Friday, March 16, 2007

Probation bills dominate Monday's Corrections agenda

A number of important bills strengthening and improving the community supervision system will dominate Monday's Texas House Corrections Committee agenda.

First up, and the most significant of the lot, is Chairman Jerry Madden's HB 1678, which is essentially similar to the probation-strengthening legislation Gov. Perry vetoed in 2005. This bill would shorten probation lengths and give offenders incentives to earn their way of supervision through good behavior, minimizing technical revocations, and reducing probation officer caseloads to more manageable levels. (See prior Grits coverage.)

The next six bills on the agenda are all from Pat Haggerty (R-El Paso), who is a former Chair of the Corrections Committee. Haggerty is a grisly, battle-hardened veteran on corrections topics, who may not be popular with the Speaker, but who knows the system extremely well, and whose opinions are ignored at one's peril.

When you listen to Rep. Haggerty talk about the prison system, you get the sense of a man who's just fed up with bungling and bureaucrats with a can't-do attitude. The things that are screwed up - particularly with Texas' probation system, which is by far the largest in the nation - are obvious from any political perspective and have been screwed up for years. Haggerty has heard all the excuses from the various players for many years now, and he appears not to care anymore. He speaks like a man who's incredibly exasperated at how bad many current policies are. These bills also suggest he's a man ready to enact significant changes rather than live with stupidity and futility. Cool! Here are the highlights from the Haggerty bills up Monday:
  • HB 926 is a minor bill allowing judges to grant community supervision in certain cases resulting in "deferred adjudication."
  • HB 927 allows a judge, at any time during the first two years of a defendant's incarceration sentence, to reduce the sentence to community supervision. Currently judges have that authority during the first 180 days of a sentence.
  • HB 975 allows a judge who revokes a defendant's probation to credit the defendant with time spent on probation when calculating the required incarceration term.
  • HB 1510 is an important bill that complements Madden's HB 1678 (above) - it shortens maximum probation terms to five years for all felons except violent so-called "3g" offenders.
  • HB 1512 empowers judges to reduce or terminate felony community supervision at any time before the end of the probation term.
  • HB 1514 expands the scope of pre-sentence reports from probation officers to judges to include any "information requested by the judge that relates to the defendant or the offense and that will permit the meaningful exercise of sentencing discretion.
Rock on, Rep. Haggerty! Between these bills and Chairman Madden's big bill, the Corrections Committee will hear some really important, positive legislation on Monday. There's another small bill by Dutton expanding the types of offenses eligible for early probation termination.

The final bill on this exciting committee agenda was probably made moot by the announcement that the board of the Texas Youth Commission will resign today. Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale has proposed HB 3592 which would have terminated the current board.

Those are the highlights. Chairman Madden has declared that all bills heard in his committee will sit pending for at least a week to allow committee members an opportunity to consider them (I think that's a really good policy, one I wish all chairmen so rigorously followed), so if you've got an opinion on these bills, you can either give it to them at the hearing Monday or communicate with committee members in the coming week.


Catonya said...

Lots of good stuff here, and long overdue.

HB 975 credit for time served on probation should be expanded to cover parolees who are non-violent offenders.

I've known several people who've taken 18 yrs to complete a 10 yr sentence. Multiple revocations for technical violations. And taking up space that should be used to keep violent offenders locked up.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If any of those folks can get to the Corrections Committee hearing, Cat, now's the time that telling their story might help. Alternatively, if they can't come, getting written testimony to the committee members and staff would be a second-best move from afar.

Squeaky wheels get grease, is the truth of it, and a lot of legislators have no idea how much trouble some of these provisions in the law can cause. They'll never learn unless someone who's been through it educates them, and that's what the committee process is for. So tell your friends to get down to Austin, or else contact the committee members and CC their own reps and senators, whether they're on thre relevant committees or not.

Good ideas get one chance every two years to become law in Texas. For these bills, this is a make or break part of that chance.

Catonya said...

Unfortunately I don't know where to even begin to look for them. We've been out of contact for a few years.

I can put something together and use their situations as examples for why 975 should be expanded to cover non-violent parolees. If you think it will help?

(I swear the word verification knows who I am and it hates me.) :s

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You know, it honestly couldn't hurt, Cat. Email it to the committee members and to your own Rep and Senator (capitol emails are, or, if applicable. You might also call the bill sponsor and let them know that you sent it and that it contains case studies they might find useful.

Catonya said...

I'll start on it this evening.
Thanks for the email information.

Anonymous said...

hey grits, I was placed on probation for a cooked-up drug possession charge in 1975 (7 years). Let's suffice to say at 17 and 1/2 years old I blew an undercover officers cover. He told me he would get me, and he did with a "you drove someone to a location who later sold me some Meth. Yes that is called delivery! Anyway, I completed probation (early termination), rec'd a governors pardon and an expungement(20+ years later), got my B.S. in Criminal Justice degree at Southwest Texas State and went ot work as a probation officer. It amazes me how many people in Administration/Chiefs and those in the Lege, who really don't care to hear from people like me, those who have been on both sides. The system is screwed up and throwing paper at it WON'T fix it. You have Judges and Chief's of probation departments that think they know it all, probation oficers who are underpaid/overworked and unappreciated by all sides. Why doesn't the State of Texas take care of them? Make them state or county employees, give them training and pay them a fair wage!

Anonymous said...

Dear Grits,
I just read about the probationary terms that will help people that are nonviolent in Texas get a break. I agree this is LONG LONG over due. I have family that is on probation as we speak, nonviolent, and this will be great news for him to read on.
Keep up the great work here and keep us posted.