Across Texas, defendants ... who are charged with misdemeanor offenses are choosing to spend time in the local lockup rather than endure months on probation. They don’t want to deal with the hassle of probation conditions, and they can’t afford the thousands of dollars in fees that probation requires. People on both sides of the criminal justice system agree the trend is troubling: It means more people with criminal records and overcrowded local jails — and worse, it means that people charged with crimes like driving while intoxicated, possession of small amounts of drugs, and family violence are not getting the treatment they would receive on probation.The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled last year that judges may insist on probation sentences instead of jail time, Grissom reports, but that can result in absurd outcomes since the only available consequence for intentional non-compliance with probation is jail time. Bottom line: Probation conditions are frequently too onerous and fees for misdemeanor probation in particular simply too high, creating a situation where the "rational" decision for a defendant leads to an outcome that's worse for public safety. In such instances, a better result would be for the system to offer more reasonable choices than to expect - against all logic and reason - that defendants will fail to make choices even those running the system believe are "rational" under the circumstances.
This is another example why it'd be folly for TDCJ to slash funding for community supervision while refusing to close its most expensive, older, outdated prison units: Putting the costs of probation on (often indigent) defendants is only viable up to a certain point, and probation conditions in Texas have long ago become so onerous that they're frequently counterproductive. Probation is so much cheaper than incarceration - and so much more likely to lead to rehabilitation when it includes evidence-based programming - that even if the state must pay for programming, it's better for both public safety and the state's bottom line to make community supervision work than to spend ever-more on prisons and jails.