Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Levin: Saving money while reducing juvenile crime

Marc Levin at the Texas Public Policy Foundation has a column out titled "In Juvenile Justice, Less is Often More," arguing that community-based alternatives are cheaper and more effective for all but the most high-risk youth. He concludes thusly:
juvenile justice is at another crossroads due to a projected state budget shortfall of $10 billion to $15 billion.

Counties also face budget shortfalls, with Harris and Dallas asking departments to identify savings. Counties fund nearly two-thirds of juvenile probation. Thus, a strong fiscal partnership between the state and counties is vital to ensure that youths are not sent to TYC simply because less costly and often more effective community-based options are unavailable.

Texas can continue saving money and protecting public safety by renewing support for probation departments’ TYC diversion initiatives that more than pay for themselves as they enable TYC to continue downsizing.

For example, intensive in-home programs with both a probation officer and family therapist making frequent home visits significantly reduce re-offenses and cost a fraction of TYC. As such local programs take root, juvenile crime continues to drop and TYC commitments have fallen 38 percent this year. Every youth redirected from TYC saves taxpayers about $80,000 a year.

For all but the most serious and high-risk offenders, incarceration often increases re-offending, as lower-risk youths are negatively influenced by higher-risk peers and positive bonds with their family, church, and community are frayed. While effective in-home programs address the lack of discipline and other underlying family issues typically at the root of delinquency, these problems may remain unsolved after a non-violent youth stays for an average of 11 months at TYC and returns to the same setting.

Texas has made remarkable progress in lowering juvenile crime while reducing costs. Policymakers can build on these gains for public safety and taxpayers by continuing to strengthen community-based programs that hold juveniles accountable through proven supervision and treatment strategies, ensuring that the most costly destination for Texas youths is truly the last resort.

I'd recently mentioned the case of a teen graffiti writer who was sent to TYC and victimized to the point where he chose to spend his stint in solitary confinement rather than subject himself to abuse by fellow inmates. That's the harsh reality behind Levin's technocratic observation that "lower-risk youths are negatively influenced by higher-risk peers" when imprisoned. Had the graff writing youth not chosen to spend his term in isolation, it's likely his only other option would be to turn to other criminal youth for protection, developing negative relationships that often lead to more serious criminal involvement on the outside

Levin is essentially advocating the same shift in thinking that former House Corrections Chairman Ray Allen recommended during the 2003 budget crisis: That Texas should incarcerate only people who we're afraid of, not those we're merely mad at, using community based interventions and short-term incarceration stints to teach good behavior instead of merely punishing mistakes.

For a lot of offenders, incarceration isn't pleasant but it isn't that difficult. Somebody else feeds, clothes, shelters you and tells you what to do and when to do it essentially 24-7. Much harder, for many, is learning to live productively in the free world (which is why quite a few offenders choose incarceration over accepting restrictive probation terms), and at some point they must learn how. Those are lessons prisons cannot teach. For juveniles, in particular, most all of whom will return to their communities relatively soon, that logic resonates even more strongly.


Anonymous said...

Grits said:

"For a lot of offenders, incarceration isn't pleasant but it isn't that difficult. Somebody else feeds, clothes, shelters you and tells you what to do and when to do it essentially 24-7. Much harder, for many, is learning to live productively in the free world (which is why quite a few offenders choose incarceration over accepting restrictive probation terms), and at some point they must learn how. Those are lessons prisons cannot teach. For juveniles, in particular, most all of whom will return to their communities relatively soon, that logic resonates even more strongly."

I think there is a great misconception about the effect of incarceration on offending youth. You may think it isn't difficult, but whether or not it is difficult isn't the issue. The threat lies in the fact that incarceration separates them from the life they are familiar with. If you actually talk to these youth, they will essentially tell you this. When you are incarcerated, there is no doubt that you aren't going to get to run and play with your buddies on the street corner, see and talk to your girlfriend, sleep in familiar surroundings, and live with familiar people.

Besides, who is going to follow them around 24/7 making sure they are abiding by these "restrictive probation terms?" Probation just allows them to exercise the same mindset that got them in trouble in the first place. That is: "You have to catch me doing something wrong first."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Of course incarceration is tough and unpleasant By less difficult I mean COMPARED to the difficulty of changing behaviors to live in the free world as a productive citizen. That's their biggest long-term challenge and incarceration only puts off requiring them to meet it.

Historically, probation has frequently meant little more than requiring them to show up at a meeting once a month to pay fees and pee in a cup. Few home visits, few available support services, and few available interim sanctions short of just revoking to TYC. That's changing now in some counties (though not all), and where it has the result has been fewer commitments and lower recidivism.

Finally, you make exactly Levin's point, seemingly unknowingly, when you say that, when in incarcerated, "you aren't going to get to run and play with your buddies on the street corner." You just didn't take the next step to notice that they'll now generate a different set of "buddies," perhaps gang affiliated, who can give them criminal connections and skill sets unavailable to their pals on the street corner, and which the evidenced-based-practices research says frequently contribute to making them worse offenders when they get out. For truly dangerous offenders, the tradeoff is worth it. But for the the graff writers in the crowd ...?

Anonymous said...

"Historically, probation has frequently meant little more than requiring them to show up at a meeting once a month to pay fees and pee in a cup."

Very misleading and so uninformed.

Grits I seriously hope one day you'll take the time to get updated on the interventions occurring in the community prior to spewing off this continued non-sense brotha. Your leaving out a whole lotta juice there.... they aren't just sending these kids to TYC on a first offense such as graffiti. Until your able or willing to tell the whole story, this piece is meaningless. Why not try telling the full story and then lets hear what the folks have to say? Sorry I have to remind you - again.

R. Shackleford said...

Anny 10, why don't YOU tell us the 'full story'? Because I must admit, I have no idea from which direction you're coming, and I'm curious (mildly so) as to what you're on about.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:00, I'm trying to be patient with you but you need to stop misrepresenting what I said. You quote a statement you don't like but ignore the caveat "That's changing now in some counties." If it's changed where you are, great. But just assigning them to programming isn't "strong probation," either. Most JPOs aren't doing many home visits, visiting schools, talking to teachers or using other more aggressive community supervision tactics because they're too understaffed, so contrary to your statements often strong probation methods haven't always been tried, even on repeat offenders. That's the on-the-ground reality, whatever fantasy world you're operating in.

Anonymous said...

One of the primary challenges facing juvenile justice is deciding which youth are "high-risk." Simply focusing on their crimes does not provide you with the right answers. For a serious inquiry into this problem I suggest readers research the work of Dr. Ed Latessa from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Latessa is probably the most respected authority on risk assessments for juveniles today.

As a professional in the juvenile justice industry I want to caution people (to include Mr. levin) who might believe that community-based programs are a panacea; they are not. The keys to successful community-based and residential programs are the same: pay attention to who you put in the program (risk); pay attention to their needs(what); and most importantly, maintain fidelity.

A final point that should be mentioned: in reviewing the writings of Mr. Levin, I have yet to find substantial works on the efficacy and promise of quality residential models. As this is my bailiwick, I confidently say that the world of residential care is changing and that much like normal market forces, is adapting to the challenges created by community-based competition.

Anonymous said...

How can this statement be substantiated ---- " incarceration often increases re-offending"?

Anonymous said...

Probation officer visits.

Too bad their fathers don't drop by and visit ever now and then. Guess that's too much to ask these days.

Anonymous said...

Grits - I think you painted with an very broad brush on this one. Lots going on in lots of places other than monthly visits in the office, etc. Stats bare it out. Yes, the profession needs more retirements and funerals but great things are happening out here amongst the great unwashed.


JTP said...

While Mark Levin advocates a greater use of community based treatment and sanctions for the majority of juveniles entering the system, I have not heard him make one suggestion for reshaping the TYC that will handle the "worst of the worst". What tools will Legislators provide to staff who will face a meaner, tougher, angrier, and more assaultive juvenile criminal? Is OC spray and or tasers for every staff person a possability, or are we still telling ourselves these will be just the worst of the worst "children". Who is going to want to work in TYC without adequate safeguards to prevent youth on youth assaults and youth on staff assaults. The proposal by Levin will insure that TYC becomes nothing more than a feeder program for TDCJ. Will the Legislature redefine what a "child" is? Will TYC line staff's salaries be increased? Will Worker's Comp. for injuries to TYC staff skyrocket? While significant financial savings will be realized on paper, the hidden costs of operating a new prison system for "the worst of the worst" will require a significant financial investment in TYC, which the Legislature is unlikely to fund. Let's here some proposals on how to prepare the TYC of the future to handle this new type of incarcerated juvenile felon!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:17, it's not too much to ask, but Daddy doesn't work for the justice system. The question here is how stricter community supervision can divert kids from prison, which is the ultimate nanny state and for youth costs $98K per year per head.

JTP, those youth at TYC are not "new," they're already there, and TYC has always been a feeder program for TDCJ. Levin is just saying don't house less serious offenders with the more dangerous ones.

Plato, perhaps I painted with too broad a brush (though everybody seems to ignore the caveat), and I'll readily admit weak probation for juveniles was more prevalent a decade ago than today. But your statement that "the profession needs more retirements and funerals" also implies that what I said is true in some instances. If JPOs at your agency are doing home visits for high-risk youth and providing need-specific services based on individual evaluations instead of lumping them all into cookie-cutter, one-size-fits all programs, good for you. That's not the case everywhere and within departments, as you imply, not all JPOs embrace stronger probation (which of course is more work for them) with equal zeal.

To the person who referenced Ed Latessa, it's his research and those of his colleagues that answers the question posed by 4:20 - I linked last fall to a presentation he gave to TX judges on sentencing that outlined many of these themes, for those interested.

Anonymous said...

"TYC has always been a feeder program for TDCJ."

That's a pretty brazen comment but since you made it and put it out there, why don't you entertain us with some facts to support it? What percent of kids who have been in TYC have found themselves in prison in adulthood excluding determinant offenders who've already been sentenced?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:38, I don't have time to research the details, but TYC's 3-year recidivism rate has in recent years been much higher than TDCJ's - more than 50% compared to 28% in TX adult prisons according to testimony at the Lege during the reforms.

Anonymous said...

TYC employees are so restricted when it comes to OC spray-if you spray a youth then your automatically put under the scope and they try to put you at fault- TYC doesn't care at all about their staff--it's all about the poor little misunderstood youth and that's why TYC is falling apart and won't be able to stand up much longer- by the way- if you don't think TYC is a feeder to TDCJ then go to Abilene Texas and visit the Robertson Unit-

Anonymous said...

Grits - good job referencing the work of Ed Latessa. While I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I think he is a sound and practical thinker in this arena.

I am intrigued by the comments from the readers regarding what TYC will look like when it must deal with the "worst of the worst." While I agree this is already happening, I also want to stress that both TYC and other state DJJ agencies nationwide have been slow to modify their practices to deal with this developing trend. Staff do need more protections...both in how they deal with these individuals, and how to approach them philosophically.

The larger issue with "incentivizing" counties to handle lower end youth is that once the counties begin to experience challenges with these youth, and are then held accountable for outcomes, the potential rises that more and more youth will magically be assessed as "high-risk" and assigned to TYC. This is occurring in other states and will be a problem TYC will need to address.

Overall, TYC is doing a good job adapting to the new reality. But make no mistake, as populations continue to increase, and the economy stagnates, residential capacity will be more important than ever.

Anonymous said...

Throughout much of its history, juvenile justice institutions in Texas have been widely acknowledged to be "feeder institutions" to TDC/TDCJ.

Legislative and journalistic reports, not to mention academic studies, from pretty much every decade of the 20th century came to that conclusion.

I will not pretend to speak authoritatively about the last 10-15 years but I find it pretty hard to believe much has changed given the general facts on the ground.

Bill B.

Anonymous said...

Not Anon 10:00..

Grits I agree with that statement. Probation has always been nothing more than having to show up, pee in a cup, pay some of your fines, then off you go back to doing whatever you were doing the day before.

Changing behaviors is incredibly difficult in the free world, and unless they get caught, they have no point to reference that they are truly 'in trouble' while on Probation. The immortality complex is alive and well in youth, and that is no more apparent than in the young of this country.

Anonymous said...

So sad, but true - 1255. Much as described in the book "Raped by The State", too many juveniles are intentionally graduated into the adult criminal justice system, rather than be provided with treatment to offset that graduation.

Anonymous said...

Alternative school allows kids to network with other thugs in the city, state schools allows networking with other thugs in the state, all in the name of becoming better thugs. This is a social dynamic given.

I saw on the News last night that the state of Texas is auctioning off very special personalized license plates to raise money. For example plates with the characters COWBOYS. It was kind of fun to walk through scenarios that if I win that auction, and could designate my money to go to tyc, and how it would be spent. You know have tyc kiss on my butt for a while and do what I tell them like in free world prep schools when alumni make large contributions. If I could run our state’s prison prep school for 1 year I know just what I would do to make it less disfunctional. Social workers and politicians have a 120 year track record of miserable failures managing that place, it would be good to have an Engineer who happens to be an alumni show “you people” how to do things.

Yes I make comparison to tyc as a prep school, in fact according to many authorities’ it’s the finest prison prep school in the country, boasting an overall average of 87% of its alumni graduating to TDCJ or other similar institutions. Determinate sentencing is nothing more than a tool to help this process along.

Also let me remind some of you, according to tyc mentality if you are defensive of the material in Raped By The State then you are guilty of its accusations. Hush up playa’s, you might get found out!

Sheldon tyc#47333 II c/s

Anonymous said...

Shelton you continue to present your 87 percent statistic and you have absolutely no data to support it.

Of the youth in TYC 100 percent have committed felonies. Most of these youth are lucky they don't live in other states because they would be automatically certified.

The DSO system is a great system to divert youth from prison. With intensive treatment in TYC, DSO youth are highly successful in the community.

Anonymous said...

You must be on drugs....or brainwashed or simply stupid!

Anonymous said...

very insightful 8:15. thanks. brilliant commentary.

Anonymous said...

Typical TYC bullshoot. Why believe anything put out by this agency.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if the state didn't make it impossible to recieve IV-E funds, non-secure facilities would be better utilized.

Anonymous said...

Any statistics provided by TYC is probably altered to show what the agency wants the public to see. More reforms and truth from TYC?

Anonymous said...

Wow. there is much to be said on this string. all this talk about TYC as "incarceration." What is "incarceration?" Is TYC really "incarceration?"

I know there are many who think that TYC as a whole is a complete failure but there are programs that require youth to demonstrate increased behavioral control, progress in vocational/academics, and to participate in intensive treatment programs. In fact, many youth in TYC refuse to participate in such an intensive and demanding program and seek to be transferred to the adult system where they can just count the days.

I really tire of the blanket discussion of "TYC." Each institution is different. All the institutions are changing. Some institutions should be shut down and others are progressing in spite of TYC "reforms."

I really think that it is too early to call the reforms in Texas a success. I hope they are but really the lowering of the age of majority in TYC and the change to felonies only in TYC really has only resulted in more felons and more youth who end up in the TDCJ system. They just bypass TYC for a few months on adult probation. Lets hold off on the accolades for now and see where we are in 5 years.