I'll have more to say soon on programming and policy changes implied by new juvie and adult community supervision funding, and I think Isela Gutierrez might step up and tell us what finally transpired with the TYC and juvenile probation budgets. But in the big picture the youth agency's budget will actually decline slightly - an astonishing fact considering the Senate Finance Chairman said they would be first in line and the agency became the premier media circus of th 80th Legislature. That's in part because budgeters assumed the number of kids projected to remain at TYC would decrease from about 4,700 before the West Texas scandals arose to an averate of 3,151 in each of the next two years.
The Department of Public Safety made out well. Their beleaguered crime labs will get an extra $16 million, plus DPS won
appropriation of $200 million in General Obligation Bond Proceeds for the construction of a new regional office and crime laboratory in Lubbock, new offices in McAllen and Rio Grande City, crime laboratory expansions, and an emergency vehicle operations course, contingent on the passage of legislation and voter approval of the additional bonds.But $8 million per year and some new facilities won't even come close to fixing the problems DPS crime labs face. That's $6 million less than recommended by the Governor's Criminal Justice Advisory Committee and new spending is focused on strategies I think don't address the problems. So in my book, count crime lab problems as a big, unsolved hairball the Lege didn't adequately resolve. Time will tell.
The lion's share of new criminal justice funding, though, as always, will happen at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
More than 90% of new probation funding comes in the form of grants administered by TDCJ designed to encourage use of progressive sanctions and prison diversion alternatives prescribed in various bills that passed the 80th Lege and are currently awaiting the Governor's approval. So new funds will be used as a carrot to create diversion programming instead of throwing money at more or less failed systems. To me that's a wise approach.
Much has been made of the approximately $200 million in new community supervision and diversion funding, but the really big increase in TDCJ's new budget comes in the "institutional division," i.e., at the prisons themselves.
Texas prisons will cost taxpayers $375 million more in the next biennium than the last - a 9.4% increase in General Revenue funds over the last budget just to cover the baseline before we construct any new prison units. (Of course, bond authority for three new prisons was approved. Voters could still reject it, but it was packaged along with lots of other high-profile pork, so that makes it unlikely.)
It's these baseline, budget busting 9 figure increases each biennium that drove a bipartisan legislative bloc to seriously consider prison alternatives, and it's worth mentioning that even with all the new spending, it's prison spending hikes that are really soaking the taxpayer, not the alternatives, which by comparison are much more cost effective and frequently generate better public safety outcomes.
And even with that much new spending on state run prisons, the budget projects a 27% increase in spending on private contracted beds for adult prisoners - up $15 million to $66 million overall. (This need will hopefully decline when the new probation and diversion programs are fully online, or at least that's the idea.)
Perhaps my biggest disappointment in the new Texas criminal justice budget: The crisis over the lack of state hospital beds for retarded and mentally ill inmates who are declared "incompetent" by the courts was ignored copmpletely: State hospital capacity will be kept at identical levels as the last budget with now new money for forensic beds. Expect litigation to possibly force the state's hand by 2009.
There's new funding for 300 new parole halfway house beds. Another big chunk will go to fund 700 intermediate sanctions beds for parolees, though it's worth mentioning that's only about a third the number Tony Fabelo recommended at the beginning of session.
Kathy asked me when the legislative session ended and new prisons had been approved along with diversion funding, "Did we lose?" I still don't know - the overall result is a mixed bag. (As Homer Simpson once declared, "Maybe there is no moral to the story. Maybe it's just a bunch of stuff that happened.") A lot will depend on whether these programs are successful, and for that to happen there will need to be a cultural as well as a statutory shift at Texas criminal justice institutions that can only be hoped for but never guaranteed.
Stay tuned for more post-legislative analysis as I slowly muster the courage to peek out and see what happened during what was admittedly an end of session frenzy.