Wednesday, September 19, 2012

State Auditor critiques TDCJ oversight of diversion grants to local probation departments

The State Auditor has issued a report (pdf) critical of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Community Justice Assistance Division (TDCJ-CJAD), which oversees local probation departments. From the summary:
The Division also should improve its financial and program monitoring to ensure that local departments spend funds from Diversion Programs grants as intended. Specifically:

- Financial Monitoring. The Division's financial monitoring of local departments relies primarily on reviewing the reports from audits of financial statements and compliance-related information that external auditors conduct at local departments. However, the Division's guidance and checklist for those audits do not contain sufficient detail. In addition, the Division does not consistently review the reports from those audits in a timely manner or follow up to determine whether local departments correct issues identified in those audits.

- Program Monitoring. The Division conducts its own program monitoring at local departments. Its program monitoring includes reviewing local departments' compliance with special grant conditions. However, the Division does not determine whether local departments' performance output and outcome reports are accurate, and it does not have an adequate risk assessment to select local departments at which to perform program monitoring.

The Division also should improve its monitoring of available funds to ensure that it maximizes the use of Diversion Program grants.
One particular criticism that Grits has heard before from local probation directors found that: “the Division did not inform all local departments of all evaluation criteria before the local departments submitted their community justice plans. The Division’s instructions to the local departments did not specify the evaluation criteria the Division would use. The State of Texas Contract Management Guide states that 'the solicitation document must advise the respondents how a proposal will be evaluated.'”

Another issue was that TDCJ-CJAD cannot confirm the validity of data reported by local probation departments that's used to determine grant funding:
Program output data in the Actual Program Outputs (APO) system and offender-level data in the Intermediate System (ISYS) that the Division uses to make Diversion Program grant funding decisions may not be accurate.

The local departments enter annual performance data into the APO system. They also enter offender-level data into case management systems, and that data is subsequently transmitted to ISYS. The Division also receives data on monthly offender totals from the local departments and enters that data into a database. The Division compiles the data from those three sources and then uses it to score local departments’ community justice plans and make funding decisions. However, data in the APO system and ISYS may not be accurate. For example, the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department explained to auditors that the data on outputs that it submitted to the APO system was inflated, and the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department could not provide support for totals it had entered into the APO system. Division management also stated that offender-level data in ISYS was not accurate.

If the Division does not ensure that data from those sources is accurate, that increases the risk that funding decisions could be based on inaccurate data and that funding may not meets the needs of local departments.
Yet another criticism highlighted a problem Grits has frequently complained about related to these diversion grants: "The Division does not have a schedule of sanctions that it can impose on local departments for noncompliance with the terms of their Diversion Program grant agreements." The agency promised that by January 2013 it would put in place a "system of graduated sanctions" for non-compliant departments.

To be fair, there's an extent to which TDCJ-CJAD doesn't have the staff or resources to provide more aggressive oversight of diversion grants or local probation departments generally. In an unrelated story out today in the Houston Chronicle, "Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said funding cuts have hurt the division's ability to prevent a situation like that of Harris County, noting the agency's staff has fallen from 116 in fiscal year 1998 to 74 as of last November."

TDCJ-CJAD agreed with the state auditor's recommendations, most of them predicting compliance on relatively short timelines, but it's questionable whether the division has sufficient resources to effectively implement them all. TDCJ has always treated probation as a red-headed stepchild, even though far more offenders (three times as many, in fact) are supervised on probation than in prison. TDCJ and the Legislature both consistently prioritize keeping prisons open over strengthening community supervision programs, then everyone wonders why CJAD doesn't perform more aggressive monitoring with 36% fewer employees than they had in 1998. So while I agree with much of what's in the auditor's report, I also recognize that TDCJ-CJAD finds itself between a rock and a budgetary hard place. Oversight of diversion programming should improve, but it can scarcely do so if legislative budget writers and TDCJ administrators don't give them the resources to do so.


Steve said...

There is a large amount of information to chew on in State Auditor's report. One of the disturbing requirements is that CJAD is supposed to "Cease making one-time grants for the purpose of avoiding the requirement to return unused Diversion Program grant funds to the State’s General Revenue Fund." In 2004, we received one of these grants that helped us start our Drug Court. We just received another one of these grants that will fund a research project by Texas Tech to see if our Drug and DWI Courts are effective. In my humble opinion, CJAD has used those one time grants very effectively, and I would hate to see the funds go into the black hole of the General Revenue Fund.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with my friend Steve. Our department received a research grant this year as well. It will be utilized to look at how we, as a department, can better utilize our staffing patterns and reorganize programs to make them more effective in keeping offenders out of the CJ system. Declining CJAD staff numbers have forced the agency to consolidate many responsibilities, which ultimately results in some projects being put on the back burner.

Anonymous said...

Scott Who???

Jim Stott said...

I agree with my friend Steve. Our department received a research grant and will use it to determine the effectiveness of our department programs and staffing structure. The SAO report is right, but it is not because of willful neglect. It's because of a lack of staff..

Anonymous said...

Just like most state agencies with "oversight" over other agencies, CJAD does not have the infrastructure to monitor the way the SAO recommends. Hell, CSCDs don't have the infrastructure to accomplish what they are requested to accomplish. Further, inflated numbers and the like on Actual Program Outputs, CJAD has been accepting reports from CSCDs on the "honor system" for years.

The bottom line is CJAD is understaffed (they don't have control over CSCDs anyway), CSCDs are understaffed and underpaid, and the bureacratic grind will continue.

Another bottom line, lots of people supervised by Adult Probation Departments stop non law-abiding behavior, because of the hard work by Officers. I'm sure many disagree with that statement, but its true.