Sunday, January 16, 2005

Prison budget smoke and mirrors

The Texas House and Senate budget bills, HB 1 and SB 1 -- which are the legislative budget requests compiled by the Legislative Budget Board from state agency strategic plans -- are now available on a very nice website put up by LBB.

There doesn't appear to be a press release or anything, but these are the "95%" budgets required by the 78th (2003 Legislature).
They are for state fiscal years 06 and 07, constructed based on 95% of the budgets for fiscal years 04 and 05, except for certain program enrollment growth, prison growth and a few other things that are outside the cap. I'm sure other folks will be looking at the big picture, but let's take an initial look at the criminal justice budget requests.

A quick review shows one mildly postive development: TDCJ asked for creation of a new budget category called "treament alternatives to incarceration," requesting $27.3 million for that purpose over the next biennium. But that new money is partially offset by cuts in existing direct community supervision and prison diversion programs.

TDCJ actually budgeted a decline in overall funding to incarcerate felons next year, then a slight increase in 2007, but that's not realistic on its face unless the Legislature undertakes significant sentence restructuring. The Governor's office has said not to worry because the state could lease space from private facilities, but this budget includes
a big decline, $25 million per year, in payments to private prisons and jails.

If the budget doesn't anticipate current growth, it also doesn't anticipate predictable cost increases from new penalty enhancements.

TDCJ proposes spending less money to supervise parolees even though, if the state spends less on direct incarceration, logically more offenders will be on parole. That should make everybody feel safer.

Probation services would be cut slightly, but that's insensible: again, to make the direct oversight costs decline, as the budget anticipates, community supervision expenses would have to increase.

Academic and vocational training would be cut by nearly 2/3 from the last budget.

No increases are budgeted for psychiatric care of inmates.

Academic and vocational training would be cut by nearly 2/3 from the 78th session budget.

No increases are proposed for the dramatically underfunded psychiatric care of inmates.

Cuts are proposed in "correctional industries" programs that let inmates work and earn money while inside.

Bottom line, this is not a realistic budget but a politically driven one. Because money will be tight and the state needs to spend cash on things like schools and healthcare, TDCJ's budet writers have succumbed to promoting the untenable fiction that it costs less to incarcerate people than it really does. It's somewhat easier for them to stand on such obfuscations now that the Legislature doesn't have an independent source of analysis on criminal justice policy. As the session progresses, though, I bet these bills move closer to reality-based budgeting.

UPDATE: A colleague points me to this
non-prison-specific Statesman article from Saturday.


Kimberly said...

The fact that you call the LBB site "very nice" makes me think you are smoking something for breakfast.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Good point! It's also further evidence I spend too much time reading government documents and need to get out more. What I meant was that a lot of useful, related information is all compiled in one place in a way that's logical, easy to use, and to which I'll undoubtedly return repeatedly throughout session as a resource.

Anonymous said...

When did TDC inmates start earning any money for any of the work they do?