During Texas' most recent legislative session, policy-makers passed various smart-on-crime policies that will benefit the lives of countless Texans.The latter two bills give probationers and state jail inmates credit toward completion of their sentences for participation in various treatment and work programs, payment of court fees and restitution, etc.. State jail felons could see their sentences reduced up to 20%, while probationers may more quickly reach the point where judges can authorize their early release from probation. The new programs aim to give offenders incentive to participate in programming and comply with probation conditions. That should also allow the state to focus limited supervision resources on offenders who aren't actively pursuing rehabilitative goals. These types of "diligent participation" or "earned time" credits have been used in other states more aggressively but in Texas have atrophied in recent years from disuse. Only time will tell whether judges use the tools in the legislation or ignore their new authority.
Below, we have provided links to 3 new "How To" Briefs we created to help practitioners implement 3 of these critical bills. Please click on the links to download a PDF version of each:
SB 1055 is a smart idea that will take a while to implement, but which ultimately provides financial incentives to local probation departments that could substantially reduce incarceration levels at the Department of Criminal Justice. The bill allows (but does not require) probation departments to create "Commitment Reduction Plans" which sets a concrete target amount by which the county will reduce the number of people sent to TDCJ compared to the previous fiscal year. In return, TDCJ would award the county a lump sum equal to 35% of the savings to the agency from reduced commitments, and establishes further incentives for reducing new crimes, increasing restitution payments, and encouraging gainful employment among probationers. Accoding to TCJC:
Supplemental funds may be used "to provide any program or service that a department is authorized to provide under other law, including implementing, administering, and supporti ng evidence-based community supervision strategies, electronic monitoring, substance abuse and mental health counseling and treatment, specialized community supervision caseloads, intermediate sanctions, victims’ services, restitution collection, short-term incarcerati on in county jails, specialized courts, pretrial services and intervention programs, and work release and day reporting centers.” This money is in addition to any per-capita or formula funding for CSCDs [local probation departments].Actually sharing savings from reduced incarceration with local probation departments realigns CSCDs' incentives in positive ways, discouraging probation revocation for less serious cases while giving departments more resources to manage probationers. Formula funding for probation departments is much lower than the per-offenders savings from reduced incarceration, so there's a real incentive for CSCDs that create Commitment Reduction Plans to manage less serious offenders in the community instead of turning to revocation at the first opportunity.
If probation departments fail to meet their goals for commitment reduction, they must return a prorated portion of the extra money they received at the end of the fiscal year.
In the past, the state gave grants to probation departments with the goal of encouraging reduction in revocations for technical probation violations. But that carrot was never accompanied by a stick, and departments that ignored revocation-reduction goals - notably Bexar and Collin, among larger counties - essentially faced no consequences. SB 1055 includes stronger mechanisms for holding departments accountable, as well as more lucrative incentives for meeting stated goals.
That said, it will be a while before we see the effects from SB 1055. Commitment reduction plans must be submitted within 60 days after the end of the gubernatorial veto period, but no CSCDs submitted a plan before the deadline in August. That means the first functional Commitment Reduction Plans - assuming CSCDs embrace the idea - won't be submitted or approved until two years from now. So the bill represents a long-term strategy, not something that offers short-term relief for the essentially chock-full prison system. But moving forward, sharing savings from reduced incarceration with local probation departments offers a promising strategy for restructuring incentives in ways that lower incarceration levels instead of maximize them. These are incremental changes, but positive ones.