The presentation paints an unflattering portrait of a sloppy, turf-driven hodge-podge of an agency that is "not keeping up with growth and modern accountability practices."
Bexar has an "obsolete assignments system," says the Justice Center, where probation officers are assigned according to which court the defendant appeared in as opposed to geographically. In Bexar, unlike other large Texas counties, POs each work for an individual court, de facto creating 19 different probation departments, all with different rules and policies. Even fees and fines vary widely from court to court. There is no administrative manual in place as required by law.
Even things like how often probationers get urinalysis tests varies widely from court to court. Comparing the number of UAs per 100 probationers over a six-month period, courts ranged from a low of 5.8 to a high of 29.3. Perhaps relatedly, there are wide variations in probation revocation rates among courts that appear to be unrelated to the risk level of offenders.
Bexar should start assigning POs to specific neighborhoods, says Fabelo. For example, "with an average caseload of 109 probationers per officer, the 595 probationers who live in [a] sample zip code could be supervised by as few as six officers, but they were assigned by 22 different courts to 113 different probation officers. The average officer supervises offenders in 35 different zip codes. (I'll bet that reduces the number of home visits, huh?)
Presentence investigations in Bexar are often shoddy and unreliable, providing little useful information to the courts - "a morass of paperwork consuming precious time and not providing a diagnosis." The department has no unified progressive sanctions policy.
Misdemeanor cases are "over-supervised," says the Justice Center. This contributes to jail overcrowding because Bexar revokes probation on more misdemeanants than any other large county. In 2008, Bexar revoked probation for 3,445 misdemeanants compared with 2,044 in much-larger Harris County." A whopping 85% of misdemeanor probation revocations are for technical violations, not new offenses. That's partially why, says Fabelo, "About 22% of the Bexar jail population is for misdemeanors, compared to 16% in Harris and 9% in Dallas."
Since 1999, the number of felony revocations in Bexar County grew by 26%, but the number of misdemeanor revocations increased by an amazing 134%. In Dallas, by contrast, those numbers declined by 19% and 38% respectively over the same period.
Other aspects of the department "cannot support evidence-based practices at this time":
- Training is mostly for certification and safety, not focused on evidence-based approaches. The training budget is too small.
- There's a "weak personnel evaluation system."
- The department has "no research staff" or "accountability reports."
MORE: From the SA Express-News, "Overhaul Bexar's probation system."
See related Grits posts:
- Bexar probation revocations up from not using progressive sanctions
- Bexar, Collin probation departments thumb noses at state probation goals
- Willful Negligence: Bexar probation still not providing confirmation to identify false-positive drug tests
- Bexar DA stepping in to probation department urinalysis fiasco
- UA lab workers in Bexar allegedly took bribes but no one reported crimes
- False positives plague drug tests by Bexar probation
- Is budget crisis at Bexar probation real or an excuse to fire Bill Fitzgerald's enemies?