Friday, April 01, 2011

Tinkering with parole release could result in nine-figure budget savings

For the first time this week, legislators began publicly considering legislation that would actually, signficantly reduce the prison population, though by tinkering with parole mechanisms on the back end instead of tackling the overall sentencing structure.

The House Corrections Committee on Monday heard legislation from state Rep. Alma Allen, HB 2352, that along with legislation proposed by state Sen. John Whitmire, would significantly reduce Texas' prison population and reduce caseloads for the parole board by removing one of the grounds for setting off offenders for release on "mandatory supervision." (Watch the hearing here, beginning at the 1:04 mark.) The bill doesn't apply to so-called "3G" or serious, violent offenses, and the parole board could still deny release if they determine that "the inmate's release would endanger the public." According to the Criminal Justice Impact Statement,
Requiring the automatic release of offenders is expected to result in decreased demands upon the correctional resources of the State due to shorter terms of confinement in prison. In fiscal year 2010, 8,594 offenders were discharged from prison and after removing from that group those ineligible for release to mandatory supervision, 5,506 of those offenders would be subject to the provisions of the bill. Of the 5,506 offenders subject to the provisions of the bill, 805 offenders accrued no good time and would still be subject to discharge release leaving 4,701 offenders released to mandatory supervision and serving shorter terms of incarceration (approximately 3.21 years).  It is likely a substantial number of currently incarcerated offenders would be released as a result of the bill but the number would be contingent on the amount of good time accrued and time served by these offenders on the effective date of the bill, and the ability of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to process offenders for release.
Keep in mind, of course, that even if they're "set off" another time or two, most of these folks will be getting out soon, anyway. In fact, if they serve 100% of their time, when they leave there is no state supervision at all upon reentry. About 72,000+ prisoners leave TDCJ each year, about half of them with no community supervision by parole officers at all.

Marc Levin from the Texas Public Policy Foundation pointed out that changing this policy would allow TDCJ to better use its pre-parole programming because it would provide more certainty regarding who would be released when, at least for a certain class of offenders. And since parole board members currently spend about 90 seconds per file before making a decision, Levin said, anything that can reduce their caseload and let them focus on more serious cases makes a lot of sense. Also, he pointed out, the parole board would still set release conditions in all these cases, and suggested using risk-assessment instruments to identify those who may need additional scrutiny by the parole board. Since the law still requires the parole board to consider whether "the inmate's release would endanger the public," perhaps such a risk assessment would be exactly the ticket. (See this related, recent research.)

In any event, going forward this legislation would decrease demand for prison capacity by thousands of prisoners each year (10,000+ annually by the 4th and 5th year) who have not been determined to "endanger the public." Chairman Jerry Madden laid out the legislation in Rep. Allen's absence, declaring that, if the state must reduce its prison population as a result of cuts in HB 1, this is one of the safest ways to do it. The fiscal note says Allen's bill would save $124 million over the next biennium, and much more in the out-years. Combined with Sen. Whitmire's legislation, the two bills would save more than $270 million over the next biennium - much more in the out years. Still not as much as needed to make all the budget numbers work, but a good start, if they'll do it.

27 comments:

Prison Doc said...

Boy this would be a real step forward. Can hardly wait to see how it turns out, seems like so many people prefer "virtual life sentences".

Anonymous said...

So it has come to this. We are going to set criminals free to save a buck. This is going to come back to bite someone in the butt.

Anonymous said...

Grits:

In the video, who was the committee member that asked Rissie Owens if she would be comfortable having the released inmates as her neighbors?

I would like to write that congressman and tell him I would much rather have an inmate who has had the opportunity to go through a pre-release program and then be under parole supervision (as a transitional time) as opposed to having an inmate as a neighbor who has been released from TDCJ after serving flat time, with no transitional support what so ever having been given to him.

Anonymous said...

Debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt, debt.

Deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit.

This is on my mind. What's on yours?

sunray's wench said...

This wont work without a full reform of the BPP - personnel and practices. The BPP could already be approving more inmates for parole, yet they do not.

Soronel Haetir said...

I still find it amazing that TX releases so many prisoners that go directly to no supervision. I have to wonder if that is normal at the state level.

Kathy said...

Someone decifer this for me. My son was just denied his release to mandatory supervision last week. I was told that since they denied him, all his good time credits were taken away and he would be reviewed for parole next year. Will this bill have any impact on him at all, or anyone else who has been denied?

Anonymous said...

Kathy,

You son did not loose his good time credit due to the denial. Now if he lost them due to a disciplinary that is different. The way the BPP does parole it is confusing at best. Now that he has been denied MS, he no longer will be considered for parole, only MS. The way I understand the bill (from reading it and watching the video)it will restore automatic mandatory supervision for inmates that do not have a 3G offense or has not been convicted of: manslaughter, human trafficking, improper relationship between an educator and a student, abandonment or endangerment of a child, deadly conduct, terroristic threat, or tampering with a consumer product. (kinda makes you wonder who decided these exemptions...)

So if your son does not fall under any of these exemptions, it sounds like he would be released to MS.

The bill stayed in committee, I think because they want to consider having it tweaked to include more control over releases as opposed to just a blanket release if the inmate qualifies.

Anonymous said...

EDUCATE INSTEAD OF INCARCERATE!!!

I would rather inmates be release and have that money go towards education. Texas has their priorities all screwed up. Texas in 44th in the nation when it comes to spending money on their kids educations. Most inmates are high school drop outs with an average of a 6th grade education.

IMO this bill is a winner! Release the low level inmates, put them on parole so they have some supervision, and then take the money saved and invest it in our kids education!

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter to me if the lege is talking about a two million or 200 million dollar cut.

We know up here in podunk NE Texas you get get enough drops in the bucket and it will eventually fill up.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:02, it fills up a lot quicker if they have the guts to make the $200 million cuts. Why rely on drops on the bucket when you could just turn on the hose?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Educate not incarcerate and would add treat and not incarcerate. If alcoholics were immediately sent to detox for a reasonable time, they may never have a second DWI - they seem to fear that more than jail - and if they deserve jail time, put them in a rehab center where the time will be beneficial - they have a disease - we should help them treat it. The standard answer when I have pleaded to have a family member sent to detox was:
They have to agree, they are an adult. Well are we having it two ways: If they are intoxicated, how can they make a rational or logical statement. If they can make that decision, perhaps they are not intoxicated. Just another misused issue. I believe Social Security considers alcoholism a disease - what do we consider it?
Please let us help our citizens become healthy productive individuals. Jails were built on a political basis (someone made money from building them - "and they will come" attitude) and now we are paying the price of destroying people who should not be in jail if they are not violent or if they are diseased.

aaron said...

Scott, what the BPP has been doing since 1995 when this statute was last "tweaked" is denying MSR to people without giving any reason at all, except to quote the current two-part statute. They literally give no explanation at all to describe how the amount of good time the offender has earned is not an adequate reflection of his or her potential for rehabilitation, and that their release would endanger the public. Reducing it to just one part will serve no purpose at all, unless they are somehow required to justify how release would endanger the public.

Remember, since 1987, the MSR statute only applies to non-violent offenders. How could the release of, say, a first-time DWI or property offender endanger the public? Yet, they've been using this to deny release to those very people for the last 15 years.

While I understand Rep. Allen's rationale here, this amendment will serve no purpose at all in changing BPP policy.

Anonymous said...

I thought the reason we sent people to prison to begin with was because they are a danger to the public? Here comes the revolving door again! I wonder what the over/under is, Grits, on how long it will be before the next Kenneth McDuff comes along?

Woodsy said...

First of all, the only reason Kenneth McDuff got out was because his family paid a former parole commissioner who had inside connections. Secondly, the mandatory release law in Texas since 1987 makes violent offenders altogether ineligible anyway.

Anonymous said...

The revolving door will shut, guaranteed. California went down this road and I am told the numbers are going to be ugly!

reentryconsultant said...

Reducing the prison population does not guarantee a reduction in the recidivism rate it is short-term and merely kick the can further down the road.

The problem is a complex one and requires a concerted effort to follow evidence based practices in the rehabilitation of the offender population.

The lower crime rates experienced throughout this country is more of a result of changing demographics rather than the lock'em up and throw away the key philosophy which has been followed.

Research is clear in demonstrating the need for the use of practices which addresses the criminalgenic needs of the offender.

Frances

ReentryConsultantOnline.Com

Anonymous said...

The term 'evidence based practice' has lost its meaning. In fact, no one would dare introduce a new concept without first stating that it is evidence based.

Ironically, no one ever produces any evidence.

reentryconsultant said...

I agree that it is an overused phrase so please forgive me. Yet the fact remains that research has supported the need to change the way the criminal justice system is conducting business. It should be quite clear that we cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem. I suggest that you visit reentrypolicy.org for updated information on prisoner reentry.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:59, right now under Rick Perry Texas releases 72,000 inmates per year from prison. How is that not already a "revolving door"?

They can keep the McDuffs of the world inside only if they don't waste all their resources incarcerating nonviolent drug and property offenders, elderly inmates who're unlikely to re-offend, etc.. But if you want mass incarceration for the latter groups, you're right it will squeeze out space needed for dangerous people. That's a big public safety reason why the prison population needs to be lowered. Overuse of incarceration for people who do not pose a danger creates resource scarcity. There comes a point, and Texas has reached it, when you have to choose what and who to prioritize for the most expensive and least rehabilitative brand of supervision.

Anonymous said...

11:18 Grits.

Point well taken but even Rome wasn't built in a day.

Don said...

Anon: 2:19. I don't really know what you mean by "detox" for a reasonable time, but I think you may mean treatment. 1. First and second DWI offenders don't go to prison; those are Class B and Class A misdemeanors, respectfully. Most don't go to county jail either, except for a few hours when they are arrested. 2. Most people who get one DWI are not alcoholics, and you can't "send" them to treatment. The people you quote are right, they have to agree, and they either are not alcoholics, or for sure don't think they are. 3. Now, on 3 or more DWI's, which CAN result in prison, you are right, on all counts. They usually are alcoholics, and they as well as society benefit more from treatment than straight incarceration. (House Bill 1 would cut every program for doing this, if it came to pass.)

Don said...

For any English teachers who read that post, I meant respectively, not respectfully. It's not that I think slowly, it's just that I type rapidly. :)

Anonymous said...

You have to replace the corrupted Parole Board first with all the peachers and christians sitting on it. Now that is a christian for you right there!!!

sunray's wench said...

I think Texas needs to properly define what it means by "danger to the public" before it starts releasing people just because they committed a specific crime.

Anonymous said...

I have a better plan. Let's take every prisoner that has been found guilty of murder, attempted murder, forcible rape, a sex offense against a small child, anyone that is in a gang, or anyone who has been to prison more than once - and put them to death, today.

That will get rid of tens of thousands or the absolute lowest of bottom feeders in our society. This will save money, increase the public safety, and allow the prison system to focus on actually rehabilitating the remaining cons.

sunray's wench said...

11.03 ~ because of course no one who has ever been convicted of murder, attempted murder, been in a gang, or been to prison one other time has EVER been rehabilitated or gone on to do good for their community once released, have they? And of course you would have the statistics to back this up too.