Monday, February 28, 2011

'Prison budget cuts must not lead to more prisoners'

An editorial in the Beaumont Enterprise with the same title as this post IMO makes exactly the right point about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's finalized cuts for the current fiscal year. They're okay with cuts to the food budget, but:
We're not so enthusiastic about additional plans to cut 555 non-guard positions in the state prison system.

Many of those employees are charged with making sure that prisoners don't come back once they are released.

For example, 155 jobs would be cut from Project RIO, which stands for Re-Integration of Offenders. Those employees help inmates make the transition from the tightly controlled world of a prison to the vast challenges and temptations of the outside.

And even though no parole officers will be cut, some of their support staff will. That is going to make it harder for parole officers to do their difficult jobs effectively.

Many prison inmates have poor education or social skills. They often abuse drugs or alcohol, or they may have mental health issues.

If they are simply dumped back into society when their sentences are up without sufficient preparation or oversight, they clearly stand a bigger chance of reoffending and returning to prison.

The Texas prison system was hardly overfunded to begin with. State officials have to be very careful that the immediate savings of these budget cuts don't end up costing Texans far more in the long run.
That's a great point. Though it's good legislators didn't let TDCJ cut more deeply into treatment programming, budgets are an expression of priorities and the priorities expressed in this first round of cuts prioritizes keeping the maximum number of prisons open instead of focusing on reentry and community supervision.

These cuts are just a taste of what's coming. TDCJ has only agreed to close one unit - the Central Unit in Sugar Land, where local developers are salivating to turn the property into a private business park - but otherwise has said it would slash probation, treatment, parole and reentry funding and dangerously reduce its guard-to-inmate ratio before considering closing another one.

Unless legislators propose policy solutions to reduce mass incarceration - and there are a few already out there which Grits will be discussing soon, though not on the scale needed to solve the problem - there's a limit to how many beds the Lege can require TDCJ to cut. If those discussions are occurring, and I'm sure they are, they're not happening yet publicly. At this point in the session, there's little time left for dawdling before TDCJ's regressive priorities become the only option on the table, at the expense of Texas' much-lauded 2007 probation reforms which have drawn national approbation and mimicry.

There is probably political will to cut more deeply into prisons. After all, both the Governor and the filed version of HB 1 would cut nearly $800 million from TDCJ's budget. What's missing is a plan from any key legislative leader so far to counter the agency's Maximum Prisons approach. Texas legislative sessions are short and we're a third of the way through this one. If the only plan on the table for budget reduction says "cut reentry and community supervision first," when push comes to shove that's what'll be implemented. That implies that soon it'll be time for Mssrs Whitmire and Madden, Chairmen of the Senate Criminal Justice and House Corrections Committees, respectively, to reach into their hats looking for rabbits to pull out that let them cut the agency budget but save the diversion programs they've worked so hard to create. Otherwise, the misplaced priorities lamented by the Beaumont Enterprise will be enacted writ large when the much deeper cuts that are surely coming get implemented come September 1, 2011.

RELATED: Six Impossible Things: Do you believe in a conservative, rational and smaller corrections budget?

6 comments:

KatyDid said...

Absolutely!

With an already bad economy, proposed cuts in education, health coverage, and mental health care are GUARANTEED to create more need for prisons.

People without jobs, without quality education, and without access to mental health care are statistically more likely to wind up in prison, after all.

This is all a recipe for disaster.

Anonymous said...

Increased revenue from speeding ticket and drivers license fees, additional money from stepped up drug and asset forfeiture...

Who is going to champion the effort to insure a portion of these funds go to Rehabilitation, Reentry, Mental Health Parole and Community Supervision? Who is going to advocate that a portion of the new revenue pie go toward programs that have a track record of giving Texas a good return on Publis Safety dollars?

There is money out there, the powers that be are making certain of it, we just need somebody at the pie counter at feeding time.

Johnny Exchange said...

Anybody who has been around jails and prisons know that the one 'constant' is that it is a revolving door... the main problem being drug addiction and very little opportunity for housing, job training and employment. Funny... that these are the things that would keep people from getting into trouble to begin with. Texas, like almost all states, needs to wake up and get focused on getting this right! And I say this as a deep-down political conservative.

DeathBreath said...

Are you that stupid? Duh, even Beavis & Butthead would understand that getting tough on crime produces offenders. Where are you going to put them? I know, bring in David Copperfield.

DeathBreath said...

First of all, how do you rehabilitate a person who was never habilitated in the first place? Please, tell me that. A great many TDCJ offenders never sustained responsible initiatives for very long. If they were a nurse, guard, police officer first and then got incarcerated, that would be different.

The reasons for breaking the law are as infinite as the stars in the sky.

Do you think Texas has any rigor & accountability for the projects they start? No, that would take too many competent individuals and cost taxpayers money.

But, let's blame someone. It is painfully obvious that TDCJ cannot police itself as evidenced by the Ruiz lawsuit and subsequent faltering of the agency once released from oversight.

I am sorry, but if you don't invest in human lives, the cost is going to be enormous. You, stupid GOPigs, are avoiding the inevitable. Hopefully, you will be raptured while the rest of us deal with the mess left behind.

jan4him said...

The problem is they are putting too many people in prison that shouldn't be there, and yes release the feeble and sick inmates that are dying, but these people are just going to be more burden to the state, but why don't they release the over 50,000 inmates that are reformed in prison, that have not been in trouble, have met all their education requirements, have a plan for reentry and family waiting for them. If these are released they will be out seeking jobs, providing for their families and paying taxes HELLO? Legislatures wake up? They want to reduce programs that help with successful reentry and just cause more problems in the long run.