Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tracking evidence-based probation practices in Travis County

Over the weekend I ran across this fine piece of journalism from the May/June issue of the Texas Association of Counties County magazine describing the details of Travis County's efforts to implement "evidence based" practices at its probation department. The county saw reductions in recidivism, probation revocations and incarceration costs for both state prisoners and the county jail. The National Institute of Corrections republished the story on their website, pairing it with an array of related documents about stronger probation systems. Here's a notable excerpt from the County magazine story:

The experiment achieved positive results: because of its four-year effort, the county’s overall one-year recidivism rates dropped from 29 to 24 percent.

More recidivism-related outcomes:

  • Pre-experiment, 26 percent of low-risk offenders were re-arrested within one year; post-experiment, only 6 percent were re-arrested after one year. That is a 77 percent drop in low-risk offender recidivism.
  • Pre-experiment, 26 percent of those offenders were re-arrested within one year; post-experiment, only 13 percent were re-arrested within one year of their original offense. That is a 50 percent drop in medium-risk offender recidivism.
  • Pre-experiment, 34 percent of those offenders were re-arrested within one year; post-experiment, only 31 percent were re-arrested within one year. That is a 9 percent drop in high-risk offender recidivism.

Tony Fabelo, a criminal justice expert who worked closely with the department throughout the transition, said those numbers are significant at all levels.

“The biggest decline has been for the low and medium risk (offenders), which makes sense. The high-risk people are high risk.

They are very difficult to work with,” he said, adding that having fewer low- and medium-risk offenders on caseloads results in having more available resources geared toward offenders most likely to endanger public safety.

Recidivism wasn’t the only area in which the department saw beneficial results. The changes also resulted in the department reducing its overall felony revocations by almost 20 percent. Technical violations were reduced by 48 percent. According to the numbers:

  • Pre-experiment, in 2005, the county had 1,052 felony revocations; post-experiment, in 2008, the county had 846 felony revocations.
  • In 2005, the probation department filed 608 technical revocations; in 2008, that number dropped to just 318.
  • Only 3.4 percent of its felony offenders had their probation revoked in 2008 because of a technical violation, compared to 5.9 percent in 2005.

Based on all those figures, the Legislative Budget Board concluded that Travis County potentially saved the state $4,881,881 over the course of three years, just by avoiding those 290 technical revocations. According to state data, about 67 percent of those technical revocations would have lead to the person being sent to prison for an average of 16 months. Another 29 percent of revocations would have lead to an average of 10 months in a state jail.

The other 4 percent would have spent time in the Travis County Jail. Nagy estimates that the county saved approximately $386,736 in 2008 in jail housing costs. The county calculated that savings by comparing the amount of time probationers spent in jail pre-experiment and post-experiment. That time decreased from a total of 111,339 days in jail in 2007 to 95,225 days in 2008, a 14.5 percent drop.

The experiment was carefully documented throughout its duration, which resulted in a series of reports that can be found on the Travis County Adult Probation Web site.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

There we have it. If we avoid supervision, revocations go down.

The fact is, saving money is a priority over public safety.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Uh ... recidivism also went down. That's an improvement to public safety and saves money to boot - a win-win.

Anonymous said...

That depends on how the data is collected. Are Violations of Probation including in the referrals? If VOPS are including in the data (and I bet they are), then of course recidivism went down. This is extremely misleading; however it is occuring in the juvenile system as well.

We adopt a philosphy that essentially reduces the number of technical violations; therefore, giving the appearance that our new approach reduces recidivism when in actuality, we just quit doing our job!

Anonymous said...

I should of used 'included' for all you grammar scholars

Anonymous said...

You also should have said "should have" instead of "should of."

Anonymous said...

indeed

Anonymous said...

evidence based probation is a FUCKING JOKE. GIVE ME A BREAK. these people are crimional and most likely havbe been convicted therefore punish there ass. jrf.

Mark # 1 said...

The statements of one of the Anons has implicitly raised the question of the goal of probation. I bet some think the goal is to make it easier to send the "bad guys" to prison. Of course, if they're on probation, they must be a "bad guy."
A "Violation of Probation" certainly is alarming, oh my, until you comprehend that something as innocuous as failing to pay some of the many fees for one month, or appearing late for a meeting with the officer is characterized as a "Violation of Probation."

Anonymous said...

well said anon 6:44/8:29

Evidence based practices and JDAI encourage probation departments to ignore the law....i.e. the judge's court order!! The judge tells the probationer to follow rules but department's operate under a philosophy that offender's that violate their probation should never be put in detention/jail. How long would it take for a probationer to figure out that there is no consequence for violations....seems like it would almost encourage crime/delinquency!! Let's see here...judge says don't do it...i do it anyway, I receive no consequence, why follow any of the judge's orders?! JDAI-Juvenile's Don't have Accountability Initiative!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:14, you're either really ignorant or completely disingenuous.

Nobody including Travis County "operate[s} under a philosophy that offender's that violate their probation should never be put in detention/jail." That's just silly. Read the article - they're still revoking people. They just revoke fewer and use more intermediate sanctions short of revocation for technical and lesser violations. Nobody but you says violators "receive no consequence" and you seem pretty uninformed.

I assume all the critics of evidence-based probation are willing to have their taxes raised to build more prisons and county jails. You should say so when you make comments like jrf at 10:16 so everybody will know the full implications of the tack you're suggesting. For my part, I'm not willing to pay to incarcerate every technical violator or dirty UA and think most taxpayers would consider that a waste of resources when other tactics do a better job of reducing recidivism and crime.

Anonymous said...

Probation officers like things to be either black or white Makes their job a lot easier. They just become a scorekeeper. Even a caveman could be a PO these days.

Jim said...

Probation officials for years have screamed that locking people up for minor technical offenses such as not reporting or dirty UA's is not productive. Unfortunately, many people involved in the system (including some probation officers) think that incarceration is the only true punishment. One look at some of they offenders coming through the system today would convince you that the worst possible punishment is making them accountable for their lives. As a noted scolar once said, "We should save the prison beds for the offenders we are scared of, and not the ones we are mad at" EBP is the answer to the question of what we can do to slow down the entry of people into prison.

Anonymous said...

Grits, is there any evidence, per say, to offer the probation person the opportunity of release early? For example, a person is placed on probation - they are meeting all requirements and the supervising official decides early release....where is that evidence fitting into the scheme of things since pending or current probation items or crimes hinder employment and those meeting the requirements can start back on the road of voting. Also, any evidence of the types of probation. I.E felony 1.2.or 3 etc?

Anonymous said...

Grits, is there any evidence, per say, to offer the probation person the opportunity of release early? For example, a person is placed on probation - they are meeting all requirements and the supervising official decides early release....where is that evidence fitting into the scheme of things since pending or current probation items or crimes hinder employment and those meeting the requirements can start back on the road of voting. Also, any evidence of the types of probation. I.E felony 1.2.or 3 etc?

Anonymous said...

As a probation officer, I can tell you that ALL probationers violate the terms of their probation at some time. I am not suggesting that all probationers should have their probation revoked because of a violation. Getting behind on fees, a missed office visit here and there, a dirty drug screen ever now and then is to be expected.

However, please do not insult me by implying that recidivism in Travis county is down due to evidence based practices. Recidivism is a number that is easily manipulated. I assure you, if recidivism is down, probation departments are becoming more tolerant of violations; therefore, revocations are down.

Several months back, I read a study that was printed in the Texas Probation Assocaition publication. In short, the study suggested that departments that impose strict supervision of offenders have a higher revocation rate and those departments that have lenient supervision have fewer revocations.

I call that the 'No Sh*t' study.
Many times, a probationer is only as successful as his PO wants him to be.

Anonymous said...

Grits 6:14....I understand your jabs at my comments from 11:14...you read articles and believe they are accurate; however, my experience in the probation system warrants your attention rather than your assumption that I am misinformed. Probation officers that work in counties that use these strategies are very frustrated with the lack of accountability these offenders receive and the strategies are not effective on people that refuse to change; however officers are told to treat the offenders like they all want to change, which is false. Did you speak with any officers to get their opinion on these philosophies? Probably not..rather you feel the article is accurate because it quotes those responsible for the budget...not those officers dealing with the constant and blatant disregard for the court order. These strategies allow counties to save money, while they give less regard to public safety. I don't have a problem with counties implementing these ideas to help them manage their budgets, but call it what it is and lets stop acting like the idea reduces crime.

gravyrug said...

"Many times, a probationer is only as successful as his PO wants him to be."

This is absolutely the case, thank you, 9:05.

My friend had a couple of minor violations early in her probation. She moved to Dallas, got a new PO, and finally had probation revoked because for missing a call when her cellphone died during a move. She'd had over a year completely clean and compliant before that happened, but because of the earlier violations, she was sent to prison. Her prison time cost the state money, not just for her time inside, but for the health care she's having to get now due to her lack of proper care while she was there. Her case is a prime example of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.

Texas Lawyer said...

9:10 / Anonymous:

You say, "These strategies allow counties to save money, while they give less regard to public safety. "

I'd like to know how you define "public safety." You imply that some of the people supervised under these new practices repeatedly violate the "court order" imposing conditions, but while that may show blatant disregard for the court's lawful authority, does it threaten public safety?

I don't think a dirty UA indicates a threat to public safety (depending on the drug, perhaps). Or repeated dirty UAs, for that matter.

Are you telling us that "EBP" keeps probation officers from acting against offenders who commit violent or dangerous acts? Because if the acts aren't violent or dangerous, then it seems like counties are saving money "while they give less regard" to enforcing the authority of the court or probation officer.

Anonymous said...

12:08


Then why place them on probation? Why tell them that can't use drugs if we don't plan to enforce the conditions of the Court. I am not talking about sacking them up if they test positive once; however, if there is a blatant disregard of the probation order, they need to see a judge.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"if there is a blatant disregard of the probation order, they need to see a judge."

Fine, 2:09, but the judge is then faced with an array of possible decisions and as the drug court model has shown, incarceration simply isn't the only (or always the best) option.

Anonymous said...

Drug Courts are effective in the fact that they deter punishment and save dollars; however, they do very little to correct the problem. In fact, I heard a judge speak (Nueces County I think) about her drug court. It was highly successful with a very low recidivism rate; however, the key to her success is simple. She would only allow individuals in her drug court that requested to be there. She worked with individuals that wanted to change. If they did not participate, they were removed from the program.

There should always be a punitive side to probation. Probation is not all about social services. The fact is many people have zero desire to change their lives. If they continue to blatantly violate the terms of the probation, they should be punished.

Don't talk to me about wasting tax dollars. This government waste tax dollars on far less important things. I got it! Lets make the rich pay for their incarceration.

Rehabilitation is for those who want change!

Anonymous said...

The Travis County department showed an average reduction in new crime of 17% - with a range of 77% reduction in new crime to a 9% reduction. I know people like to dismiss the work of probation officers and prefer to stay cynical, but if you consider crime a problem then you should be celebrating the work that they are doing and the tremendous effort and commitment of the probation officers in Travis County. While revocations were down, new crime by their probationers was also down significantly. Revocations save the State money, but that is not the point of EBP. The point is to stop crime. If you want more information on the study, ask them for it. New crime was defined as new arrests as provided by an independent agency -the Department of Public Safety. The study was done by an independent entity - the Council of State Governments.

Anonymous said...

EBP is NOT new! It has been used by probaton officers for over 25 years! It just has a new name.
You test dirty, then we test you weekly for two months and alter and amnd conditions to include drug counseling. Test dirty again, you get some jail time or house arrest (electronic monitoring). Gang, sex offender, domestic violence and drug court caseloads are an extension of EBP. Many granted probation for these offenses would be locked up at TDC if these programs weren't available
I think you get the picture.
What you don't know unless you're a probation officer is that we're told "No Space" in the county jail for immediate sanctions. So what do the officers do? The Judges, CJAD and private agencies have all done research and said caseloads are TOO high for constructive supervision. Many officers are willing to have the continual non-compliant offenders revoked. This gives them time to spend with those who want help in changing their lives! It's a no-win situation for the officers OR those who test the system.
I'm proud of most probtion officers as I think they have the right intentions, they just don'y get any backing by CJAD or their Administrations.......
high caseloads and low pay

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