Sunday, June 26, 2005

Harris revokes probation most among big Texas counties

Governor Rick Perry apparently thinks Texas' overincarceration crisis will go away if he ignores it, but local officials must still manage the state's broken probation system in the wake of the Governor's ill-conceived veto of HB 2193.

The Houston Chronicle's Andrew Tilghman
reports this morning that Harris County is struggling to improve supervision of probationers and lower its probation revocation rate, despite Governor Perry's veto of legislation to strengthen the probation system. Their goal of reducing revocations is welcome, but it'd be a lot easier to accomplish if Gov. Perry had not vetoed new tools to better supervise probationers.

Just as the
Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee found in last year's interim report, Harris County's high revocation rate leads the state and is a major driver of Texas' overincarceration crisis:

Roughly one of every seven Harris County probationers was put behind bars last year for failing to comply with court-ordered conditions, the highest revocation rate of any major Texas metropolitan area, state data show.

Once viewed as a respectable sign of a tough criminal justice system, a high revocation rate is increasingly considered a liability that fills costly jail space with low-level offenders and drains tax dollars.

That shift in perception puts mounting pressure on judges and probation officials at a time when the county probation department, formally known as the Community Supervision and Corrections Department, is ailing. ...

Last year, Harris County judges sent 15.8 percent of the county's felony probationers to jail for violating court-imposed rules or committing new crimes. The statewide average is 9.8 percent.

If the debate over strengthening Texas' probation system did nothing else, at least it has busted a hole in the argument that weak probation benefits society or reduces crime. This "shift in perception" largely stems from the big-picture reality that right now Texas' probation system isn't adequately supervising anyone, much less those most likely to commit new crimes. Revocation and imprisonment represents an expensive failure of the system, not a "tough" outcome. Among big Texas counties, here are the 2004 revocation rates:


Probationers from Harris County end up behind bars at a higher rate than those from other Texas cities. Listed are counties and the percentage of felony probationers sent to jail after revocation in 2004:

Harris: 15.8 percent

Tarrant: 15 percent

Dallas: 11.9 percent

Travis: 9.3 percent

Bexar: 8 percent

El Paso: 6 percent

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

That's a pretty impressive range. To me, it shows that probation can supervise people more successfully than they're doing it in Houston. After all, El Paso's not revoking one in seven probationers. Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, blamed Harris County judges for the high probation revocation rates, but Tilghman reported those jurists may yet want to change their stripes:
Others, however, say it is the judges, who impose probation conditions and ultimately decide whether to revoke, who drive Harris County's high rates.

"The (county) bench is made up of very conservative people, most of them former prosecutors," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. "Elements of the judiciary are applying their own theories and philosophies, contrary to what a lot of experts and advisers would suggest works."

State District Judge Belinda Hill disagrees.

"I can't imagine that (Harris County judges) are any more rigorous than any other place," said Hill, who heads the judges' subcommittee on probation matters.

Hill said the county's 22 felony judges, who oversee the probation department and hire its director, are working to reduce the revocation rate. They are discussing plans to create a system of "progressive sanctions" that will give low-risk probationers more opportunity to stay out of jail, she said.

That's welcome news. Governor Perry's veto of HB 2193 was a grave disservice to public safety and to the taxpayers, but the issues raised by the bill haven't gone away. Tilghman's article shows that now local governments must wrestle with this looming state crisis, which the Governor knew existed but refused to provide leadership to resolve.


mamajmg said...

State District Judge Belinda Hill disagrees. "I can't imagine that (Harris County judges) are any more rigorous than any other place," said Hill, who heads the judges' subcommittee on probation matters. Hill said the county's 22 felony judges, who oversee the probation department and hire its director, are working to reduce the revocation rate. They are discussing plans to create a system of "progressive sanctions" that will give low-risk probationers more opportunity to stay out of jail, she said.

I find Belinda Hills comments interesting as IMO her actions and words do not match.

I've had the unfortunate opportunity to sit in Judge Hills court room. In doing so I've observed many sentences being handed down as well as overhearing many conversations and comments by the prosecutors. It's amazing to me that more court room attendees don't like to sit in the first row available!

Yes, I have a story as so many others. My son was sentenced out of Judge Hills court. He was sentenced to a SAFP facility. For that I was glad as at the time he was looking for help that was denied him. He sat in county for months waiting for placement at safp and then also a seventy day set back at the safp facility waiting to go to the h/way house. During his safp stay he excelled and moved up in "stature". It proved to be a program that proved very beneficial in his recognizing why the past drug use.

In returning to Harris county for the stay at the h/way house he almost immediately found a job which he worked 50-60 hours per week, attended his required classes at the h/way house and saved every penny. Upon his release he returned home and continued the long work weeks, attended all required recovery meetings, AA meetins, probation appointments and passed all random ua's for both drug and alcohol. In addition he somehow found the time to visit an outpatient center he had attended prior to safp and spoke with his counselor there as well as giving witness to others to share his story.

With all those pennies he saved up he was able to buy his "dream" vehicle. His Harley Davidson truck - and it was/is a pretty flashy thing! But also attracted the attention of a DPS officer as my son was on his way home from his brothers one night. The officer followed my son for some time and it was videoed. No irratic driving or traffic violations but his probable cause to pull over my son? He claimed was that my son went 50 in a 45 mile an hour zone. Hmmmm.

We have watched the dash video. Second question out of the officers mouth was - You got drugs in that truck boy? He did not. The officer then proceeded to have my son perform the "road" test for alcohol consumption. He passed them all but was arrested anyway.

We were set to go to trial in Judge Hills court. Witnesses were in attendance. Employer, supervisor, counselors, and of course friends and family. As soon as our attorney approached the bench he was informed that she was giving him "lock down". No attempt of talking with her made a difference. She made the comment that if we'd like to continue and have a trial - fine - but if she didn't like the way the trial went he was still getting lock down and whatever else she felt inclined to give him! The prosecution in the case did not even bring the dash cam video. Obviously he felt it wasn't beneficial OR necessary in this court room. The more our attorney approached for the judge to have discussion with at least my sons counselor, anything the offered "sentencing" increased. An "offer" of two years tdc and if my son didn't like that he could take the final five they would offer. We were eventually pressured into plea bargaining out. Please bear in mind, this is all happening BEFORE any hearing in the misdemeanor court for the alleged offense.

Approximately six weeks later our the case was set for misdemeanor court. As our attorney walked in he was handed a dismissal form for the dwi case. It was not due to what sentence my son had already received but someone in the misdemeanor court actually took the time to do their job and examine the dash cam video. My son was not convicted of the dwi. In returning to Judge Hills court on numerous occasions the prosecutors threatened to overturn the plea bargain and retry him for his original charges three years prior if we didn't let it go. Finally our attorney was able to have direct contact with the judge and she said she had her reasons and wouldn't change anything.

At no time were the accomplishments of my son looked at by anyone. The program worked on one young person but who knows? There are no statistics to include him in. But there are many statistics that will now show him as a "repeat offender". When in actuality he is not. But that's what deferred adjudication really means. You do not have the right to a fair trial by jury - just judgement by a judge with an outcome dependent on their attitude of the day.

With all the recent hoopla over Rosenthal with everyone crying racism - I've seen it in this court room involving many different persons behavior. That combined with the well publicized DPS quota's sure sounds like my son is one of many others that have been unjustly caught up in this arrogant, smug Harris county system.

We're caucasion. What group do I turn to to represent us? I am not in denial over my sons prior problems - but neither is it right that he is denied being recognized for changing his life around because of the mess in Harris County.

Another issue that this story involves? Overcrowding in Harris County jails. My son sat in county jail for one week shy of six months on "no bond". At taxpayer expense. To send him to safp. Other counties allow the offender to bond out and report back in a time frame prior to being transferred off. A six month tax payer expense because no one gave a damned about right or wrong, only their conviction statistics.

It's time for major shake ups in Harris County. Hopefully what we're witnessing now is only the beginning.

traumahottie said...

Like the young man mentioned above, my fiance is sitting in Harris county jail for a crime he didnt commit. In fact the charges agaisnt him were dismissed by the ADA... over a month ago! Because he had been in trouble before and was on parole they are holding him as long as possible. Nobody has looked at the fact that he didnt violate any of his parole agreement until being arrested on false charges that have since been dismissed! Whats the deal with keeping innocent people in jail? The parole board hearing was set for today but because of Hurricane Ike it was cancelled- without notifying anybody. Keep in mind that the Hurricane hit us a week and a half ago and all judicial offices are up and running as of this week. After calling multiple numbers and telling someone that the law states they have 41 days to release him and that day is next week I was told that there will probably be an extension because of the storm. Had they not waited until the last possible minute to do the parole hearing this wouldnt be an issue. My fiance is caucasion and has told me that other men in jail with him that were on parole have been released... all of them were African-American! It seems that the judicial system in Harris county needs someone to look at it real hard and get rid of all the crooked judges, officers, parole officers and such!

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of crap happening all over the state. My son is facing a hearing on revocation in Johnson county TX in 3 weeks. I have set in Judge Bosworth's 413th and the comments are similar to the ones from the Harris county courtroom. Our judges and prosecutors are on a power trip and we are paying the price in a heavy way. Thank You grits for all that you do. check out

Anonymous said...

I can tell you from first hand experience that Harris county is the most crooked county in the State. I was in the 185th court and hear the judge tell a woman who had a check case that the defendant owed her (the judge) money and she had better pay up or go to jail. The last time I checked the defendant owed the store resitution and the county probation fee's not the judge. The DA will resort to any level to get a conviction right or wrong. If you have time go to 1301 Franklin and pull any case read the file and I promise you will be shocked by what you see. Thank God Seigler is gone she is a Nacy Grace who does not when to shut up.

Anonymous said...

From my experience most of the people on probation are on it for non violent drug offences anyways. Personal story, I was convicted to 10 years felony probation for tampering with physical evidence in Jackson county, Texas because a cop claimed I told him I ate a marijuana joint. (Mind you this was the first offense on my adult record), Now my life is completely ruined but hey if it makes thousands of dollars for the county then its justified. We need to start coming together as a community and stop this mess because it is OUT OF HAND and has been for some time. I think everyone needs to ask themselves a serious question, what's worse, ending the failed war on drugs or throwing felony charges at people for non violent drug offences and completely ruining there economic futures, sounds like the cure is worse then the disease to me.

"Those who take pleasure from the disasters of their neighbors fail to understand that their fortunes are tied to the society in which they live, and they rob themselves of any joy of their own."