-prominent parole violator: Derrick Sells, now charged with the December 2017 murders a Boones Creek man and his pregnant wife. Sells had violated his probation by failing to report to his probation officer in November 2016, more than a year before the murders.

Before a judge issued a gag order in the case, First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark shared his frustration that Sells escaped arrest on that violation in the year leading up to the murders.

“It was a violation for reckless aggravated assault, felony evading arrest,” Clark said in December. “This guy was running around. Why he hadn’t been picked up? I don’t know.”

Clark could ask the same question about the hundreds of others from our region alone with active warrants for violating probation or parole in addition to thousands more across Tennessee. Updated records provided to us after our original report aired show more than 3,700 people with active warrants.

Sen. Jon Lundberg (R), District 4, called our discovery disconcerting. The Senate Judiciary Committee vice chair criticized TDOC just years ago for changing its supervision standards, which resulted in less direct supervision for some criminals. TDOC previously cited research, which showed the public is safer when resources are shifted from low-risk to high-risk offenders, as the reason for the change.

“That’s a huge number,” Sen. Lundberg said. “That creates a public safety issue. The bar was very low and good Lord, if we can’t monitor folks with frankly as lax as it is, we’ve got a real problem.”

While a TDOC spokesperson said it’s not entirely accurate to say these people disappeared, the agency does not dispute many of them likely failed to report, failed a drug test, consistently violated curfew, left the county without permission or committed new crimes and remain at large.

“The term ‘disappear’ is not entirely accurate nor fair,” Robert Reburn said. “An unserved warrant simply means the warrant has not been served.”

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