Basically closer supervision of probationers by the courts, and graduated sanctions for so-called "technical violations" instead of automatically revoking offenders to prison. The Houston Chronicle reports how Fort Bend County uses specialized courts to help offenders succeed on probation ("A close watch on probationers," Sept. 20). The courts not only reduce recidivism, they help combat the current overincarceration crisis at Texas prisons.
Even the state's most prominent victims' rights group praised the idea. Dianne Clements, president of Justice For All, "thinks a program that could free up precious prison space for more serious criminals is a good thing. 'What we hope is that it will allow for those violent offenders to be kept in prison longer,' Clements said." Good thinking.
Statewide, 55 percent of felony probation revocations are caused by technical violations of probation, not the commission of another felony, said Leighton Iles, director of the county's probation department.
Technical violations can include failing a drug test or not paying court fees or restitution.
Iles said the special sanctions court is designed to reduce technical violations and cut down probation revocations. Iles said that in the five years leading up to 2004, Fort Bend County averaged 211 probation revocations annually.
MORE: See Austin Statesman's coverage from last year of the Fort Bend special sanction court, and Grits coverage of new state funds available for creating more of them.