Just to say it, and surely TDCJ's auditors must know this, but not every probation violation merits ending up "behind bars" and it's disingenuous to tell the press otherwise. That's also the problem with the judges' complaints as publicly quoted. There may have been one felony DWI that was egregiously mishandled, at least in part due to large caseloads and understaffing. But that doesn't mean POs should file revocation papers every time they get a dirty UA on probationers of any stripe. You could fill up the jails and the prisons pretty quickly that way with little public safety bang for the buck.
Humorously (to me, anyway), in a moment of self-reflection, a lengthy DMN editorial published yesterday framed the issue in terms of media criticism:
Tempting though it may be, don’t think you know everything there is to know about our local criminal justice system from what you see on TV or read in Dallas Morning News crime stories.Good to see that Noyes appears so sanguine. We'll see what the audit says. Grits hopes they suggest progressive-sanctions approaches Dallas CSCD and the judges could take as opposed to automatic arrest or revocation.
Oh, you get a lot, no question. This newspaper, especially, does an exceptional job of informing you about the whats and whys of high-profile slayings, high-dollar frauds and other crimes of urgent community interest, like serial rapes.
Yet these crimes, however newsworthy, are only the very tiptop of the crime iceberg in North Texas. Beneath the surface is the bulk of all other offenses, many of which are certainly against the law but not serious enough to keep the perpetrator in jail very long. Simply, the system would collapse under its own weight if we tried to keep every miscreant locked up, key thrown away, no matter how deserving the lawbreaker might seem.
Which leads us to the probation system. In Dallas County, it falls under the Community Supervision and Corrections Department. On a given day, its 450 probation officers are responsible for 53,000 to 55,000 people under obligation to the state but free on the streets. Simple math tells you that each officer, on average, has far more than 100 active files.
Some probationers are otherwise law-abiding folks who made a mistake; they are far less trouble to supervise. Others are varying degrees of addicts or criminal hard cases, who, by design or happenstance, make everyone’s lives more difficult, in jail or out.
Expending a greater percentage of resources on the latter group is among the many transitional changes underway at the probation department. Recent news accounts exposed significant anecdotal problems in the management of some probationers, especially those with drug or alcohol problems. Felony court judges, led by state District Judge Tracy Holmes, were alarmed and said so.
Michael Noyes, who heads the county probation department, does not disagree. In fact, he says he welcomes an ongoing state audit of his department, hoping it will point to areas of systemic improvement achieved or needed. One reason he has been remarkably nondefensive is because he started implementing changes long before bad news hit the newspaper.
Many of the problems, he notes, are not new. One employee was fired, others were reprimanded. Some issues demand heightened training, which has begun. Other problems will benefit from smarter allocation of resources.