Saturday, August 27, 2005

Silver linings: Probation strengthening measures Perry DIDN'T veto

Most Grits readers know I was pretty upset at Gov. Perry's veto of HB 2193, which would have strengthened Texas' probation system and reduced the need for new prison building. With Texas prisons overflowing, lawmakers were relying on stronger probation to avoid the cost of new prisons.

I haven't talked as much about probation-strengthening measures in the state budget that
weren't vetoed -- particularly several "riders" to the budget that allocated new money to probation programs.

Rider 71, in particular, allocated an additional $14.1 million per year to hire new probation officers to reduce local caseloads. But to qualify, counties must pledge to reduce the number of revoked probationers by at least 10% and to enact a "progressive sanctions supervision model."

By Grits' calculations based on data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Community Assistance Division, that new probation spending will result in a $10 savings for every new dollar spent, if agencies meet their goals.

What other state expenditures earn that kind of return? Not many that I know of. Truly, failure to invest in stronger probation is penny wise and pound foolish.

The numbers add up pretty quickly. In July, TDCJ sent out a memo to Texas probation departments (Word doc) soliciting participation in the Rider funding. All told, 48 probation departments were eligible to receive the new Rider 71 money for probation officers (see Attachment E, p. 19). TDCJ also estimated how many fewer revocations would be necessary for each county to meet their 10% goal (Attachment F) -- 2,084 people per year in the 48 eligible counties.

The average revoked probationer in Texas spends
4.3 years in prison. Thus, estimating incarceration costs at $16K per person per year, keeping 2,084 people on probation each year who would otherwise be revoked would avert upwards of $143 million in incarceration costs, or more than $286 million total.

As budget savings go, that isn't chump change -- it's big bucks. And it represents the benefit of strengthening probation in just 20% of Texas counties. Think of the possible savings if Gov. Perry hadn't vetoed requirements to make probation stronger at ALL Texas departments.

Two other budget provisions help to strengthen community supervision of offenders: Rider 72 specified that funding for "diversion programs" be prioritized to go to departments that have adopted "progressive sanction" models, while Rider 73 appropriated $13.6 million per year for 500 new drug treatment beds. The new funding will take effect at the beginning of the new state fiscal year in September, regardless of Governor Perry's ill-conceived veto of HB 2193.

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