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.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.
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."