One proposal in the House would have cut about 22 percent from the department's budget during the next two years. That likely would kill the six diversion court programs along with the department's specialized caseloads.
It also would mean probation officers wouldn't have much time for fieldwork like checking on interlock devices for DWI offenders, curfew checks and keeping tabs on sex offenders on probation. The average caseload of 130 offenders would rise to about 165, according to a February department report on the impact of proposed cuts.
The report stated that under an initial Senate proposal 12 percent in funding would be cut to local diversion programs, which would allow the department to support five of the six specialized courts.
Department director Javed Syed said that on Thursday the most severe cuts proposed in the House's version had dropped to about 9 percent, which would spare local diversion programs. That hinges on whether the state's Rainy Day Fund will be used, he said.
But even at that level, the department still would have to cut its surveillance team among other things.
Syed, who has met with several legislators about the possible cuts, testified in Austin this month before the Senate Finance Committee about the situation.The judges are absolutely right, and they're not the only ones sending Texas legislators the message that cutting (cheaper) treatment and diversion programs will increase incarceration costs. The question is, are budget writers listening to local judges and probation chiefs or bureaucrats at TDCJ? The recommendations for budget cutting they're getting from those two groups are, for the most part, diametrically opposed.
"If you don't have any supervision, the chances for failure are enormous," Syed said.
One possible way to handle steep cuts and higher caseloads could be group reporting for probationers. "You don't have the time for all the one on one that you really require," said Judy Randolph, the department's deputy director.
The eight local district judges also sent a letter to the committee saying that if funding for the six diversion court programs were to be cut they would be left to send more offenders to prison, who could otherwise have had a chance at rehabilitation.
The added prisoners would end up being a more expensive alternative than keeping the programs, which have proven success rates, according to the judges' letter.