Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TDCJ's $6.8 billion budget request slants too much toward prisons

Here's a one-page summary (pdf) of Texas Department of Criminal Justice's  Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for FY 2016-17. There's a request for a ten percent employee raise in the exceptional items - which the Lege must specifically approve as extras - but not in the base budget. (Here's the agency's full LAR, which I haven't had time to examine yet.)

The baseline budget for the coming biennium would cost $6.096 billion in general revenue (GR) funds, $6.252 billion total. But there are several items - from pay hikes for staff to prisoner healthcare, With the exceptional items added in, including raises, the GR total would rise to $6.643 billion, and the all-funds total sums up to $6.799 billion. Here' the list of exceptional items, totaling $546.6 million, from the summary:
  • Ten percent pay raise: $235 million
  • Private prison per diems: $7.7 million
  • 250 halfway house beds: 8.8 million
  • 500 DWI treatment slots: $2.9 million
  • Repair and renovation of facilities: $60 million
  • Probation, basic supervision and treatment: $28.1 million
  • Probation, employer portion of health insurance: $11.3 million
  • Offender health care: $174.8 million
  • Reentry initiatives/transitional coordinators: $4 million
  • Mental health initiatives: $6 million
  • Treatment for remaining ISFs: $5.2 million
  • Office of Inspector General: $2.8 million
Notably, many of those exceptional items are really must-haves, particularly offender healthcare and arguably staff raises (TDCJ can't recruit vs. oil field work and many units are chronically understaffed). Heck, I wish they were asking for more re: reentry, mental health and treatment dollars. The agency always short shrifts those aspects of its mission in favor of funding the institutional side, which as you can see would gobble up the overwhelming majority of extra funds under the agency's plan.

But there are other options available to the Lege besides watching TDCJ's budget spiral ever-upward session after session. Just a few, modest updates to the sentencing structure for nonviolent crimes - adjusting property crime levels for inflation and notching low-level drug crimes down by one penalty category - would allow the Legislature to close several more prisons and use the savings to fund staff raises and offender healthcare. TDCJ will never propose that, but it's really what ought to happen.

When you have the chance to make government smaller and cost less, why not take it?


Anonymous said...

TDCJ correctional officer pay is not only lower than the oil field, but now averages way below Texas counties which start off 16% higher than TDCJ.

The legislature should look to reduce drug offenses and place more funding into community based treatment. There is a serious push on both the right and the left to make his happen. If LE unions or the prosecutors object to reforms, the cost of incarceration should come out of their budgets.

Anonymous said...

Right on Crime got this one wrong! Reducing prison beds apparently will NOT save taxpayer dollars, and will NOT reallocate prison bed funds to programs deterring from prison.

BUT apparently closing prisons WILL increase the prison budgets?

May be better off just keep prisons open if prison budgets are going to increase irregardless.

Anonymous said...

The biggest fraud program is that Gateway Program!! Then the Gate way Half-way House in Dallas and Fort Worth. They are nothing more than self-licking ice cream cones! The tax-payers have to constantly put more scoops of ice cream on. The aftercare run by Parole is another big fraud waste. Gateway and Volunteers of America are criminal with the way they spend tax payer’s money and especially considering they provide no services at all. That program consists of people sitting around doing nothing and when they do, do something it is to tell them how awful they are. Nothing is done to prepare them for the outside world. The people running these programs are not smart enough to get them a real job much less assist someone else fined one. The half-way house employees think they are running prison and that is where they should go and work. They threaten the offenders every day with going back to prison, so much for rehabilitation. Parole here in North Texas has done everything to make a parolee lose a job they can do. You have to quit a job to go to all those wasted, fraud against tax-payers meetings or you cause their family members to lose their jobs trying to take them two counties away to these meetings. Parole officers will say get a job but then watch you lose your job to make an aftercare meeting. I see now why no one will hire anyone on parole or probation. The only thing I have seen a parole officer do is threaten to send people back to prison for not making these after care meetings. No help with employment and god forbid if a parolee gets a job they want keep it for all the meetings. This is where millions of dollars are wasted by TDCJ. One can only wonder to the huge amount of bribes and kickbacks these contractors with these substance abusers contracts are giving the Higher ups in the Texas Legislature, TDCJ, and the Parole Board members who are hell bent on you attending these after care programs but are not concern about you keeping a job to pay your fees. OH, they just put you back in the revolving door back to prison. Dallas, Fort Worth, Collin, and Denton counties are the worst with handling these contracts. You will go back to prison if you are in after care in one of these counties or your family will be bankrupt trying to get you there. Parole is one cruel joke from the top to the bottom and I see why do many of them in up in prison too. That SAFP and IPTC is such a taxpayer waste and fraud, watching a family member go through this program has bankrupt me. You cannot believe the amount of fraud associated with this FAILED PROGRAM! Everyone turns a blind eye to this too. If only the tax-payers knew the truth to what goes on behind closed doors in these half-way houses, and after care programs and the criminals that run them and defraud the taxpayers. It starts with the Parole Board and ends with the local Parole Officer who cannot seem to even answer the phone without someone holding their hands and giving them permission. IF ONLY THE TAX-PAYERS KNEW THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS FRAUD AGAINST THEM AND THESE FAILED PROGRAMS.

Anonymous said...

The cost are going to rise and reducing the prison population is the right idea. More prisons should be closed to keep cost inline. Texas is lucky they have dodged the prison litigation bullet for the last several years, unlike California. If Texas were its own country we would have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Texas prisons are seriously underfunded and this is a fiscal nightmare waiting to happen.

Anonymous said...

Please explain to me what "private prisons per diem mean".

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@6:19, it means paying private prisons for services on a per-bed per-day basis.

sunray's wench said...

The inmates healthcare costs are related to a small but growing number of seriously ill inmates, and a larger and growing number of elderly (55 is geriatric according to TDCJ) inmates who then begin to cost the system way more than they could contribute to it.

Accelerated parole for older inmates, particularly when they have completed at least 1/3 of their time (so still more than the 1/4 that non-violent inmates have to serve before being eligible for parole) would help.