Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"How-to" guides detail new reform legislation aimed at de-incarceration

In an email announcement today, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition links to three new "how to" briefs for practitioners on implementation of reform bills passed during the 82nd Texas Legislature:
During Texas' most recent legislative session, policy-makers passed various smart-on-crime policies that will benefit the lives of countless Texans. 

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:
These are useful tools for judges, attorneys, probation professionals, programming providers, and those impacted by criminal justice system.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Grits, most probation departments are on the verge of going broke! Health insurance is eating up our budgets. We still get about $127.40 per defendant for supervising misdemeanor cases and about $1.48 a day for felony cases. That has not changed in over 20 years!!! We are seeing a serious reduction in misdemeanor placements and now with early releases, departments are hurting financially! No department in their right mind will be signing up for the "reduction to prison plan" where we have to return money to the state! Probation will soon be a shell of its former self at this rate! Many rural areas will have to cut programs and staff and be a one man office!

If the legislators want to reduce prison, how about they quit passing thousands of new laws every session!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:19, I agree with you about all the new laws passed, but probation departments aren't blameless, either.

Historically, probation departments had an incentive to maximize the number of people they supervise because they get more money (though not much) for each one on the rolls. That caused CSCDs to resist legislative efforts to let probationers earn their way off supervision through good behavior and contributed to thwarting the goals of de-incarceration reforms.

The Commitment Reduction Plan option creates an opportunity to get more resources even if the number of early releases increase. Yes, there's accountability. You can't set goals then make no effort to meet them, the way Collin and Bexar CSCDs did with their diversion grants. But it's problematic for CSCDs to complain that you have too few resources then make up excuses why you can't take advantage of new opportunities to acquire some.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how legislation, research... continue to miss the single entity that most blatently adheres to failing "TOUGH ON CRIME" sentencing, District Attorney's Offices. District Attorney's follow law enforcement's demand to lock everybody up and promise the public to lock up every criminal they come in contact with. District Attorney's offices singlehandedly contribute to the overutilization of prison bed space by low risk offenders.
Venture to say that less than 3% of the District Attorney's offices will support de-incarceration to any degree.

Anonymous said...

Sorry grits but you are way off on your blaming probation departments. Its probably quite the opposite... probation departments would like to discharge to keep probation caseloads down. It is prosecutors who refuse to play ball. They reject allowing anyone off of probation early. It doesn't sound good to voters. Unless it is a friend, of course.

rodsmith said...

i'm have to agree with grits here!

This is the same problem we've hit with the illegal megan's law regisry!

hard to get anyone to can them when the average profit to the state for each name is somewhere around $12,000 per year!

never mind what the crooks running the private ones are making!

one of the main reason florida is keeping people on theirs 3-5 YEARS AFTER DEATH!

think i'm cracking up. go here!

and read
Are dead sex offenders really dangerous?