Officials are consumed with the task of disposing of cases. Officials say they are uncomfortable with the compromises they seem forced to make. There is immense workload pressure to make decisions just to move cases—so much so that achieving dispositions is gradually replacing other values and becoming a goal of the system. The need to reduce jail crowding, too, is gradually being elevated to the status of a goal.Nacogdoches has an extraordinarily high rate of incarceration compared to other counties its size, said the consultants, with arrests, court dockets, and overall local jail population dramatically rising over the last six years, even as crime declined.
The system has become dependent upon offender fees for financing. This is because it craves additional resources. This is having unintended consequences. For example, a number of people who were interviewed note that the financial requirements being placed on many offenders sets them up for failure to comply with an aggregate of payments: court fees, fines, restitution, probation fees, fees for a variety of treatment programs, and, perhaps, child support and other obligations.
Non-compliance is a growing problem. When these offenders fail to meet these obligations they are in violation of a court order. They may stop reporting to a probation officer because they know they cannot make the payments or meet their many other requirements. All this generates more work for the system and, indeed, the data confirms that non-compliance is a growing problem. This will not show up in fresh arrests but, rather, in an increase in jail admissions for failure to comply with a court order, and in an increase in technical probation violations. The system may be starting to feed on itself.
Nacogdoches' problems are exactly those the Legislature attempted to address in 2007 through a series of probation reforms, shortening probation lengths and creating mechanisms for letting offenders earn their way off probation through good behavior. Problem is, the new laws are mostly volitional; if local judges don't use their new tools - offering offenders carrots rewarding positive behavior to go along with the incarceration stick - then the changes won't much with help jail or prison overcrowding.
The Texas Legislature in 2007 gave counties more tools to face the problem (though Gov. Perry unexpectedly vetoed a key provision), but it's ultimately up to the locals to solve their own problems.