Friday, March 11, 2011

Blast from the past: "A sorry mess, indeed"

After I asked someone recently to tell me about "N-Group" prisons, they pointed me to a lengthy, 15-year old story from Texas Monthly by Robert Draper titled, "The Great Texas Prison Mess." I'm not sure I've seen it before but the article is well-named, giving a good perspective on the Ann Richards-era push for "the greatest expansion of prison beds in the history of the free world" and the immediate aftermath. From the lede:
“IT WAS THE STUPIDEST THING THE STATE of Texas has ever done,” Andy Collins said about his crowning achievement, his oversight of the greatest expansion of prison beds in the history of the free world. “The public was absolutely hoodwinked into thinking that the only way the crime problem could ever be solved was prosecution and incarceration. We should’ve been interceding at an earlier age, dealing with these kids before they ever became crooks. But instead, we’re just taking juveniles and feeding them directly into the system. I mean, look who was behind it all. Prosecutors, cops, politicians—all of them with a self-serving agenda.

“And the media,” Collins declared as he leaned over the patio table at his suburban home just north of Houston, delivering the accusation with a martyr’s relish. “The goddam media did as much as anyone to build all those prisons because they fanned the flames of public hysteria. The issue of crime has become entertainment. Turn on the TV. Cops. Rescue 911. That kind of crap.
With 20/20 hindsight, that assessment looks pretty solid. Draper said of the media and politicians of the era, "So eager were they to sate the public’s bloodlust for locking up criminals and throwing away the key that they helped create a climate of hysteria in which corruption could flourish."

When Gov. Ann Richards was elected in 1990, Texas operated fewer than 50,000 prison beds; today we're at 154,000, with most of the expansion authorized during her tenure. Even by 1996, from Draper's perspective, the whole thing seemed problematic. "The dust from the prison expansion has now settled, and we are left with a sorry mess indeed."

32 comments:

Robert Langham said...

Ann Richards? The darling of Texas Liberal Democrats did this? I think you mean it was the evil-but-dopey GW Bush or the mean, lying Clements or maybe even Sarah Palin. SURELY ANN RICHARDS couldn't be responsible!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

This blog gives credit where it's due, amigo. :) Dems also controlled both chambers at the Lege at the time.

I always say, people who try to apply partisan labels to criminal justice issues are kidding themselves; they just don't apply. There's been a bipartisan "tuff on crime" consensus among majority wings of both parties for decades, the same way that for decades both parties nationally supported the Cold War. Grits has mentioned before that Dems author more penalty enhancements at the Lege than Rs, as a general rule.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

By contrast, Robert, think "What would Ronald Reagan do about too-high prison costs?" :)

Don said...

In Ann Richards'defense, 50% of the beds were earmarked for treatment beds. If memory serves, we were to build 25,000 beds, with 12,500 of them being treatment beds. (SAFPF somehow passes for treatment). Bush defeated Richards before all this was completed, and we quickly started changing the focus from treatment to punishment facilities. The first thing he did was divert 2500 beds from SAFPF to regular prisons. Bush went on a jihad against treatment, and when he finished with Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA)and ordered an assault on public funded treatment centers by the Texas Rangers, we had about 20% of the treatment beds overall that we started his administration with. Hence, it was easy to fill up the prison beds, which we did, and then some. One could argue, and I do, that Ann Richards was not entirely to blame for the great incarceration boom.

Steve said...

I worked at TDCJ in those days, and it was a unique experience. Ann Richards understood the need for substance abuse treatment, and she pushed hard for it. Unfortunately, she was also blinded by her loyalty to her 12-Step friends (e.g., at the old TCADA), and there were some incompetent people placed in positions of responsibility for the SAFP and IPTC programs. I remember we had a SAFPF at an N-Group facility for a brief period of time and it was a nasty joke. It was a warehouse to pile people on top of one another, and there was no room for programs (group counseling, etc.). Does anyone remember that an N-Group facility in Groesbeck was burned by the inmates? Thanks for a trip down memory lane

Anonymous said...

I agree with Don concerning Ann Richards defense. I remember the facts concerning the rest of his comments differently.

Retired 2004

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hell Don, even I agree that "Ann Richards was not entirely to blame for the great incarceration boom."

But she was a willing and enthusiastic accomplice, and used it in her failed re-election campaign to boast she was tuff-on-crime. Her defenders will always defend her, but it was a "sorry mess" and a sorry legacy.

edbarb1 said...

Would somebody please explain to me how it can be said that Texas or any other state relies too much on incarceration? At the end of 2009 Texas had 171,249 people in prison and 531,274 on COMMUNITY SUPERVISION or so called "alternatives to incarceration."

Nation-wide the numbers are 1,613,740 in prison and 5,023,275 on community supervision. Lets stop jumping to the answers and start asking the right questions.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

edbarb1, one in 22 Texas adults are in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole, and the United States has 5% of the planet's population but 25% of its prisoners.

When will it be enough for you?

edbarb1 said...

It's not a matter of being enough. It's a matter of fixing what's REALLY wrong with the system.

In other countries good record keeping is horrendous. In Panama for instance nobody knows how many people are in prison. They don't distinguish between prison and jail and they don't have community corrections. People who are picked up on let's say shoplifting may languish in jail for years before coming up for trial. Yet I'll bet their incarceration rate is lower than ours . SO WHAT?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So what, edbarb1? So our GOP Governor and the House Appropriations Committee say the state must cut nearly $800 million from TDCJ's budget. Most of the agency's budget is spent on prisons, but as you point out, most of the people they're supervising are on probation or parole. If not cutting prison spending, how do you suggest they cut that amount?

Don said...

10:27- The numbers I used are a matter of record. Some of the comments reflected my perception of what was going on, and that was from the perspective of an LCDC. Whatever you are retired from probably explains the difference in perceptions.

Don said...

Steve, Bob Bullock was also one of Richards' "12 step friends". He was none too keen on the "12 step friends" at TCADA, apparently. He helped GWB close the TCADA funded treatment centers, and put TCADA in conservatorship. The incompetent people at TCADA, actually some were downright corrupt, were the impetus for the assault, granted. But, it was a few people, not all of them. If you recall, when the dust cleared, the vast majority of the accusations against the treatment centers they defunded turned out to be false. Ben Bynum, the ED of TCADA appointed by Richards, toward the end of her term, was the first casualty, even though he had nothing to do with the corruption. Hadn't been there long enough.

Don said...

Also 10:27: If I were gonna disagree with you, I'd at least tell you what it was I disagreed with.

edbarb1 said...

Since the VAST majority of offenders in Texas as well as in the nation are in the community, this is where the greatest and potentially dangerous crowding is. Probation/Parole officers handle caseloads of 200+. Many probation cases are banked meaning they receive little to no supervision. Unsupervised probation costs next to nothing. To provide these cases with the intermediate sanctions, enhanced supervision, etc they need will INCREASE costs. Again...SO WHAT. Is NOT supervising felons better than closely monitoring them simply because the former is cheaper than the latter. Public safety should not be a matter of COST but of VALUE.

Anonymous said...

Don: Steve's remarks concerning TCADA and some incompetent personnel placements are spot on.
An LCDC would certainly not have the perspective I have (or had).

I recall standing outside one of the West Texas, about to be completed SAFPF's, viewing all the concrete and open space. I commented that there was a lot of concrete and open space.I was between a member of the Governor's staff and a TCADA person. The TCADA person stated, "Yes, it is much bigger than the drawing".

The Governor's Staff member asked me about my thoughts on security and the facility configuration. I responded, "God help us if the Facilities mission changed from a TC mission to a regular prison". I was quickly informed that would not happen! It happened even before all the units were completed!
The TC concept was working at some of the units then the program was shortened and manipulated to the extent it could not properly function.

The "N-Group" Facilities should be noted as a very, very dark chapter in TDC/TDCJ history.

Retired 2004

Don said...

Ret. 2004 --"I responded, "God help us if the Facilities mission changed from a TC mission to a regular prison". I was quickly informed that would not happen! It happened even before all the units were completed."

Yes. That's exactly what I said. I had two of them, Brownfield and Plainview, within 75 miles of where I live. It started happening when Bush got elected. TCADA certainly didn't do that. I still don't know what you disagree with me about. You basically just reiterated what I said. Except most LCDC's like the TC better than I do, because that's where most of them had to go to work when the free world treatment centers were closed. I did too, for awhile. But "working", like "success", depends on how you define those terms.

Don said...

By the way, 2004, which one told you it wouldn't happen? The TCADA person, or the governor's person?

Anonymous said...

Don: You blamed Bush and a Ranger assault. I disagree. my observations conclude TCADA "bad apples and/or p... poor managers, politicians/TDCJ Board members and a (then) newly appointed Director or two in TDCJ.

In answer to your second question: The Gov". BTW; the units were at the cities you mentioned. We flew over one and visited the other one.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Texas screwed up the idea of the TC from the get-go. Ann Richards had the right idea from a treatment standpoint, but Texas is just too big to make it happen right.

In the early days of SAFPF, Probation Officers were encouraged to get an LCDC as if that was going to make a difference. POs are POs, they don't want an LCDC. Furher CJAD wasn't going to assist with funding to maintain the license.

In the early days of SAFPF, CJAD would train what they called the Specialized Officer (SAFPF Officer) that the defendants leaving SAFPF would be "on fire" for recovery. They also wanted those in the professional community (counselors and officers) to believe many of the offenders would get sober, become LCDCs themselves, and then would go work at the SAFPF and we would all be "trudging the road" together. Offenders were getting LCDC credit while they were in prison. That is way too soon to prepare someone to get out there in the real world to provide services.

I remember all this, was part of all this, thought it was a joke then, and still think that is a joke that TCADA and CJAD really believed they could hoodwink the PO to believe all that crap. Then, the TTC would be located somewhere far far away from the offender's residence with the charge of the TTC being to assist the offender to transition back into his community.

Not all the TCADA persons and all the LCDCs out there were corrupt but they sure weren't equipped to manage the level of funding they received. They deserve what they got in return.

But, we still have what we call SAFPF. Nowhere near what it was or what it could have been. In its earliest days, the treatment personnel never could get along with the corrections staff at the SAFPF, the TTC staff never got along with the PO, etc., etc. Now, it is so diluted that it makes me want to puke.

Having said all that, it is true that every now and then, a SAFPF client does get sober and become productive. However, it is often because of great supervision by a PO after an offender is discharged from the SAFPF, not because of anything they learned at SAFPF.

Don said...

Ret: 2004 I still blame Bush for a lot of it, overkill on the treatment centers and shifting the focus back to punishment. I never disputed bad apples and incompetent managers at TCADA. Some of the accusations toward the treatment centers were true too, just not most of them. The Texas Rangers auditors recouped about $1 million of supposedly misapplied or embezzled money, not even enough to pay for the investigations. Bush, Bullock, and John Montford were promising at least $30 million.
We're still not disagreeing much, especially for an old school CD counselor and an old TDCJ guy. They just never got along very well. I worked for TDCJ for several years, counseling for probation departments and for the Formby unit in Plainview. We had a lot of philosophical differences.
7:32-- I remember all of that, too. That's the way it went down. Only thing I might question is that it was Texas that screwed up the TC concept. For substance disorders, it was (is)screwed up all by itself. Might be a good behavior modification concept, but like you, I just saw an occasional few stay clean and sober. And that was in spite of their stay at SAFPF, not because of it. I had clients that went to SAFPF and came back a year later. Most were just angry. I think I had about 5 that I feel like stayed sober. Out of over 100. To be fair, most of them went to Wheeler, and there were better units.
Why would you lump all the LCDC's together with all the TCADA people?
That hardly seems fair. About 99.9% of us didn't have anything to do with the crap we're talking about.

Anonymous said...

"...people who try to apply partisan labels to criminal justice issues are kidding themselves; they just don't apply."

Nowadays it is hard not to separate partisan labels, especially when money doled out is by politicians. My take is that Reps have a privatization - for profit - agenda which clouds all policy decisions.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to lump all LCDCs together with TCADA. True, that isn't fair. Just like any profession, most LCDCs are good people and there are only a few bad ones. The bad ones definitely dont' last long. The LCDC who endured all the bs re: early SAFPF days and is still working in the system deserves huge pat on the back.

LCDCs never get the credit they deserve but on the other hand when it comes to criminal justice, many stay ignorant about the realities of the CJ system. Instead of trying to learn how the process works from arrest to conviction, many tend to want CJ professionals to think like a counselor, which will never happen. It is so difficult to find that "happy medium". I'm not stating LCDC should step out of their scope of practice but they definitely should learn the system employing them instead of having unrealistic expectations of other professionals.

Don said...

10:32 Right on. You nailed it, and I was arrogant and headstrong, so it took me about 20 years to learn that. I went through a lot of jobs, I thought because I stayed true to principles, and wouldn't compromise ethics. I was reminded many times that CJ signed my paycheck, to which I replied "what is it about I don't give a f--- that you don't understand?" But, all in all, it ended up just like you said. Good ones and bad ones--in every profession. I still think CJ needs some very serious industrial strength fixing. The counseling world is in the same boat, though.

Anonymous said...

In 1990-1991 the homicide rate in America peaked 1t about 19 per 100,000. In Texas the homicide rate reached 14 per 100,000. Convicts in Texas could expect to actually do one-tenth of their sentence.
So we expanded prison capacity and the homicide rate decreased.
Yes, we over incarcerate, and yes we should find alternatives to the "war on drugs," but I am not persuaded that building more prisons was the wrong choice.

edbarb1 said...

@ Anonymous: You're asking the right questions such as: How many of the murders in Texas or the nation, as well as all other crimes, were committed by convicts?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

edbarb/6:49, you realize I suppose that murderers have among the lowest recidivism rates? (See here, e.g..) In reality, murder rates declined MORE over the last two decades in states that incarcerated LESS. But don't let any facts get in the way of your opinions!

Long sentences for murderers are a lot more about punishment, and possibly deterrence, than protecting the public from the locked up killers themselves, who for the most part are relatively unlikely to reoffend. Those are legitimate reasons for punishment, but the flip side is it doesn't improve public safety, plus we can't afford either more prisons or the resultant drag on the economy.

That said, since 6:49 agrees "Yes, we over incarcerate, and yes we should find alternatives to the 'war on drugs,'" within that realm of agreement you could scale back the prison system a lot without ever reaching the issue of when to let out violent felons.

edbarb1 said...

@Gritsforbreakfast. The facts are that incarcerated individuals DO NOT menace the public. THAT's the only things prisons CAN do effectively. Should they provide programs/treatment? YES. But an inmate coming out of prison then arrested for another crime should not be able to shift responsibility by saying "It's not my fault. 'They' didn't rehabilitate me!"

During my 27 years in corrections we provided inmates with drug treatment, job training, GED, college, etc. etc. I would tell them that I wouldn't take credit for their success after release nor would I accept responsibility for their failures.

You can't reform the system with an anti (or for that matter pro) incarceration strategy. When crime rates were rising we were told that incarceration wasn't working. When crime rates fell we were told that so much incarceration was unnecessary.

The problem is that whenever someone expresses a view contrary to the "we rely to much on incarceration" mentality they're automatically branded as being of the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality. That's why we cannot establish a dialogue and move forward beyond the cliches.

If you want a complete look at my views please read one of my articles. This, by the way, was awarded the Scholarship in Corrections award by Sam Houston State University in 1997.

http://nicic.gov/library/period230

Gritsforbreakfast said...

edbarb, you're tossing out red herrings, arguing against things no one has said here.

If you want to distinguish between people who should and shouldn't be incarcerated, we're on the same page. Nobody here, at least not me, is arguing that we don't need prisons or that there aren't dangerous people out there. But judging only by what you've written in various Grits comments (I don't have time to read your oeuvre from 1995), you tend to conflate various types of offenders instead of distinguish them, which I don't always find constructive. Budgets are forcing the question: it's no longer a question of "should" incarceration rates be lowered but "how."

edbarb1 said...

@ Gritsforbreakfast: It isn't about what no one has said. It's about the wrongheadedness of the whole premise for reform namely, we have to incarcerate less. An equally flawed premise is that we have to incarcerate more. During the current healthcare debate at no time has anyone said that the reason for reforming healthcare is because we put too many or too few people in hospitals. At some point, hospitalization may enter the equation when comparing costs, etc but it's not the premise of the argument. Why? Because everyone knows that hospitalization in and of itself is neither good nor bad but appropriate or inappropriate for providing health services within the system of care.

I'm making the same argument about incarceration. It, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad but appropriate or not within the criminal justice system. Every argument for reforming the system seems to focus on prison/incarceration reform. This makes about as much sense as saying we need to reform healthcare by focusing on hospital/hospitalization reform. The issue is much broader than that.

We've had prison reform for hundreds of years. The American Penitentiary was invented in order to reform the prison system of that time. People were supposed to do penance instead of just being punished.

So I don't think the system needs to be reformed, it needs to be TRANSFORMED. How and why to do that are subjects of just about all the stuff I've published.

Anonymous said...

First, no county,country or civilization has ever built their way out of a prison over crowding issue. When you build it you take huge amounts of funds better used for other needed services.

But revisiting the whole Andy Collins era and have him play like it the media. Did the media sell us Israeli razor wire...no! Did the media hook the state with a con man and the wonderful meat-like VitaPro? No! Prison were huge big time business and Collins and his little group ran around like rock stars, they got all caught up in themselves and forgot what they were suppose to be doing.

Let's hope some lessons were learned! Because the dean of the Senate's Chief of staff was one of those rock stars!
Let's hope he remembers the arrogant attitudes from the "rock star" days....and listens to the people on the front line that can offer good constructive suggestions.

edbarb1 said...

One last comment. The whole premise for reform is wrong. It shouldn't be about building more or fewer prisons-becoming meaner and harsher or kinder and gentler on criminals.

In the current healthcare debate we never hear that what's wrong with healthcare is that we're building too many or too few hospitals-overrelience on hospitalization, etc. The issue of hospitals and hospitalization may come up at some point during the discussion for certain considerations. But it's not the focus or premise of the issue. Why? Because we all know, or should know, that hospitals are just one part of the healthcare system. Hospitalization in and of itself is neither good nor bad but appropriate or inappropriate in health service delivery.

It's the same thing with prisons. Imprisonment in and of itself is neither good nor bad. To say that we rely too much on incarceration implies that we should rely more on something else namely "alternatives to incarceration." Since we already have more that 70% of our correctional population in "alternatives" (community supervision)--mission accomplished! You might say we should raise it to 80% (which some states already have) but the results will be the same. A system in which the VAST majority of offenders are not in prison but on community supervision.

Shifting bodies around is not the radical change that's needed. We don't need to REFORM the system. We need to TRANSFORM it. Why and how to do this has been the subject of just about all the stuff I've published.