Perhaps, in a period of fiscal austerity, counties whose revocation numbers keep going up should simply have their "diversion" grant funding eliminated, if they're clearly not diverting many prisoners, anyway. Bexar did report its first reduction in revocations last year since diversion funding began, according to the report, so perhaps one could argue to give them more time to reduce their numbers. But Collin County appears to just take the diversion money then blithely continue to send more people to TDCJ. Why pay them extra for that?
Here are a few other topline observations from the report:
Oddly, Dallas has a larger probation population than Harris County despite a smaller overall population, perhaps because Harris' revocation rates are higher. Probationers in Dallas represent 13.6% of the state total compared to 11.5% for Harris. Tarrant County revokes a greater percentage of its probationers than any other large county, though its annual revocations declined slightly since 2005. Overall, data on how many offenders are monitored, revoked, etc., don't track strictly by population. The differences are explained mostly by county-by-county policy differences among probation departments (CSCDs), DAs, and judges.
Indeed, the proportion of probationers revoked to TDCJ varies quite widely by county. From a chart on page 23 of the report, I calculated these data portraying the percentage of the ten largest departments' direct felony probation caseloads revoked to TDCJ in FY 2010 (both for technical violations and new offenses):
Harris: 11.4%These annual failure rates seem all over the map. If there's a good reason why Tarrant County revokes probationers at 2.8 times the rate of El Paso, I can't identify it offhand. That said, some progress has been made: "comparing FY2005 to FY2010, the [statewide] revocation rate has decreased, falling from 16.4% in FY2005 to 14.7% in FY2010." So the percentages revoked in small and mid-sized counties are obviously even greater than these larger ones. Like Collin County, some of those which have never reduced revocations should probably lose their diversion grants. If they did, everybody else would get a lot more serious about compliance with program goals, and perhaps those recalcitrant counties would change their ways to get those resources back.
El Paso: 4.7%
Notably, the issue of probationers going to prison for technical violations has not yet by any means been resolved. "In FY2010, there were 24,239 felony revocations to TDCJ, of which 48.8% were a result of technical violations community supervision conditions." That's a lot of new faces showing up at TDCJ every year.
Even where revocations have declined, the new diversion funding doesn't seem to explain fully what progress has been made. "In CSCDs receiving additional diversion funding, 48.1% of revocations to TDCJ occurred as a result of a technical violation. For CSCDs not receiving additional diversion funding, 51.1% of revocations to TDCJ were a result of a technical violation." It is true that departments receiving diversion funding were slightly less likely to revoke drug and property offenders, while violent offenders made up a greater proportion of revocations at those agencies. But across the board, whether or not a probation department received diversion funding, consistently the largest category of revocations came from drug offenses.
One issue keeping technical revocations so high is that they're often used for absconders instead of intermediate sanctions facilities, short-term jail stints or other progressive sanctions. "Approximately 40% of offenders revoked to TDCJ for technical violations had absconded in the year prior to revocation." I'd be interested to learn more about how absconders are typically sentenced, and whether there's an additional cohort of them (as I suspect) that received some sort of intermediate sanction: Regrettably, that level of detail didn't make it into the report.
Appendix E helpfully breaks out probation revocations (total and technical) by county. The percentage of probation revocations for technical-violations-only ranged quite literally by county from zero to 100. In two small counties, Hunt and Fayette, 100% of probation revocations (113 and 49, respectively) were for technical violations. At the Milam, Wheeler, and Baylor CSCDs, no revocations were for technical violations only. In the larger counties, the proportion of probation revocations for technical violations was:
Harris: 61.2%These are somewhat disappointing numbers. I'd hoped by now we'd see the number of revocations for technical violations declining much farther in the largest jurisdictions.
El Paso: 47.2%
On the bright side, judges are utilizing early release provisions in state probation statutes (a little) more frequently. "Felony early discharges from community supervision (as provided in Article 42.12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure) have consistently increased statewide since FY2005. Statewide, felony early discharges increased 4.1% from FY2009 to FY2010 and 54.4% from FY2005 to FY2010." Still, we're talking about a relatively small number overall: In FY 2010, just 6,570 probationers statewide earned their way off probation early through good behavior.
One gets the feeling 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. Revocation for technical violations are still more prevalent than they should be and probation revocations remain a too-large source of TDCJ intake. More aggressive use of progressive sanctions - particularly using ISFs or short-term jail stints for absconders whose only violations are technical instead of revoking them to TDCJ - could help bust that nut. But rather than double down on investments in strong probation, the current budget crisis puts even those existing programs at risk.
These data tell me that there's still a great deal of progress to be made reducing TDCJ's population by reducing revoked probationers, relying more heavily on progressive sanctions for those who haven't committed new offenses. But legislators must leverage that potential through their budget and policy decisions during the current session; it won't happen of its own accord.
See related Grits posts:
- Poverty, lack of transportation contribute to probation revocation
- Drug offenders dominate new prisoners from probation revocations
- Bexar, Collin Counties thumb noses at diversion goals
- Revocations down, crime down, caseloads up after probation reform legislation
- Bexar revocations up from not using progressive sanctions
- Rethinking probation as primary punishment
- Incarceration rates headed "straight up" again if Texas cuts diversion programming
- 'Six Impossible Things': Do you believe in a conservative, rational and smaller corrections budget?