- Prison-related cuts may cost counties more
- Mental health care may be shifted
- Indigent defense an unfunded mandate
While lawmakers wrangle with which programs and services to cut, State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) has proposed a pair of criminal justice policy bills that could potentially save the state more than half a billion dollars over the next five years.And here are a few notable tidbits from the mental health and indigent defense stories:
A Legislative Budget Board evaluation of HB 1477 and HB 2352, both authored by Allen, indicate the measures could result in an overall savings of more than $608 million by 2016.
Currently, credit for street time is awarded only to those inmates who serve more than half of their probation term. HB 1477 would change the current law on probation by awarding credit to certain inmates for technical parole violations, even if they serve less than half their terms.
This bill would apply only to certain nonviolent offenses and would apply only to technical parole violations, such as missing meetings or leaving the county without permission. The state could potentially save more than $33 million over five years by adopting this measure.
The larger impact would be the passage of HB 2352. By implementing a mandatory supervision program for certain nonviolent offenses — moving those inmates who qualify from a prison to a supervised probation/parole program — the state would have a two-year savings of more than $124 million. Over five years, that figure swells to more than $574 million.
And far from being a controversial partisan move, policy advocates on the left and the right have testified favorably on behalf of the bills.
Marc Levin is the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Forum. He said his group is working with Allen and with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which has been described as a liberal think tank, to make a few small changes, but the main thrust of the bill is sound.
"It's a common sense way to save money without jeopardizing public safety and helps us prioritize our prison space for those who do commit serious offenses."
In addition to saving the state more than $600 million, the bill also would result in an increase in public safety, [Ana Yañez] Correa said.
Rather than denying inmates parole because of an inadequate supervision program, these measures would get more inmates into programs which would help them succeed once outside the system.
"People need the necessary tools to help them live responsibly," she said. "Without those tools, they will be less likely to become contributing members of society."
"State officials hope to save $228 million by trimming the community mental health services budget by about 20 percent, but the measures' cost to counties across the state could be many times that amount."
"A study by Texas A&M University showed that in fiscal year 2010, crisis outpatient treatment cost an estimated $623 per episode. Hospitalization in a state hospital, on the other hand, cost taxpayers an estimated $14,436 per episode."
"In fiscal year 2010, according to the Texas Association of Counties, indigent defense expenditures in Texas came to more than $195 million. State grants covered only $30 million. In 2010, Taylor County provided court-appointed attorneys in 78.4 percent of its felony cases, and 53.6 percent of misdemeanor cases — 2,163 cases in total. 'Since 2001, total indigent defense costs have increased almost 120 percent, and they continue to be a cost driver for county budgets,' [Taylor County Judge Downing] Bolls said."
There's also a juvenile-justice related story in the package:
In 2011 the Taylor County Juvenile Justice Center's budget totaled more than $3.4 million. Although no concrete figures on budget reductions have been issued by the state, county officials predict cuts could be from 11 to 14 percent over the next biennium (2012-13).
"Any changes in the allocations and reimbursements would certainly be felt in Taylor County," said Taylor County Judge Downing Bolls. "Remember, the state is not doing away with these programs, but (possibly) shifting the cost back on the shoulders of local taxpayers."