That 2003 budget cutting of probation, parole and treatment programs backfired.Allen recalls that the 2003
Yes, the cuts helped balance the budget in 2003-4, but they led to significantly expanded spending in subsequent years in the most costly category of criminal justice spending--prison beds. 2003's cuts saved nickels in that budget cycle, but forced future spending of millions.
session was brutal, and despite my objections, the legislature slashed the criminal justice budget by cutting corrections expenditures in every category other than prisons. Within a year, the prison system exceeded its capacity and began leasing beds from county jails to house a flood of new inmates. About half were sentenced with new criminal offenses, and the balance were returned to prison because Judges revoked probations at a much higher rate, often for violations which were merely technical in nature rather than for new crimes.Allen, who in the interest of full disclosure is a former campaign client, lauds a recent column by Ana Yañez Correa which argued for cutting prison budgets instead of community supervision. He announced that "She is absolutely right (though, certainly NOT far-right)."
Offenders on probation are supervised by county probation officers whose service is funded primarily by local tax dollars with about one-third of total funding from the state. Total cost of daily supervision is about $1.50. Prisons are funded in full by state tax dollars at a cost of $35-$40 per day.
So why did the prisons fill up until they were overflowing into leased space? The answer is simple and logical: elected judges who must answer to voters were afraid that the funding cuts to probation supervision and treatment had made it too difficult for probation officers to effectively supervise their caseloads.
For the next four years, the state's new criminal justice challenge was to handle the flood of inmates pouring into expensive prison beds. This fiscal and managerial problem was further complicated by the longer sentences and reduction of parole eligibility which was written into law in 1993, and that population was aging rapidly and along with that aging came the serious and costly medical problems inherent to high-risk populations.
In 2007, faced with what seemed like a clear necessity to build even more prison beds, the legislature took a different turn, declaring that prisons are too costly for taxpayers for many classes of offenders who would be more cheaply and effectively served by drug and alcohol treatment and enhanced probation supervision. That was the policy they implemented.
After seven terms invested in studying the realities of our criminal justice system, I agreed fully with their assessment. As an unrepentant, hard-right conservative, I was not only able to agree, I was forced to agree based on the facts. Our prisons house many inmates who are little more than incorrigible animals -- criminals who should never again see the daylight of freedom. However, that is not true for thousands of inmates whose crimes were non-violent, were inspired and fueled by foolish and undisciplined substance abuse and mental health issues, and who were consigned to prison by judges who had little faith in the ability of a weakened Probation and Parole system to effectively protect the public.
Allen was among the first in the GOP to realize Texas couldn't continue to expand its number of inmates ad infinitum, and that fiscal conservatism required restraint in using public safety resources just like other functions of the state. That's something I've always appreciated about Ray, who I'm pleased to call a friend: he actually believes in the "small-government" ideology he espouses, and not just when it's politically convenient.