Thursday, December 29, 2005

Statesman's old news on broken Travis probation system

The Austin Statesman finally acknowledged Travis County's "broken" system for supervising offenders on probation, I suppose better late than never. On Monday, the Statesman ran an item by Steven Kreytak describing a consultant's report critical of Travis County's system for supervising people on probation ("Broken Travis probation department getting fixed," Dec. 26). Reported Kreytak:
Travis County probation officers are so bogged down with paperwork and heavy caseloads that they do not have time to focus on ways to keep the probationers they supervise from committing new crimes, according to a recent consultant's report.

The analysis of the department that oversees about 11,500 people who might otherwise be in prison or jail also found other problems, including:
  • Probation officers gather a wealth of computerized data that could help identify effective programs and plans for probationers, but those data are not regularly analyzed.
  • Many probation officers do not leave their offices for home visits, a valuable way to develop relationships with probationers and spot potential problems.
  • Many low-level offenders are too strictly supervised, increasing officers' workloads and diverting resources from probationers who need to be watched more closely.
An interesting description, but not exactly news.
The "recent" study (pdf) came out in late August, and Monday's article didn't even mention the main fix consultants advocated to reduce probation caseloads. (Grits covered the consultant's findings more extensively in October here, here and here. ) This item obviously has been sitting in the can for quite a while, held back as filler for an off week when many reporters are on vacation and it's harder to fill newsholes in the paper. Or maybe editors just don't think it's very important.

From everything I hear, the probation department's new director, Dr. Geraldine Nagy, is steering the ship in the right direction -- aiming to reduce caseloads and probation revocations and focusing programs more precisely on the needs of the offender. Austin's sure lucky that Nagy didn't require media pressure to do the right thing.

I find it pretty ironic that the MSM -- and TV news in Austin are worse than the Statesman by a longshot -- focus so much attention covering "crime" on a case by case basis, but ignore for months stories like this that more directly affect public safety. One heinous crime might get hyped in the news for weeks, but a "broken" system for supervising convicted felons gets treated by the media as an afterthought.


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