Monday, December 31, 2012

Texas 'state jails' strayed far from their original purpose

State jails have deviated far from their original purposes, reported Mike Ward in the Austin Statesman ("State jails struggle with lack of treatment, rehab programs," Dec. 30), to the point that most people in them aren't actually state jail felons: As of the end of October, "just 11,802 were serving time for state jail offenses. Another 13,530 were regular convicts." (In Texas, "state jail felony" is an official euphemism for what in other states would be a "fourth degree felony.") Moreover, those facilities produce worse outcomes than regular prisons: "Today, Texas’ 20 state jails have a higher recidivism rate than state prisons: 33 percent of state jail felons are convicted of new crimes, compared with 26 percent of regular prisoners. The state jails also have fewer treatment and rehabilitation programs than many of the regular prisons — the opposite of the original goals."

In many ways, wrote Ward, the rise of specialty courts focused on strong probation have made the original state jail concept obsolete: "many of the newly classified 'fourth-degree' felons were diverted to other community-based programs and specialty courts" as local judges became more confident in strong probation methods:
When state jails were established, Jefferson County Judge Larry Gist recalled that courts were supposed to use them in conjunction with community supervision programs or to “get the attention” of a defendant who was resisting a change to a no-crime, no-drugs lifestyle.

Within a few years came the inception of so-called drug courts, which handle only drug cases and tailor treatment and punishment to fit each offender. As more low-level drug offenders went through those courts, which often sentenced them to community supervision and occasional nights in the county jail for violations — fewer judges were interested in sending defendants to a state jail miles away, especially if there might be a better result by handling the case locally.
A sidebar to the story identified the following reform proposals for state jails:
  • Allowing convicts housed in state jails to be paroled, so they could be kept under supervision after they leave state custody, instead of completing their sentence and being released to the street. Currently, they can serve up to two years with no chance for parole and often without any early release time credits that regular prison convicts are eligible for.
  • Restarting intensive drug and alcohol treatment programs that were to be a cornerstone of the state jails but were downsized a few years after they opened and slashed when the state budget was drastically cut in 2003.
  • Require that all prisoners convicted of state jail felonies be sentenced first to community supervision, as was intended when the program was established, rather than allowing judges to send offenders directly to a state jail. Many judges found it too costly to bring offenders back and forth to court from a state jail when they could instead sentence them to local treatment programs paid for in part by the state.
  • Better integrate treatment and rehabilitation programs behind bars with so-called aftercare initiatives, so state jail inmates can return home under supervision that could help reduce the chances of recidivism.
While legislators have been discussing similar reforms for several years, much credit for recent momentum on this score goes to the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Jeanette Moll, who authored a recent public policy report promoting these and similar reforms. See her report and a recent op ed column she wrote for more background on proposals for state jails coming out of that conservative think tank.

See past, related Grits posts:

14 comments:

BarkGrowlBite said...

If anyone believes that the state prison recidivism rate is only 26 percent then I've got a good deal on some beachfront property in Phoenix for them.

The recidivism rates in most states have hovered around 40-50 percent for years. What kind of magic pill has Texas found to come up with that low percentage? Could it be manipulations of statistics like those of NYPD and other police agencies to make themselves look good? Could it be that parole officers are looking the other way?

Something smells rotten the state of Denmark ... err, that is Texas!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BGB, Texas' (relatively) low recidivism rate is mainly because we incarcerate so many more people per capita that the system captures lots more low-risk folks than other states, who in turn are less likely to recidivate. See this past Grits discussion on the subject.

BarkGrowlBite said...

You make a good point Grits, but it is still very unlikely that the Texas prison recidivism rate is as low as 26 percent.

Anonymous said...

Tdc

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, BGB, Oklahoma's recidivism rate is as low as ours, for more or less the same reason.

Steve said...

The stunning statistic in the Legislative Budget Board report from January 2011 (which Jeanette Moll used in her TPPF report) is that state jail offenders had a rearrest rate of more than 64% while offenders who had been to prison had a rearrest rate of about 49%. Something needs to be done, but "something" always involves resources.

rodsmith said...

i have to give grits this one bark. When half the people you lock up were not real criminals to begin with it's no suprise they don't reoffend when released. The only real suprise is most don't run for the nearest border when released.

reddog said...

You cannot mix different custody levels of offenders, say G2s with G4s and expect a good result. As TDCJ tightens its budget noose, it has cut programs that prevent recidivism, such as Project RIO.

Anonymous said...

Community supervision sounds good. Too bad the this population treated probation as a joke when they were offered that opportunity. Some was given several chances at probation, but complying with those terms goes against the prevailing standards of the community they live in.

Treatment sounds good, but the values of treatment are the exact opposite of the values of the hood. Once released, it seems natural to revert to the values of the hood, to those of their friends, family members and gang members. Those earnest treatment professionals and their exhortations soon becomes a dim memory.

Anonymous said...

Community supervision sounds good. Too bad this population treated probation as a joke when they were offered that opportunity. Some was given several chances at probation, but complying with those terms goes against the prevailing standards of the community they live in.

Treatment sounds good, but the values of treatment are the exact opposite of the values of the hood. Once released, it seems natural to revert to the values of the hood, to those of their friends, family members and gang members. Those earnest treatment professionals and their exhortations soon becomes a dim memory.

rodmsith said...

no 8:04 the big problem with probation is what we have not is not real probation but in fact parole.

Once apon a time parole meant you were still serving your prison sentence and were still under control of department of corrections.

probation meant you were released as a probationary citizen You have the same rights and privilages as any other citizen. The only diff was that if within a certain amount of time if you comitted a new crime they could use the probation violation as a way to lock your ass up while investigating the new crime.

There was no visits to the probation office. No fees no tests. You walked out and were done with the govt UNLESS you comitted a new crime.

The current "probation" sytem is setup to pick their pockets and get them back into prison as soon as possible.

The Former United States of America's prison industry sytem is a multi BILLION dollar a year sytem that requies "X" number of bodies to carry out those contracts. If they don't have them they fail and lose billions add in the FACT that crime is at a 60 year low even with all the new so-called civil infraction crimes that now call for prison time...

Phillip Baker said...

Neither the state jail system nor the institutional division of TDCJ really have the programs in place for "rehabilitation" that most people think they do. I am personally familiar with two cases. One young man did two state jail commitments. After release he still had no GED, no job skills, and had never had his serious mental illness treated. By the time he was back home, his mental illness, along with his record, made employment impossible. While untreated and delusional a year ago he got into a fight with a crack dealer and got 20 yrs- aggravated. TDCJ has him back on psych meds, but for how long? The second young man was sentenced to state jail (Actually, the slime DA in the case manipulated him into a plea agreement that allowed the DA to stack the sentences- something forbidden in the law) yet could not receive adequate medical care in a state jail. So he did 6 of his 8 calendar years in "real" prison. And still it required literally daily fights with UTMB's medical staff to get him even adequate care. The head of the UTMB program called him "the poster boy of wasted dollars". He was a 20yo, non-violent, first time offender thief.

As for Project Rio, what a waste of money. The first young man went to learn construction skills.. He was taught how to read a tape measure, proper hammering technique and other worthless skills. Seriously.

Memphis Steve said...

Our entire criminal justice system has lost its way and is in need of major reforms. I hope those reforms come sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

"The current "probation" sytem is setup to pick their pockets and get them back into prison as soon as possible."

That comment simply is not true. Painting probation with a broad brush like that is silly.

Probation does work. Treatment does work. People can and do change.

The problem is the lack of resources.

Talk is cheap.

Give community supervision some funds and then a real difference could be made, but there is stull those District Attorneys and Judges who are clueless about what Probation has to offer.