For my part, I found myself wishing it were possible to have assigned reading beforehand. In particular, the discussions of absconders would have been more fruitful if both those asking questions and giving answers had read:
- Probation Revocation and Its Causes: Profiles of State and Local Jurisdictions: Bell County, Texas, University of Minnesota Law School, Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, 2016
- Profiles in Probation Revocation: Examining the Legal Framework in 21 States, University of Minnesota Law School, Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, 2014
- Grits for Breakfast, More on mulcting probationers for fees in Bell County, Texas (Feb. 5, 2016)
Probation requirements have become so onerous that many people choose incarceration rather than endure them, a couple of probation directors told the committees. Many other defendants who do sign up for probation eventually decide they cannot, as a practical matter, comply with all of its strictures and stop reporting. Some, though not all, of those fall back into recidivism.
In the end, the solutions here involve both the Legislature and probation directors doing things neither of them want to do. For the Lege, overreliance on probationer fees has gotten out of hand and they need to pony up funds to reduce the burden. It's unrealistic to expect fees to be abolished, but they could be significantly reduced if the state replaced the funds and ponied up for more treatment programming.
Meanwhile some but not all probation directors may agree with reforms aimed at: a) shorter probation lengths with b) stronger supervision during the shorter period with c) improved programming and d) more meaningful outcome measures aimed at the offenders' successful reintegration into society. Caseloads are too high, probation terms too long, and there's too much emphasis on collecting fees to make local budgets. Old-school trail-em-nail-em-and-jail-em types will find that idea anathema and there inevitably will be pockets of resistance as change is imposed upon dozens of isolated, local cultures at different departments. Regardless, that's what's needed. And the state's experience imposing progressive sanctions through grant programs (97 percent of departments implemented the changes to get the grants) shows they have leverage to do the job if the Legislature would authorize it.
Such changes would also free up probation capacity to shift more low-risk offenders onto community supervision rolls and away from prison cells, which probably weren't the right place for them, anyway. So all of this plays into any future discussions of decarceration, prison closures, etc.. These are important if complex and obscure topics. I'm glad the two committees are taking a closer look at them.
RELATED: A rose-colored overview of community supervision.