Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Drop-in visits, progressive sanctions examples of stronger probation

I argue frequently that Texas' probation system should be strengthened, that it would make us safer if offenders received greater supervision in the first two to three years after low-level crimes, then had ways to earn their way off probation through good behavior. In terms of on-the-ground supervision, though, what would "stronger probation" look like?

An article from the Corpus Christi Caller Times ("
Ding Dong, Probation Calling," Feb 20) offers one example - home visits, in some cases including visits by District Judge Tom Greenwell alongside the probation officer! Violations are punished with short jail stints, at least at first, not automatically revoked probation, so offenders are given a chance to learn from their mistakes and still succeed instead of automatically winding up in prison on the taxpayers' dime.

Right now hardly any Texas probation departments do home visits (much less Texas judges - kudos, Judge Greenwell!), but
new funding in the state budget hinges on reducing probation revocations, giving counties incentives to try new things. Though the article doesn't say so, that's likely how this program is paid for - new state budget riders require counties to adopt "progressive sanctions" for probationers like those described in the article to receive extra funds. It's a neat example of what counties can do with the new money if they get creative. Hell, the truth is, home visits aren't even that creative - it just seems like going the extra mile in the context of a broken system. The Nueces County program is called "Aspire":
Aspire began in April, and offenders are required to look for work if they aren't already working and are encouraged to continue their education.

Rios said the program's goals are to get the probationers employed, substance-free and to help them learn positive life skills.

Javed Syed, director of Nueces County Community Supervision & Corrections, said he has been encouraging his officers to be creative in helping probationers and to get out of the office more.

It was with the help of Greenwell, a Republican who is running for re-election against Democrat Robert Zamora in November, that the program got off the ground, he said.

Probation officer supervisor William Shull said the probationers in Aspire are only part of the work that his officers do every day.

"Each officer has about 125 (probationers) on their workload," Shull said. "This is nice because it's a small group of 24."

Officer Monica Villagomez said the program offers something that many of the offenders need.

"A lot of them don't have structure in their lives," she said. "Our goal is not to put them in prison but to help them."

That's the kind of approach needed more broadly across Texas, but Governor Perry vetoed stronger probation statewide. Still, some counties have started new programs to qualify for money from the budget riders, including creating specialized courts to give probationers more attention. I hope we see a lot more no-nonsense programs like Aspire spring up around Texas.


Catonya said...


The local 6 o'clock news tonight reported Wichita Falls City Council has voted to "front" $500,000 to the North Texas Regional Drug Task Force in an effort to keep the Task Force Operational for one more year.

This has bad news written on it from so many directions where would one even begin...

Anonymous said...

You should look closer at Harris County Adult Probation Dept. When the new,now old (fired & indicted) Dept Chief tried to get his officers off their butts and into the field making home visits, the officers got a judge to prohibit the probation officers from endangering themselves by having to go into the "hoods" to make the visits. The judges all now issue arrest warrants for any technical violations, thereby getting every peace officer in Texas to serve as their "probation officers". They call it "jail therapy" when a probationer sits in jail for a while, then gets re-instated.

Anonymous said...

I love this blog! And I've gotten to the pt. that if I don't read it everyday I freak. I too am from W.F.-Well, I lived there for a few years with my boyfriend who eventually was forced to go to some bootcamp they love to send people like him in W.F. for nine mon. and we split up. Hi Catonya! Sorry, I had to reach out to her b/c I knew her(not long)and its good to see her post on this web site. Thanks, keep posting Jessica

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