Charge 2: Study and evaluate the availability and efficiency of community-based corrections supervision and treatment programs and their impact on prison capacity and recidivism rates. Determine whether the supervision and treatment programs have been designed in accordance with evidence-based practices and whether adequate evaluation methods have been incorporated.Among topics I hope will be discussed:
The committee should question TDCJ's decision to focus possible budget cuts on diversion programming instead of selectively closing the most expensive and inefficient prisons. If cuts to diversion programs would increase recidivism and thus the inmate population, as TDCJ has said, wouldn't it make sense to increase investment in community supervision and reduce prison spending by closing facilities?
I hope they also interrogate TDCJ's suggestion for reducing the budget for "underutilized treatment programs." Why exactly aren't those programs being used? Are they simply not needed or are there barriers to wider use? Did the Lege authorize inpatient beds when probation departments more immediately needed more outpatient treatment, as one probation director has suggested? Will they be needed in the future or should they be taken offline? Why were the state's need projections off? There are a lot of questions here.
Also, why have Bexar and Collin counties, in particular, thumbed their noses at best practices they agreed to utilize when accepting sizable state grants for diversion programming? What can be done to bring these wayward counties into compliance? Should they continue to receive these grants if they refuse to use the money for the purpose it was given?
Since they're charged with determining whether programs fit best practices, I'd like to hear a discussion regarding whether best practices for drug courts should include mandatory treatment, or assign it on a case by case basis after failures in a stronger probation regimen. The much-praised HOPE program out of Hawaii takes the latter approach with reportedly excellent success.
Overall, given the state's need for large budget cuts looming darkly over the horizon, I hope the committee will explore in detail the relative cost-benefit analysis of prisons vs. community supervision. They should press witnesses to identify alternative budget-cut scenarios that would preserve diversion programming and build on recent successes at reducing prison populations, recidivism, and crime.
This hearing should provide a lot of new, more current information about the state of Texas' diversion programming. It should also give us a sense of how legislators feel about TDCJ focusing budget-cut suggestions on probation and staff in ways that seem destined to fill up prisons and wipe out hard-fought improvements by the community supervision system that reduced crime and saved taxpayers money.