Friday, May 28, 2010

Many Texas prisoners released unsupervised

Readers might be interested in several presentations to the newly formed state Reentry Task Force which have been posted online. The Task Force's Housing Workgroup/Discharge Planning Committee meets next Wednesday.

A presentation by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition in April contained these topline tidbits:
  • Total TDCJ releases in 2009 (Prison, State Jail, SAFP) = 72,218
  • Of those released, 32,705 are on a flat discharge and not under supervision
  • 54.1% of individuals currently incarcerated have a sentence of 10 years or less
See also this chart presented to the task force by TDCJ detailing how many offenders returned to each of Texas' largest counties, including the number returning unsupervised:


These data belie a "lock 'em up" mentality since in practice most offenders get out eventually. Often when inmates are forced to serve their full sentence, they leave prison completely unsupervised. Especially for more serious offenders, it probably makes sense to release prisoners before they've completely served out their sentences so there will be supervision and reentry assistance during the period when statistically they're most likely to re-offend. Granting parole for inmates with long sentences when they have even a year or so to go (so the offender spends at least one year under supervision when they get out) would likely help both reduce recidivism among parolees and lower inmate populations at the margins.

19 comments:

Soronel Haetir said...

I do find this somewhat surprising. I would have thought that most prisoners would get a term of supervised release or probation (is there even a difference?) to start whenever their incarceration came to an end. I would have thought those leaving prison would be pretty much at the top of the officer assignment priority list as well, at least compared to offenders who go straight from conviction to probation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel, in Texas probation (technically "community supervision") is on the front end in lieu of prison (unless they're revoked) and "parole" is when someone is released from prison before their term is up. So you're conflating the terms in a way that's common with the feds but confusing at the TX state level.

In any event, if someone serves their sentence day for day, there is no parole, which is the only post-incarceration supervision period of the type you reference - they're just discharged with $100 and a bus ticket.

The really amazing thing is that for all those unsupervised felons leaving prison, TX has among the lowest recidivism rates in the country - less than 30% return to prison in three years.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I'm glad you wrote this entry. I have long maintained that release to parole is a much wiser choice. At least when an inmate is released to parole, they have a place of residence lined up, and some form of transportation available to them. Project RIO helps them get their SS card, and birth certificate so they have those when they leave, as well. Not to mention, they have continued supervision. It makes an inmates' transition back into the "free world" a step progression as opposed to just throwing them out there and saying "sink or swim"!

A person who gets released from TDCJ after serving all his/her time flat, (unless they are blessed with a support system) are facing the challenge of starting a new life on $100, a crappy set of mix matched-poor fitting clothing, and a one way bus ticket to the town of their choice. That's it! Many "flat timers" walk out without a copy of their SS card and birth certificate. How are they to establish themselves as productive citizens with such limited resources?

I wish these folks who have this "lock 'em and keep 'em there" attitude would think beyond their nose. And that includes the BPP!

Soronel Haetir said...

Okay, I do find that pretty amazing. I know with the feds a sentence structure of some term of (often many many) months followed by a term of supervised release is fairly common. That setup makes a great deal of sense to me, at least at an intuitive level.

I am more than a little surprised that TX normally only has such supervision for parolees and those who skip prison altogether. Seems like a major oversight in sentencing structure.

sunray's wench said...

There have been several studies carried out on exactly this subject, particularly with inmates in Florida after the state released many hundreds of inmates after a particularly bad period of over crowding. Throwing inmates out onto the street with no supervision at all simply makes them more likely to reoffend. They go from total structure to no structure at all. The longer the sentence, the more likely the inmate is going to be unable to cope without that structure. You don't need to build more prisons, you need more parole hostels and skills training, and to make it easier for those with families to stay in contact and continue to recevie support in that way too.

R. Shackleford said...

If I were to go to prison, and did my time day for day, I would refuse parole. I would have paid my debt (ha), and would brook no further intrusion from a callous and logically retarded government entity. Enough, simply, would be enough.

esbashar1 said...

R. Many prisoners do just that. So many feel that all parole is is another chance to get caught breaking a rule that will throw them back in. If they've dealt with the probation dept before their jail time that thought process makes good sense. A parole officer told me that they weren't like probation. Probation likes to get them revoked and off their caseload. Parole wants them to succeed because if they reoffend they'll keep coming back to them.

Anonymous said...

What percentage of these are State Jail Felons where there is no parole (max. incarceration period is 2 yeats). ?

Anonymous said...

Esb - your friend has it wrong...probation is trying to keep a defendant from going to prison by attempting to identify the problems that lead to the criminal behavior (ie. drug problems, lack of employment/skills/education etc). Then they attempt to locate resources to assist in those areas (meds and counseling for mental health issues, treatment for drug problems, employment for people without jobs, skills training etc). It would be nice to think that a bright, shiny new GED would solve someone's problems but unfortunately most of our clients come with a whole laundry list of intricatly woven problems that took a lifetime to develop and will not be solved quickly.

Having said that, the probation officers are "the eyes and ears of the court" and thier primary responsiblity is the safety of the public so there may be a point at which the probation officer/DA/Court can no longer allow violations of the conditions of probation to continue and the probation will be terminated.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:45, that may be true in some counties, but in Harris County, probation is nothing more than a means of setting up a defendant to go to prison. I have never committed a crime, and I doubt that I could make a probation in Harris County. The terms and conditions are so many that its almost impossible to comply with them. For example, a court may suspend a probationer's drivers license, but then order him to do community service, attend counseling, report to a probation officer, and do all this while maintaining a job. Unless the person has a full time driver, its simply not possible to do all this without transportation. Yet if the person drives, its also a probation violation. Forcing a non violent offender to report once a month, with no regard to his job hours, costs many probationers their jobs, which means they can't afford to pay fines, court costs, and restitution. Not having a job is also a probation violation. Harris County judges routinely imprison probationers who have not committed a new crime and have not been using drugs simply because they couldn't comply with all the conditions imposed on them. Usually they can't comply because of poverty or no support system or no transportation. Even bailiffs will tell prisoners not to take probation in certain courts because they aren't going to make it. Really, its easier for the person to just take the 2 or whatever and get it over with, because its a matter of time before they wind up in prison anyway.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:07- The conditions of which you speak are not limited to Harris County. Many of those conditions are statutory requirements, such as DL suspensions for drug- and DWI-related convictions, not just some whim that the judiciary has drummed up to make life difficult on offenders. What I tell my clients is that life is just not fair and their actions, good or bad, have consequences, and it's how you deal with those consequences that lead to your future success or failure. Thousands of people in this state are placed on probation every year, and thousands successfully complete their probation terms, all with the same standard conditions of probation required by law (TCCP Art. 42, Section 12), and with special conditions designed to provide them the tools and resources necessary to rehabilitate negative behavior, treat chemical addiction or mental illness, and encourage success. Harris County is in a much better situation than smaller rural counties because there is a seemingly endless list of resources available with many treatment providers, a massive public transportation system, and satellite probation offices. Most counties in this state have none of these things, yet thousands of probationers are still successful. It's up to the individual to take advantage of what's being offered, and probation officers do a wonderful job of trying to motivate people to change their lives for the better.

Anonymous said...

Up until 2007 many resources were poured into helping all prisoners released from TDCJ, including flat discharges. Less than 10% showed up for follow up mental healthcare, so the state got smart and stopped helping flat discharges because they were non compliant with services set up with them on the outside.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:39
maybe they didn't show up cuz they didn't have a way to get there. $100 dollars don't go real far

Charles said...

As this relates to parole and supervision, here is an excellent idea that I have been advocating for sometime: Amnesty. Giving an ex-con a clean criminal record. But not just for everyone. No. The criteria, for example, could be that you are 50+ years old, you must have served 20 consecutive years in TDC, and must have a least 15 years to do on parole. Why these criteria? Because at 50 you more than likely have gotten that nonsense out of your self after doing a 20+ year bit, and with 15+ years to do on parole, you know you can't go do another 10 year stretch--you'll be 60-65 getting out. Giving Amnesty to 50+ years olds makes a hellva lot of sense because you (the State)pare down your supervision numbers to these wild and crazy youngers out here. There is no further need to spend money on an old man who is not going to give society any more trouble. Its basically the same principle as spending thousands of tax dollars on the sick and dying inmate in TDC. Let that man go home to die. Quit wasting tax payer money. Same with for the 50+ years old on parole. Give him Amnesty and let him go. If he screws up then he goes back to square one. Thats the reason that he must have 15+ years to do on parole. If this doesn't make sense then please, somebody let me know.

Anonymous said...

"...less than 30% return to prison in three years." That's no big deal for some. Just 30% leave a trail of blood behind them.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:37 - First, that's one of the lowest rates in the nation, plus quite a few of those 30% have served their complete sentences and there's no choice but to release them. It's not like you can hold them there forever. This ain't Guantanamo Bay.

Also, you don't incarcerate 70% needlessly because you fear the behavior of 30%. Talk about pissing away taxpayer money with no public safety benefit! I'd rather have that 70% out working, paying taxes, and contributing to society than pay ad infinitum to lock them up when they're unlikely to commit more crimes. But if you want your taxes raised to pay for it, just say so!

Anonymous said...

"...less than 30% return to prison in three years."

Around 70% don't return to prison in three years.

That's not as good as it sounds.

Let's look at that 70%:

How many of those stay true to their pattern but are able to avoid being caught?

How many of those 70% are caught but are given a lesser sanction than prison?

How many of those 70% wind up in prison after three years?

How many of those 70% take out their violence against family members are are undetected by law enforcement?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:26 - Why don't you tell us the answers to those questions? You seem to imply you know and that it's not good news, but I suspect you're just spitballing with no actual knowledge or data to back it up.

California's recidivism rate (and many other states) tops 60%. Would you prefer we had their numbers? Or maybe for you the glass is just always half empty, no matter what?

R. Shackleford said...

Anny 1:50, in my experience probation officers don't motivate anyone to do anything, other than not get caught. I have cop friends in other (surrounding) counties that tell horror stories about wilco probation, and wilco probation officers. It's a constant source of amazement to them that ANYONE completes probation in this backassward county.