Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Fort Bend 'special sanctions court' shows probation can work

I neglected to mention that Michael Ward had a good article in Sunday's Austin Statesman on a "Special Sanctions Court" in Fort Bend County that's been successful at reducing probation revocation rates. If you want to know more about how much-touted drug courts work, it's a good read. Said District Judge Bradley Smith,
in order for this program to work, you have to have an open mind to trying something different — because this program is different. I've worked inside the box (as a judge) for a long time, and I can tell you a lot of my time has been wasted because the probation system as we have been doing it for years doesn't work. . . . We need to lock up (in prison) the people we're afraid of and treat the ones we're just mad at, like most all these I deal with.
Between 1994 and 2003 [Rep. Sylvester Turner told Ward], the number of technical violators sent to prison jumped by 95 percent — a statistic that prison officials cite as a key reason that their cells are nearly full, even though the crime rate in Texas is down.

Also see the fact sheet from Solutions for Texas supporting probation reform, and prior Grits coverage of the current proposals.

At the end of the article, Ward includes an interesting set of stats about proposed Texas probation reforms.

By the numbers

$40.06: Average daily cost to taxpayers to house an offender in a state prison

$2.27: Average daily cost to supervise an offender on probation

$88 million: Additional funding for probation and prison-diversion programs proposed by the House Appropriations Committee

$85 million: Approximate cost of a new prison [ed. note: I've seen WIDELY varying estimates on costs for new prison units]

6: Number of new prisons needed in three years, at current incarceration rates

12: Number of new prisons officials say will be needed in five years

150,800: Current prison population

150,834: Maximum operating capacity of prison system

45,060: Offenders sent to prison in 2004

The article notes that about 30% of those entering prison last year, or around 14,000 out of 45,060 offenders, were revoked probationers.

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