About half of new entrants to Texas prisons every year result from probation or parole revocations, so new programs aimed at reducing revocations have contributed greatly to resolving Texas' immediate prison overcrowding crisis.
With news of a new probation facility opening in Texarkana, I spent a little more time checking around the TDCJ website this morning for more information about new probation funding. I found this report from December (pdf) analyzing the use of new community supervision diversion funds aimed at reducing probation officer caseloads and minimizing revocations to prison for technical violations. The results so far seem really positive. Let's just walk through a few of the highlights.
For starters, the analysis divides Texas probation departments (CSCDs) into three categories, departments who:
- Received New Funding: (26) CSCDs with regular caseload sizes over 95 and accepted the additional funding.
- Did Not Receive New Funding: (73) CSCDs with regular caseload sizes under 95 that were ineligible for additional funding.
- Declined New Funding: (23) CSCDs eligible to receive diversion funding because regular caseload size was over 95 but declined the additional funding.
That said, there were wide variations in how effective new programs were by county. The percentages in this chart, e.g., compiled from Appendix A in the report, show several counties' change in revocation figures from one biennium to the next:
Even so, the big picture trends from this evaluation seems positive. Overall, departments that received new funding saw their overall caseloads decline by more than 17%, while those who rejected new funding saw their caseloads per officer decline by a measly 0.7%.
A key reform in a stronger probation regimen is to give offenders a chance to earn their way off probation through good behavior, particularly because most offenders who will recidivate do so in the first 2-3 years, but Texas felony probation terms are up to ten years long. All three categories of departments saw the number of early discharges from probation increase, but those who received funding increased the number of earned probation discharges bu 34.6%, compared to 25.6% for departments that declined funding and just 5.7% of those not eligible for new funding.
Also, CSCD's that did not receive new funding actually saw their number of probation officers decline slightly, despite higher caseloads, while agencies that accepted the funding increased their number of probation officers by 7.3%.
What to take from these data? That strengthened probation systems are empirically reducing both recidivism and the number of unnecessary technical revocations to prison in Texas. The report described recent trends, but also identified what additional funds that will be expended in this fiscal year:
A total of 42 CSCDs submitted 70 program proposals for the additional FY 2008-2009 diversion funding for outpatient substance abuse treatment and/or residential substance abuse treatment beds. Total requests for funding amounted to $24,743,530 for the $19,253,739 available in FY 2008. Specific funding appropriated included $5 million for Rider 84a (Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Counseling) funds and $14,253,739 for FY 2008 million for Rider 84c (Residential Substance Abuse Treatment) funds.So about 80% of proposed probation department diversion programs should get funded this year, according to these figures. One hopes they're targeting departments that succeeded in using the last pot of money in ways that achieved the goals of the legislation instead of thwarted it.
The report doesn't give more detail, but I'd like to better understand the differences between what's happening in counties implementing these new programs that resulted in such widely disparate outcomes, on new revocations in particular. The overall trend seems encouraging, but looking county by county, the results seem a bit more mixed.