Thursday, May 03, 2007

Intermediate sanctions bill makes parole policy more rational

The District Attorneys have been on the warpath at the Texas capitol recently trying to derail much of the bipartisan probation and parole reform legislation that's been floated at the Legislature to strengthen community supervision and alter perverse incentives that lead to overincarceration.

Yesterday on their website Goliad prosecutor Terry Breen lodged an ill-informed complaint against a Senate bill on Monday's House Corrections Committee agenda. I mention it preemptively in case the same spurious arguments are repeated by one of the DAs' lobbyists prior to or during Monday's hearing.

The legislation says that parolees can only be revoked to prison for serious new crimes and creates a system of "intermediate sanctions" - which is amply funded in both House and Senate budgets - for technical violators and people who commit lower-level offenses.

Under SB 838, technical parole violators can be sentenced to 2-12 months incarceration in an "Intermediate Sanctions Facility" (ISF), which is just what it sounds like - a short-term prison facility for holding parole violators. (Ideally they also should include opportunities for drug and alcohol treatment, job placement and training, and teaching other re-entry skills.) For parolees who commit new misdemeanors, counties would continue to prosecute the newly committed crime, and on top of whatever sentence the offender received, they would also spend 2-12 months in an ISF.

Breen complains that SB 838 by Whitmire "makes parole a joke," but ironically his own comments demonstrate that the system is already broken. Writes Breen:
I realize that parole is already largely a joke, but a statute mandating that they can never revoke a parolee unless he commits a felony is terrible policy. It will set in stone a policy that seems to already exist. But because it is a statue, parolees will know that the worst that can happen to them if they blow off parole is they'll spend some time in an intermediate sanctions facility.

The ISF's will then fill up with the hard-core parolee violators, and the rest will be free to do as they please.

So what if they beat someone up every week? So what if they don't report, and have absconded? So what if they hang out with their gang buds, violate curfews, and do drugs? So what if they don't get a job, and pay restitution to their victims? What can the parole officer do about it--nothing.
Well, if they beat someone up you prosecute them for it, smartass! And if they don't report you send them to the ISF. And yes, Mr. Prosecutor, parole is a joke. That's the point! This legislation acknowledges that reality and attempts to fix it - what do our prosecutor friends offer in response except a lot of whining and the chance to live with the failed status quo?

Breen's comments sound like a broken record, but it's a song that's long out of fashion and doesn't really apply to either this bill or other reform bills working their way through the system. (It's like listening to a Bee Gees record - you remember liking them in junior high but hearing them again can't for the life of you remember why.)

Breen and his prosecutor brethren apparently cannot come to grips with the fact that the community supervision systems we have today - both probation and parole - are essentially broken. They know it - "parole is already largely a joke," he said - but you never hear any proposals to fix it other than spend more money on prisons.

The unspoken truth behind such tuffer-than-thou grandstanding is that it makes a prosecutors' job easier to simply revoke someone to prison for low-level misdemeanors - say, writing a bad check or driving with a suspended drivers license - than to prosecute the case and incarcerate them in the local county jail.

For starters, they must prove a new offense "beyond a reasonable doubt," while the standard for parole revocation is merely a "preponderance of the evidence." But also, just like the state prisons, county jails don't have room for such petty offenders. So it's in the prosecutors interest to ship their problems upstream in the system. As a class, DAs are a lot more accountable to local politicos like county commissioners who control their budget (and the jail's) than they are to state leaders, whose opinions they routinely ignore.

The average prison stay for technical parole violators is 4.3 years, so from a taxpayers' perspective, it makes sense to create a system of intermediate sanctions besides full-blown revocation to prison for petty technical violators. Only 19% of parole revocations are for technical violations - most revocations right now happen for new crimes.

Finally, Breen's simply ill-informed about the lack of availability of ISF space. Expanding capacity and use of ISFs was a key reform proposed by Dr. Tony Fabelo in a consultant's report earlier this year, and it's one legislators took seriously and have acted on. In both the House and Senate budgets there's ample funding to pay for new ISF beds, and a new private facility just opened up in East Texas specifically aimed at filling this need.

SB 838 passed unanimously in the Senate, on the local and uncontested calendar no less, because it's just one piece of a giant puzzle crafted by legislative planners over many years now. The bill does nothing except make the punishment fit the crime. As a matter of public safety, I'd rather we reserve long prison terms for people who are out committing new offenses, not the guy who violated curfew or failed to show up for meetings.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hope everyone in Texas reads this. Meaningful information on the subject of probation and parole is hard to find and I am grateful to have found a good source on this blog.

billt said...

keep up the good work scott.

Anonymous said...

And the ISF's will fill up even quicker if the parole board continues to send parolee's released from prison directly into an ISF. My client was recently "released" from prison on mandatory (good time + time served = sentenced time) but never saw the light of day. They moved him straight into an ISF facility and they plan on holding him there until parole can't hold him any longer. He wasn't even given the opportunity to violate, let alone successfully complete, his parole.

Anonymous said...

to 10:39PM...don't you know that TDCJ hangs on to prisoners like they gave birth to them? I think MOM is actually Rissie Owens....as she rants, "I'm your Momma and you ain't leavin' me yet!!"

Anonymous said...

I have to say this isn't a surprise in the least.

Texas Probation and Parole is broken. I personally think it has the life support tubes in and the senate is just feeding it more morphine to keep it numb from the reality of what is really going on.

Texas Probation: Is here to drain enough money out of the already poor individuals. Sad, that most to don't think of the families that these people have and they too just like everyone else have to support them. Just like everyone else they are still human and need to be treated fairly.

Anonymous said...

The problem with this bill is that it makes assumptions that don't always work in real life. What do you do about absconders? If they flee from the State or even the country but then come back a year or so later, I guess we just send them to ISF and continue them on parole? Under this bill, we won't have any choice. What about people who go to an inpatient rehab like SAFP, get out and keep using drugs, go to relapse SAFP, get out and keep using drugs? Under this bill, parole officials can NEVER revoke their parole because is isn't a new felony, just a "technical" violation. What about a violent offender who commits several new violent offenses that don't rise to the level of felonies? No choice - they stay out with the rest of us on parole, after doing their brief stint in ISF.

The problem with this bill is that it takes away ALL discretion. Surely there is a middle ground that can be reached where parole officials can use some common sense for unusual situations? Perhaps imposing a finding that other sanctions are clearly insufficient to address the parole violations? Maybe making it a rebuttable presumption that low level violations will be addressed through a modification? There's got to be something that can be done to allow common sense to be used.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Just a couple of quick thoughts in response to our anonymous friend with so many questions:

"What do you do about absconders? If they flee from the State or even the country but then come back a year or so later, I guess we just send them to ISF and continue them on parole?"

Why not? We're talking about parolees who've already done a stretch in prison. If they've not committed any new crimes, 12 months in an ISF seems appropriate for absconders.

"What about people who go to an inpatient rehab like SAFP, get out and keep using drugs, go to relapse SAFP, get out and keep using drugs?"

Well, for starters, relapse happens in treatment, and our laws need to recognize it for such folks to succeed. Plus they de-funded SAFP treatment in 2003, so what you're describing is not happening now because they're not getting any treatment. The funding attached to this and other reform legislation will pay for all that for the first time in years. They're trying something new, i.e. actually giving treatment instead of just locking up low level offenders.

"What about a violent offender who commits several new violent offenses that don't rise to the level of felonies?"

Prosecute them for the misdemeanors. Class As can be incarcerated up to 12 months. "Several" of those plus an ISF stint is significant time for lower-level assaults. Plus, if they've committed several violent misdemeanors, 9 times out of ten prosecutors can and do enhance that up to felonies, is the everyday reality. That doesn't really happen that way.

"The problem with this bill is that it takes away ALL discretion. ... Maybe making it a rebuttable presumption that low level violations will be addressed through a modification?"

I'd say that it leaves complete discretion for felonies, and gives discretion to require ISF incarceration for all other levels of violation, leaving counties free to prosecute misdemeanors as they always have been. ISF is still incarceration, but misdemeanors are lower-level crimes that in general should be dealt with locally, not warranting long-term imprisonment.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! best,

PAPA said...

In reference to the ISF for parolees...I am here to tell you these are private owned Facilities. In an attempt a couple of years ago to file a complaint on a facility, TDCJ did not even know who worked for the department that was in Charge of ISF oversite. I spent over two days finding someone that knew what I was speaking of, then about another week getting the complaint lodged. Bonita White with TDCJ is the person I finally made contact with to get something done about one of the units that was keeping the Inmates months pass their release time (remember they get paid per day for the number of Inmates they house), the unit had 6 different medical personal in a matter of a couple of months due to the problem in that department and refused medical care to the Inmates, the person that was in charge of the parole business was to come to take care of his/her responsibility, only showed up one day about ever two to three weeks with his/her drop slot running over the brim. To come to find out the Parole Officer and the Warden of the unit was busy going fishing or something together. (reported later they were fired) The Unit had in a storage room new equipment that had been there almost a year. The beds the Inmates slept in had the springs across the bottom (now isn't that material for weapons), which were worn out, pop off, the Inmates were having to take springs off other beds to put on one so the mattress would stay on the bed and not fall through on the floor. Inmates were sitting up on their bunks smoking Marijuana. After about a month someone did finally have the sheriff come in and arrest some of the Inmates for having drugs. The Inmates were not allowed outside rarely even in the summer time, no recreation. The Life Skill classes that were offered was on some times, then go for a long time, not be held. The Inmates could never finish what was required of them. Now does this sound like "GOOD" QUALIFIED Rehabilitation for the Inmates that the "VOTING TAXPAYING CITIZENS" are paying for (getting their TAX DOLLAR WORTH)? Many Many issues and problems. Ms. White did call for an audit of the unit and did make some heads start spinning. Now if TDCJ is going to make contracts with private facilities, the contract needs to be about as long as Texas is wide in order to cover all the ins-outs as to what is required for them to get paid their contract. Then another 911 Emergency Center with an Oversight Committee needs to be installed. Oh if I recall one of the Legislators, I believe it was Representative Allan who was Chair of the Correction Committee at the time, using some unqualified fringe benefits from the state to get his private facility going because he could see the dollar signs on the wall. I think the ruling no revoke for Tech Violations or non-serious crimes, is a good thing, but if it is calling for the use of Private Facilities (ISF), be sure it is done according to the Texas Administration Code for Corrections.Flo

Anonymous said...

WHAT ABOUT THE MEN WHO HAVE SERVED THIER TIME AND STILL CANT GET PAROLED....IM TALKIN ABOUT THE MEN WHO HAS BEEN INCARCERATED FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME AND WHO HAS TRUELY CHANGED THEIR OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND ONLY WANTS THE CHANCE TO GO HOME TO THIER FAMILIES...BUT THE PAROLE BOARD STILL KEEPS THEM LOCKED UP AND FOR WHAT? TO CAUSE ITS CHEAPER TO KEEP'EM HUH?
WHY KEEP BRING THEM UP YEAR AFTER YEAR JUST TO BRING THEM DOWN AGAIN WITH A DENIAL? I JUST DONT UNDERSTAND THOSE PEOPLE.

WHEN WILL SOMEONE SPEAK UP FOR THESE MEN? WHEN WILL SOMEONE LISTEN TO THEM?

Anonymous said...

The prosecutors are right. It's bad enough that most parolees already know how to work the system, when you put something in statute where it is guaranteed, the parolees will REALLY work the system. This is a ridiculous bill and in no way will it help the system, it will actually hurt it and make it worse than ever. I can't believe you are backing this nonsense.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm backing it because you rationalize laws by examining reality and allowing statutes to conform to it, not identifying how things "should be" and demanding the univerese bend to your will. What's the alternative? Build more prisons every session? That's not sustainable.

Anonymous said...

I say keep the Prosecutors out of the legislature. They don't belong there are not part of the process. Their job is to follow the laws passed the government and not to make laws and then pout if they don't get what they want. Keep them at home. If they can not find a case to run into the ground then help one of the ADA or better yet volunteer your time to persons who have no money but need an attorney. That would be an eye openen to all of us. Some of you will not be re-elected and that is good. There should be term limits on every elected position in any type of government.

Prosecutors stay at home where you belong!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I work in a prison...I hear this stuff every day..."I am only back on a technical violation." I'm sorry to all of you who think you know how this system works, but a violation is a violation. We have rehabilitation programs IN PRISON, and the fact of the matter is that if an offender does not participate in that program while incarcerated (before a violation has occured) there is little likelyhood that a 2-12 month program is going to work once violates his parole! That's not going to threten him, or scare him into changing. He already knows how to work the system...he got out of prison once already! Please people, let's use the brains that God put in our heads!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate all the information here. My son is going into an intermediate facility. This helped me understand a lot I could not have found anywhere else. A Mother;

saille said...

As an aside from this,I was made to do 17 years on a 25, I commited no bodily harm. I have been out four years and told I wasnt eligible like other inmates to get off of parole early due to it being a robbery. How many ex=cons do you know that stay out 4 years on minimum supervision with not a complaint against them. Texas parole system is broke. Now they are trying to refuse me to move to my wife in Utah

Rodney owens said...

im on parole in texas ive been out since 1993 get off 2015.non aggervated.1 violation in 1999 for leaving state.maintained a job had two kids.not bad for an x junkie huh.ISF is great non repated offenders. not paying missing a home visit is no reason to send a man back to prison.now if you intentionally go fool and commit a new crime. you need locked up.jobs are hard these days but you dont see me rolling out to committ a new crime.them days are gone.i want to go back to my home in texas tyler, but so scared they will send me back to prision.before i transferd the officers tried to violate you for traffic violations damit let it go 4years 2months to go good luck to all. there in the lonestar state.rodneyowens8@aol.com