Official: Sequester puts oversight of violent criminals at risk

An official from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts has told a member of Congress that the sequester could make it difficult for it to fully monitor potentially dangerous criminals out on probation.

Thomas Hogan, director of the Administrative Office, issued this warning in a letter to Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), who is investigating how a man facing federal charges but was out on bail killed a woman and sexual assaulted a 10-year-old girl back in March. The woman was 47-year-old Lori Bresnahan, who was stabbed to death by 29-year-old David Renz.

"The attacker was facing federal child pornography charges, and was out on bail ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet," Maffei said of Renz on the House floor Monday night. "He disabled the bracelet, stabbed Ms. Bresnahan to death, and sexually assaulted the young girl."

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Maffei added that Renz was known to have disabled his bracelet several times, and that this was ignored by the Syracuse office each time. Monday night, Maffei said he got a written answer from administrators of that office, which partially blamed the sequester for a lack of funding.

"The director says nothing can excuse the deficiencies in supervision of this case," Maffei said as he waved the letter on the floor. "But he also says reduced resources due to the sequester is harming efforts to keep it from happening again."

Hogan's June 14 letter to Maffei said that Renz was not supervised in a manner "typical of federal probation and pretrial services practices." The letter said his office is reviewing probation operations and does not yet have any legislative recommendations to make the process better.

However, he did warn that the sequester will make it difficult to make any improvements, and said cuts to his office are already making it understaffed.

"Of note, we will need to work within available funding," Hogan wrote. "Funding for salaries and operations in the probation and pretrial services system has been reduced 14 percent this fiscal year, and resources for location monitoring, mental health and substance abuse treatment have been cut 20 percent.

"We are bracing for even larger reductions next year, and the vacancy rate in probation and pretrial services offices now stands at 25 percent. Your continued support of our appropriation request is much appreciated."

Maffei said on the House floor that the situation is "unacceptable," and called on Congress to repeal the sequester cuts that affect the federal probation system.

"An innocent woman was stabbed to death," he said. "An innocent child was sexually assaulted. And the answer from the courts is that their ability to keep it from happening again is limited because their funding was cut."

The Syracuse Post-Standard reported last week that the probation officer who supervised Renz is no longer working for the federal probation office. Maffei said in May that someone should be fired over the case.

— This story was updated at 10 a.m. Tuesday.