Thursday, May 19, 2005

Weak probation endangers neighborhoods and families

As the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee prepares to hear HB 2193, Ann has posted a new fact sheet highlighting how a stronger probation system would better protect Texans from crime. Readers who followed the debate this session over HB 151 and the crime of burglary of a vehicle may find this especially interesting:
Texas’ weak probation system puts neighborhoods and families at risk. 16,000 probation absconders are currently running free, but Texas has no resources to go look for them. We need real supervision, or a large number of them will inevitably commit more crimes.

Three thousand probation officers in Texas currently supervise 450,000 men and women on so-called “community supervision.” But if you’re on normal probation in Texas, you show up once a month at the probation office to pee in a cup. The rest of the time, you’re on your own.

Studies show that long probation terms are ineffective at preventing crime, and may even provide disincentives for probationers to go straight, especially habitual, petty offenders like petty thieves and drug users. Offenders need positive incentives to change their bad habits. To maximize public safety, probationers must be able to earn their rights back by becoming a responsible citizen and demonstrating they deserve to leave the system.

Most probationers who are revoked are revoked to prison in the first few years. Probationers who have succeeded for years pose much less risk than probationers in the first few years, but they take up just as much time for the probation officer who has a 150-person case load.

Take the example of burglary of a vehicle (stealing from inside cars, not auto theft). A car burglar on probation with no other requirements than a monthly meeting and urinalysis is sitting pretty. If he doesn’t do drugs, he might continue his crimes for years without raising red flags in the probation system. With stronger probation, probation officers would have fewer cases, and could make surprise field visits, talk to employers, and take other actions to oversee offenders. Right now, none of that happens because the system is broken.

Exactly. The debate over probation this session has exploded the great myth about Texas' "community supervision": that it's actually supervising most probationers well. It's not. A vote for shorter, stronger probation plus increased funding for drug treatment and probation services would actually do more to reduce crime.

See more background on the relevant legislation.

No comments: