Wednesday, April 30, 2014

TPPF in the news: Reducing technical revocations, clarifying recidivism data

A couple of recent Texas Public Policy Foundation reports got good press coverage this week:
Good idea on reducing technical probation revocations
In the report on supervision tech, I particularly liked this suggestion for reducing incarceration based on technical violations of petty absconders:
Currently, there are more than 24,000 felony probation absconders in Texas. While they may succeed for a time in skirting their obligations to report to a probation officer when they are pulled over for a traffic violation or are otherwise apprehended, they will face the prospect of being revoked to prison. At least 35 percent of probationers revoked for technical violations (where there is no allegation of a new offense) were classified as absconders at the time. Based on the 12,287 total technical revocations in 2013, this amounts to at least 4,300 technical revocations associated with absconders, which translates into annual incarceration costs of $79 million, not counting the compounding effect over time as the revocation time served will exceed a year in most cases.

This analysis demonstrates the potential of utilizing GPS to reduce the number of technical revocations. Given that any type of GPS monitoring costs a fraction of the $50.49 per day prison cost,  it is a particularly sensible option for those who were placed on probation for a non-violent offense and have failed to report, but are not assessed as a high risk of re-offending. (Citations omitted.)
Recidivism clarification
In the comments to the Trib story, I offered one minor but important correction. The reporter had written that "Sixty-two percent of all Texas inmates return to prison within three years of their release. But that's not quite right.

Looking at the TPPF report, it says 62% of state jail inmates, not "all Texas inmates" are rearrested within three years, not "return to prison." State jail inmates have the highest recidivism rates of all prisoners, in part because they serve sentences day for day and leave without any post-incarceration supervision.

According to the Legislative Budget Board's latest report on the topic titled "Statewide Criminal Justice Recidivism and Revocation Rates" (pdf), the percentage of Texas prisoners who return to prison after three years was 22.6% for the most recent cohort - far lower than the national average. Among state jail inmates the number returning to prison is slightly higher - 31.1%.

The difference between rearrest and re-incarceration numbers is significant. After all, in Texas you can be arrested for a Class C misdemeanor, so many ex-offenders who are rearrested for minor offenses within three years of release do not actually return to prison.

UPDATE: The Tribune has updated its story to correct the error.


Stott said...

Great idea Scott. However, utilizing GPS versus the more expensive alternative of incarceration is naturally going to require additional funding for CSCD's (if the departments are going to fund the program). Locally, we require the offender to pay for the GPS/Alcohol Monitoring bracelets, which can be quite costly, depending on the vendor. Still cheaper than the $50.00 plus a day to incarcerate someone, it's only considered a success if the offender is compliant with the terms of the program. Some don't pay the fees and the bracelet comes off, some tamper with the bracelet and it reports violations, some cut the bracelet off. All violations, albeit technical ones. This results in additional technical violations, eventually having the CSCD and the courts fed up with dealing with someone who does not want to comply with their technical probation conditions. Then we start locking up people with whom we are pissed. The same scenario can be applied to all of the programs we have had through the years designed to reduce technical revocations. GPS provides us with yet another alternative. As long as we don't consider any of them a solution, I'm certain it will help reduce the numbers.

A technical revocation is not always just because an offender does not report, pay or complete a program, etc. Sometimes they are arrested for a new offense, which never makes it on to the motion to revoke. I believe this happens a lot more than we think. The DA doesn't want to present their case for the new charge during an MTRP hearing, so the new offense is either never alleged, or the offender pleads untrue. Depending on how the department reports that revocation is the key to determining how many of those 12,287 technical revocation were purely technical, or if the offender was arrested for an offense that did not get alleged in the MTRP.

Anonymous said...

In my experience the GPS units leave a LOT to be desired--at least for the offender. Very expensive, as Stott pointed out. Like $500 a month in addition to other probation fees. And I had no confidence in them at all, perhaps because my relative had to use his far from cell service, reports of "tampering", etc are necessarily unreliable. He was scheduled to have his removed and Voila! two days before he was reported as "tampering" and made to keep it on for six more months--nice revenue for somebody. We were actually all in church at the hour he supposedly "tampered" wiwth the unit. Too many bugs in the system.

Probation in Texas appears to need a lot of reform. Too many wanna-be cops as probation officers, a strong bias toward making offenders fail rather than helping them, prohibitive costs for most probationers. I advise folks to do the time if they can rather than fall into the maw of CSCD.

Prison Doc

Will Yablome said...

When I started in corrections in 1976, being on probation meant something. Offenders were expected to do what they agreed to do when placed on probation. When it becomes common knowledge that technical violations never result in revocation(it is already pretty much like that), the few remaining teeth will fall out of probation supervision. I understand the economic dynamics but it is still sad. Yes, I am a grouchy old guy who is out of touch with the reality of today.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Will, the key to making it work is to develop intermediate sanctions with teeth besides just revocation or nothing. Half of all revocations from probation are still for technicals, so it's not the case that it "never" happens. It's just that probation rolls have expanded to become so large that it's unrealistic to revoke as option one.

@Stott, agreed on funding. IMO the state ought to pay for GPS for probationers in most circumstances and pony up for monitoring costs when it's used to avoid revocations. Making the offender pay isn't tenable for most, who are already paying high fees, program costs, etc., and TDCJ would still save money from the cost of sending them to prison for the rest of their term.

@Prison Doc, GPS isn't a cure-all, but then neither is prison. Agreed the tech needs to improve. I've personally witnessed the same thing you have with a probationer accused of going outside of their designated locations because of tech error. They figured it out, though. I think the trick is to limit use to those who really need it - e.g., on absconders for 60-90 days to reinstate good habits - but not ad infinitum. As it currently stands, it doesn't scale up well and departments don't have resources to use it on everybody.

Skifool said...

Grits, just a reminder, not all technicals are of the "spitting on the sidewalk" variety. In the cases of conditions on sex offenders and inmates who commit family violence or murders, there will be "No Contact with Victim or immediate family" conditions placed on them. A violation of this "No Contact" condition is very serious and is considered a "technical" or "administrative" violation because it is not a crime under the Texas Penal Code.

Anonymous said...

Another fine example of TPPF getting it wrong when it comes to criminal justice issues.

GPS devices are NOT for those that abscond. A GPS comes off with a pair of scissors. If the intent is to abscond, a GPS doesn't even slow the offender down. GPS devices work great for probationers that may be high risk, but are likely compliant if they know they are being monitored.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Prison Doc! You are exactly right! The PO's in our county are completely psychopathic, and go as far as telling their clients they will trip them up, set them up, do whatever it takes to throw them back in jail and keep them in the system. THAT'S their job.

Steve said...

Alcohol monitoring (e.g., SCRAM) is about the only "technology" that can be useful, but it is very expensive (around $12/day), especially if the offender makes less than $10/hr. GPS, on the other hand, is one of the biggest wastes of time and money ever invented. GPS doesn't prevent someone from buying drugs (meth dealers are happy to deliver to your door), selling drugs, or engaging in dozens of other crimes. They give the community a false sense of security because they use "space age technology." There are many, many horror stories out there of offenders committing outrageous crimes while hooked up to GPS monitors. Unless you have an active GPS system that is monitored 24-7 (hello increased costs for staff), you don't know there's been a violation until long after it happens. They do not stop a high risk offender who is determined to commit a crime. They may be good for a low risk offender, but why would you waste so many resources on low risk offenders in the first place? The best thing about GPS is that you know the exact time the offender cuts it off and runs.

Yes, there are some "trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em" CSCDs who think treatment is for wusses, , and there are some "hug a thug" CSCDs out there who never revoke anyone, but the vast majority of probation officers genuinely want to protect the community and change the lives of offenders. Sometimes changing the life of an offender is through effective programming, and sometimes it is through putting them behind bars away from the community. A good probation officer knows when each option is appropriate.

Anonymous said...

A technical revocation is not always just because an offender does not report, pay or complete a program, etc. Sometimes they are arrested for a new offense, which never makes it on to the motion to revoke. I believe this happens a lot more than we think. EXACTLY!!

Probation in Texas appears to need a lot of reform. Too many wanna-be cops as probation officers, a strong bias toward making offenders fail rather than helping them, BULLSHIT! Probation officers don't want to be cops. That's rhetoric.

GPS has never been the answer. It is another false sense of security. Texas for damn sure ain't Georgia. SCRAM is also a joke.

The State will never provide the funds necessary to properly employ GPS at at CSCD.

The poor people will be the ones who end up in jail because they can't afford the technology.

There needs to be real study breaking down the technical violations, not just the same old rhetoric about failure to pay, failure to report, and positive urine specimen. There is so much more going on when someone's probation gets revoked. It could be abandonment of an allegation at a Motion to Revoke Hearing. It could be someone who absconded and the date of discharge has passed causing not much else but revocation as an option. It could be freaking data entry error.

Relying on statistics provided by CJAD from 122 CSCDs with different software Vendors populating the data is suspect at best.

I like TPPF, but they got it way wrong this time.

Anonymous said...

Since it will be dramatically reducing jail costs it only makes sense to have the counties pay for the GPS or other device costs. Savings should more than pay for GPS and any other device. IF costs cannot be mandated to be paid by counties then flush this idea down the toilet.

Anonymous said...

So in courts that will require a hearing to ensure due process for a sanction to GPS, Prosecutors still have to agree to GPS rather than prison time?