- Adult and Juvenile Correctional Population Projections: 2011-2016
- Statewide Criminal Justice Recidivism and Revocation Rates
- Criminal Justice Uniform Cost Report: 2008-2010
Rep. Sylvester Turner would (and did) say the same about LBB's adult population projections because they don't take into account cuts to probation, parole and diversion programs in HB 1. Thus, projections of a slight rise in inmate numbers over the next few years "don't do anything for me," he blithely declared. Whatever his opinion, emphasized data team manager Michelle Connolly, this is the projection the agency will use as a baseline for fiscal notes, budget estimates, etc., based on status quo pre-session laws and practices. Whatever HB 1 (or other options) might do to the budget, she said, are separate calculations and LBB has already been asked to undertake that task.
Turner insisted legislators must "dismiss" LBB projections until they see estimates based on HB 1, and I get what he means: The prison population will go much higher if community supervision funds are cut. But that's what fiscal notes are designed to tell them, these are projections updated every six months which can only base estimates on laws in place at the time. And as a practical matter, they're important because they're the basis for how LBB makes all sorts of other calculations.
Speaking of which, no one brought up the question of fiscal notes, but given these projections - prisons full with demand rising slightly, but much higher if diversion programs are cut - to me a critical question facing LBB is whether criminal penalty enhancements will begin to receive positive fiscal notes. More than 11% of Texas' prison capacity is made up of private prisons, so we pay for every single extra bed. Since beds are fungible across the system, the marginal extra cost of each additional prisoner is not "insignificant," as LBB has always claimed in the past, but equal to the last private bed leased by the agency, which according to the Uniform Cost Report averages $37.47 per day (excluding transportation and offender classification expenses, p. 3). There's no excuse for new felony crimes or felony enhancements to continue to receive fiscal notes calling their cost "insignificant." It's just not true that incarcerating more people is free and LBB's projections in the past in this regard have been more aimed at facilitating political theater - allowing legislators to pass as many enhancements as they want without paying for them in the budget - than giving accurate estimates of what penalty-increase bills cost. That should change.
Beyond that, LBB's projections confirm my sense, expressed in this post the other day, "that the 2007 probation reforms, while a great start, are starting to hit a wall regarding the limits of their effect on the prison population." The question is whether the Lege will double down on investments in strong probation or gut them to keep more prisons open. It's about time they began seriously discussing policy changes that will significantly reduce the inmate population, or else local decisions by prosecutors, judges and juries will trump cuts made on paper by the state: When inmates show up, TDCJ must find somewhere to put them.
There was some talk about how cuts in other parts of the budget might affect the prison population. Livingston said 40-45,000 inmates have serious mental health diagnoses. Cuts to mental health funding - and in the long-term, higher dropout rates in schools (he adduced in response to questioning from Rep. Scott Hochberg) - will likely increase the prison population down the line, Livingston said.
Prison healthcare issues were discussed briefly, with Livingston pointing in particular to rising costs for treating just under 13,000 offenders who are age 55 and above. There was loose talk, nothing too specific, of making medical parole easier for incapacitated or terminally ill inmates, but there's a lot of cost savings to be had from that strategy. In California recently, a federal receiver told state legislators, "You let me unload 1,500 inmates [with high medical expenses], and I'll give you a 30% drop in costs."
On the question of continuing UTMB-Galveston's contract with TDCJ to provide medical services, a move endorsed this week by the Governor in his suggested budget, Livingston said ultimately it's the Legislature's decision whether UTMB provides prison healthcare as part of its "statutory responsibilities." That conforms to everything I've read and heard: UTMB can't unilaterally back out of this shotgun marriage, and I doubt the Lege will let them after the recent state auditor's report, which will almost certainly spur the Lege to reduce their reimbursement rates.
One option for savings LBB suggested will piss off county sheriffs: Waiting longer to pick up paper-ready prisoners from county jails. Currently average time in county is 28 days before heading to TDCJ after an inmate is paper ready, says LBB. Lengthening that average time could save millions at counties' expense while still coming in under the 45 day statutory maximum, after which the state must pay counties. That suggestion was tantamount to whacking a hornet's nest with a stick:
UPDATE: Robert Garrett at the Dallas News has more from the hearing, focusing on detail not included above on the medical parole debate: