House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Plano, sponsored a bill to shorten the maximum probation for third-degree and state jail felony theft and narcotics offenses from 10 to five years.
With 4,000 drug criminals put on probation for longer than five years in 2006, Seliger said the changes didn't go far enough.
"Probation officers around District 31 say they know in three years if a probationer will re-offend or not," the Senate Criminal Justice Committee vice chairman said.
"Some under a super long term have a technical violation, but it doesn't protect the public to fill up the prisons with technical violators. New prisons are expensive and it could be we'd be better off to raise the salaries of correctional officers and take care of our understaffing first."
Seliger is presently considering reforms in general terms and wants more input from legal officials before getting specific.
When asked if voters might be more concerned about crime, he said, "We conservatives are trying to get the most bang for the buck and take as little of people's hard earned tax money as possible."
He said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, has indicated he may support '09 legislation to limit probation for most offenses to five years.
The Midland DA raised a common fallacy about Seliger's proposal: "Midland County District Attorney Teresa Clingman is concerned about crime spawned by the oil boom and doubtful the system should be less strict." Perhaps it's counterintuitive, but the irony here is that long probation terms are what has made probation "less strict." Statewide, general probation caseloads are still well over 100 probationers per officer, meaning most probationers don't receive significant oversight and their P.O.s spend most of their time doing paperwork.
By moving to shorter, stronger probation, P.O.s can do home and work visits, check to enforce curfews, give more help to probationers who need to access job placement or other services, and generally provide a lot more oversight during those first three years when data shows all probationers are most likely to re-offend. That's the approach to public safety the Amarillo Republican is advocating, and the reality is Seliger's suggestion would make probation substantially more strict.
Though it seems relatively minor, this is one of the most important changes that could be made to reduce unnecessary incarceration and improve public safety. Offenders who succeed for 5, 6, 7 years or more on probation shouldn't then be revoked on felony charges for technical violations or minor offenses - they're just taking up bed space that could go toward housing more dangerous offenders.
The more important benefit, though, will be to improve safety by more closely supervising probationers during the period when they're most likely to re-offend, and ensuring Texas has ample prison space to house more dangerous offenders. That approach is both smarter on crime and easier on the pocketbook.