An internal study last year, cited under Charge 2 in the report (p. 12) explained why:
- Prison release rates declining by 10%
- Parole revocation increasing by 14%
- Probation revocation increasing by 4%
- Pretrial felons in jails increasing by 10%
The Legislative Budget Board's Criminal Justice Data Analysis Team parsed the numbers for the committee. As usual, Houston is driving the train. They found that Harris County's community supervision caseload (the number of people on probation and parole) declined 22.4% over the past decade, compared to 3.5% in Tarrant (Fort Worth) and 6.2% in Bexar (San Antonio). In lay terms, that means a greater number of people are getting "off paper," or ending community supervision. Sounds good, right? Problem is, the committee reports, statewide about 46% of probation cases end with revocation and incarceration, with revocation more likely in the big cities: 49% in Harris County, 54% in Dallas County, and 64% in Tarrant. So half or more of the time, depending on where you live, offenders wind up incarcerated anyway.
The main culprit? The committee's review "found that revocation of felons for technical violations has grown by 95% during the period from 1994 to 2003." That means the offender was sent to prison for missing meetings with the probation officer or submitting a dirty urinalysis, not for committing a new crime. Revocations for a new offense increased just 14% over the same period.
Since probation terms can last up to ten years, that leaves a lot of time and opportunity for a probationer to slip up. A committee recommendation to let successful non-violent probationers get "off paper" after two years was killed by prosecutors in the closing days of the 78th session.
That leaves the committee faced with the choice of spiraling incarceration costs or finding smarter solutions: "The occurence of increasing prison population and decreasing [probation and parole] population defines the environment that will confront the 79th Legislature. Legislators will be required to provide resources to house a larger prison population, redirect portions to alternative programs, or in some other manner provide for the public safety in processing the growing offender population." (emphasis added)
For Grits readers not schooled in bureaucratese, what that says is this: Raise taxes or stop all this tough on crime foolishness, especially for non-violent and drug offenders.
The Senate Committee's lengthy interim report contains many other items of interest that Grits will try to sort through in the coming few days, but these passages give an idea of the big-picture dilemma faced by the 79th Legislature driving the need for criminal justice reform.