Friday, July 02, 2010

Parole, reentry, and cutting corrections costs

A few tidbits on parole stood out from my notes from Wednesday's meeting of the Texas House Corrections Committee on prisoner reentry ...

Parole board chair Rissie Owens thanked the committee for additional treatment beds and told them they were responsible for an uptick in parole rates, which is up to 31% this year, she said, and which would be (just barely) the highest rate in recent memory if it's sustained for the rest of the year. In particular, she noted, waiting lists for in-prison treatment beds have been eliminated and there's no lag time when a prisoner is told they'll be released upon completion of required programming.

We talk a lot on this blog about best-practice reforms on the probation side, but I was pleased to learn that the parole board has applied to participate in a technical assistance arrangement with the National Parole Research Center. Before parole, the committee was told, a parole "plan" must be developed, investigated and approved by the department before release. Problems creating the plan were cited as the main reason for delays in release after the parole board had granted approval (followed distantly by subsequent disciplinary violations by the inmate). On average, that process takes 43 days, the committee was told, but in extraordinary cases it can take many months.

Parole not only contributes to the equation regarding inmate population through decisions on releasing prisoners, but also by deciding who to revoke. Owens said that 19,107 parolees were reviewed last year for potential revocation, three-quarters of whom were not revoked. Parole division director Stuart Jenkins described how parole officers now use a "Violation Action Grid" that dictates intermediate sanctions that may include anything from increased reporting or supervision to a stay at an Intermediate Sanctions Facility. There were 7,460 parole revocations in 2009 out of 105,820 offenders supervised, according to the TDCJ's annual statistical report [pdf] - a respectably low ratio of just 7%. One problem facing the department, said Jenkins, is that warrants may be issued by parole officers when violations don't really justify revocation.

Of parolees revoked to prison, the committee was told, 46% committed new crimes, 40% had both a new crime and technical violations, and 14% were technical violations only. All of those revoked for technicals, said Owens, had been through Intermediate Sanctions Facilities at least once and were chronically noncompliant.

Jerry Madden asked about a couple of discrete categories of offenders, questioning in particular whether parole eligible inmates who are eligible for deportation should be prioritized for release. He said there were hundreds of DWI offenders so situated who'd been denied parole. Madden also asked about a promising pilot program he'd authored (HB 3226) to let TDCJ pay for free-world housing for parolees if they're eligible for parole but have no place to go and the cost of paying their rent is less than the cost of incarcerating them in TDCJ. Jenkins said the program had maxxed out at just more than 300 parolees and currently was only being  done for 155, but that providers in all the major counties had agreed to participate.

Chairman McReynolds questioned Owens lightly about low medical parole rates, but you can tell they'll be revisiting the issue when the state begins to talk seriously about budget cuts. The Chairman said his committee had recently visited TDCJ's "cancer wards" and were told that 40% of TDCJ's $800 million healthcare budget was going to pay to care for frail, elderly inmates. That's $320 million to care for a small (but growing) fraction of TDCJ prisoners. As costs for elderly inmates increased, however, the parole board has become less willing to grant medical releases. From their annual report (pdf, p. 23), here are the total number of medical releases over the last several years:
2005: 174
2006: 161
2007: 101
2008: 103
2009: 59
McReynolds said he wanted to talk with Owens going forward into the session about how the Legislature could "help" the parole board increase approval rates for medical parole, saying that caring for frail elderly inmates is a "huge budget driver" for the agency. Owens said that Thomas Leeper - who is a former City Attorney from Huntsville and former Assistant City Attorney in Bryan - heads the three-member review panel in Huntsville that considers medical parole. She added that on July 7 she, Mr. Leeper and TDCJ's medical director will be meeting to discuss the subject. Leeper only joined the board last year, according to the parole board's annual report (pdf), so he can't be blamed for any failures to use medical parole in years past. Perhaps their meeting next week will spark a welcome change in the board's direction on medical parole.

I've been talking about policy changes that could allow the state to close several prisons next year to save money in the budget, but the parole board could accomplish the same task with just a minor uptick in parole rates for nonviolent and low-risk offenders.

UPDATE: Parole attorney Bill Habern emails to say that "In our office we still have clients who have been long approved for parole waiting 9 months and more to even get into sex offender treatment." Fair point: I think mostly the "treatment" discussion on Wednesday revolved around substance abuse.


Anonymous said...

"Of parolees revoked to prison, the committee was told, 46% committed new crimes, 40% had both a new crime and technical violations, and 14% were technical violations only. All of those revoked for technicals, said Owens, had been through Intermediate Sanctions Facilities at least once and were chronically noncompliant."

Chronically non-compliant. That seems to sum up their attitude. Isn't there a song with that title? Maybe a thousand song celebrating that attitude?

Ever wonder why the only cars with the windows rolled down in July are those blaring those types of songs?

Alex S said...

Slightly off-topic, but is there a way to discover the parole rates for each given prison facility? For example, Stevenson Unit has x% of inmates paroled, Connally Unit had y%, etc?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Alex, you can tell the rate for the three member panel that covers a given area. See their annual reports here - the "guidelines" report on the right is the one where you can see data on individual members.

TDCJEX said...


I think you would have to file a open govenment request get a breakdown per unit it would be very intersting . There does not seem to be any on the TDCJ site or the Texas Tribunes site .

You go to BBP site and look at each regoinal board and get a rough idea and see how each one of them votes not much more .

Robert D. Bennett said...


Do you know if the minutes of the meetings are online in either audio or written format?

Robert D. Bennett said...

If they are concerned about overcrowding perhaps they should look into the legislation which made mandatory release into discretionary mandatory release. Isn't that an oxymoron anyway?

sunray's wench said...

The bizarre thing with TDCJ at the moment is that no real treatment or rehab begins until a few weeks before the inmate comes up for parole. In most other agencies, the treatment and rehab begins as soon as the inmate sets foot in the facility - the aim from day 1 is to do as much as possible to stop the inmate from returning to prison upon release. In TDCJ this creates the bottleneck that we see today.

Anonymous said...

Why do voting members make a big deal about visiting inmates up for parole with years and years of incarceration. They nod their heads and exclaim over their clean rehabilitative record and then set them back for another year or two. Why bother?

TDCJEX said...

BPP chairs and commissioners v do on each of the six regional boards do not meet with a prisoner at all the are supposed to read a file prepared by TDCJ's Institutional parole officer (IPO) in that prisoners unit . Whether they do or not is another question . I do not know exactly why they do this .It is not a good way to vote on parole . By law when a person is eligible be for parole or discretionary mandatory supervision (DMS ) It is not known how They are voted on because of the secrecy shrouding BPP there is not any way for the public to know why the voters voted as they did .

Voters are required by law to meet with “victims “ and that person or person can in some circumstances prevent parole and the prisoner will not know it . Because any protest is anonymous this should be unconstitutional as it denies your the right to know about a government action against you ,if they are are npot brave enough to publicly be against parole for some one then they are just cowards hiding behind anonymity to take revenge . Other states do not allow this and there is not any problem .

No one can say why the will set a person of very two years only to say no over and over . It is cruel sa continually set them off for 1 – 5 yeas for the same reason nature of offense is the most commonly given the insufficient time served this could be 15 years into a 20 year sentence for robbery that in any other state would have gotten 5 and parole in 3 . BPP should clearly state why they are not ready and if they do A,B,C,D then they will be released . And make BBP transparent so any one can file a request on how each member voted on any particular prisoner . That will keep the board on the straight and narrow .

It is believed that on some units in particularly female units they deny parole because they depend on S 3 and S 2 trusties to run the damn units so they keep them along as possible despite that person doing all asked of them that is simply not right . There are plenty of people to replace them if they was political will. We could accomplish a lot if we had the political will and it is not just Texas but the whole US . But we have bought a bunch of BS for the past 30 years and now are paying the price and it is getting ugly .

Anonymous said...

Hello out there! How about "Amnesty" for ex-cons who meet the following criteria:
(a) 50+ years of age
(b) served 20 consecutive years in TDC
(c) 5 years (minimum) clean parole
(d) 10+ years left on parole
Now tell me, is this not a damn good idea? Amnesty is from the old wild west days. State Governors would give this to stage coach robbers, train robbers, cattle russlers, horse thieves who would promise to go straight. This can be done today as well. Give 50+ year old ex-cons a clean criminal slate and let them live out their lives in peace. This idea has a lot of positives to it. TX law makers need to think about this.

Anonymous said...

07:43:00 PM
Call me obsessive, but it bugs me when you put your periods in the wrong place.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 1.30 ~ you would still have to look at the inmates on a case by case basis. The criteria you suggest makes sense in a lot of cases, but not where an inmate still poses a potential threat to a portion of society, as we know some still do no matter how old or length of sentence they have served. It would be better to look at the behaviour throughout the whole sentence, and the support structure available to those possible early parolees (or Amnestyees), as well as using your criteria.