How bad is it at Bexar County’s Community Supervision?
Not taking into account the administration’s unwillingness to reconsider months of revocations triggered by drug tests that were more than likely faulty — it’s bad. [See “Test-tube maybes,” October 1, 2008.]
Without even considering the persecution of a highly visible union-organizing employee and an internal clampdown on union members — it’s still bad.
Beyond the “subjective” preponderance of evidence — to which we must now add a fresh sexual-harassment suit against Probation Chief Bill Fitzgerald — some newly released numbers reveal embarrassingly serious failings in the department.
Harman explores why the Bexar County probation department has the highest revocation rates of any large county in the state:
This news confirms my suspicion that poor departmental practices, not some untoward demographic surge in San Antonio, underlie that county's continually increasing revocation rate.
A December 1, 2008, report to the state Legislative Budget Board by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reveals that the number of felony revocation rates in Bexar County shot up 80 percent between 2005 and 2007. The trend is doubly worrisome because revocation rates have dropped significantly in the state’s other major metro areas. During this same time period, check: Harris County (down 13.6 percent), Dallas County (down 10.7 percent), Tarrant County (down 16.8 percent), El Paso County (down 8.4 percent), and Travis County (down 19.6 percent).
Holy urine-analysis jokes! What gives?
To make sense of the rising numbers, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice sent a team of auditors in February 2008 to dig through Bexar County Probation files. After reviewing 198 randomly selected cases, the five auditors reported back that the department’s case managers had not been trained in the basics of so-called “progressive case management” methods. Progressive case management, supposedly adopted by Bexar County in 2005, is a methodology aimed at reducing the number of probationers that end up being sent back to jail by providing case managers with a range of punishment-reward options. According to the state, this should include reduced caseloads to allow for more aggressive monitoring, use of inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol treatment options, and options for that carrot of carrots: Early probation termination.
All departments receiving funds through CJAD are required to use progressive case management. Bexar County Probation recently received more than $6.5 million from the state for supervision and caseload reduction.
The auditors’s revocation-compliance review, released last month, also found that case officers followed the required progressive sanctions model in only 35 percent of [probation] violations that didn’t include a new arrest, and in only 23 percent of those probation revocations involving new arrests. Not only had most case workers not been trained in using progressive sanctions, managers weren’t stepping in to forge alternatives to revoking probation, the auditors wrote.
“Case files directed to courts with a [Motion to Revoke, or MTR] reflected few manager interventions when other levels of sanctions within the PSISM remained available,” the audit states.The department’s other failings include overall poor management of case records and “conflicting practices” between Probation, district and county court-at-law judges, and the District Attorney’s office.
Bexar probation's poor performance could, and should, cost them hard dollars if they're not willing to use state grants for the purpose they were given:
Could Bexar County’s poor performance mean a drop in state funds, we asked CJAD Director Bonita White. “It is possible that CJAD will decrease funding for Bexar CSCD in the future,” White said. “However, our goal is to work with the Bexar CSCD to help them keep more probationers successful, and thereby truly increasing public safety.”With a new Speaker of the Texas House from Bexar County, it's perhaps unlikely Bexar would lose funding during the 81st Legislature. But by the same token, CJAD shouldn't be forced to continually throw good money after bad. Somebody should be holding Bexar probation chief Bill Fitzgerald responsible for his department's poor performance - the judges on his governing board sure aren't doing it.