Friday, September 08, 2006

East TX Review: Stronger probation alternative to prison building

Regular Grits readers may have heard it all before, but the Sept. 8 East Texas Review has an article by Christine DeLorna describing Texas prisons' overincarceration crisis and outlining alternatives. Reported the Review:
In its legislative appropriations request for fiscal year 2008-2009, the Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) called for the biggest expansion in prison building in over two decades. Whether legislators have the political will to commit to spending at least $520 million on construction is another matter.

TDJC’s plan envisions three new prisons and 5,080 new beds, 500 of them for a DWI treatment center. The plan also recommends 850 beds for special drug treatment prisons, substance-abuse treatment centers for parole-ready inmates, halfway houses, and community-based treatment programs for minor offenders.

So far, legislative response has been lukewarm at best. Texas is already home to the largest prison system in the country. Building more prisons seems an unlikely option given the state’s current fiscal situation. With an expected tight budget next year and a projected $20+ billion shortfall in the out years, there won’t be much wiggle room in the budget.
Whaddya know, they're singing my song! (Two minor corrections: California's prison system actually has slightly more prisoners than Texas, though fewer per capita, and Texas' last major prison expansion occurred in the early '90s on Ann Richards' watch.) For those who haven't waded through all Grits' writing on strengthening the probation system, the article supplied a good description of proposed legislative changes to probation to keep from building more prisons.
Rep. Jerry Madden (R-Richardson) and Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) have vowed to reintroduce legislation next year that would reform the state’s probation system. According to TDCJ, Texas’ probation term is 67 percent longer than the national average. Madden and Whitmire would shorten minimum probation terms for nonviolent felons from 10 years to five while also expanding community supervision and treatment programs. A similar bill the duo passed last year was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Madden and Whitmire hope next year will be the charm.

According to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), probation revocations are a significant driver of the increase in the prison population, accounting for 30 percent of prison admissions annually. In 2004, according to Whitmire, more prison sentences resulted from probation revocation than from direct sentencing by the courts. In fact, more than half of the 26,239 felony probationers were sent to prison due to technical violations such as failure to keep appointments with probation officers or to perform court-mandated community service.

“We do make it, in many instances, impossible for a probationer to succeed,” said Whitmire at a recent public policy forum at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. ...

Changing probation terms for low-risk individuals from 10 years to five would reduce probation officers’ caseloads and allow for increased supervision of those who really need it, argue Madden and Whitmire. Judges would also have more discretion as to extending probation terms beyond five years.
Word is getting out.


Jason said...

I feel the good Senator is being a little boisterous when he says "we" make it impossible. Perhaps I'm speaking from my own experience. Every probation violator I've dealt with knew the terms of their probation and simply chose not to comply with it. If probation is "impossible" to comply with, then why do many successfully complete their terms and are released? I remember a young man who was give 1 year probation for punching me in the face when I went to arrest him. After he sobored up, he successfully completed his probation, including an apology letter.

Anonymous said...

"If probation is 'impossible' to comply with, then why do many successfully complete their terms and are released?"

Why? Because people are different and live in different circumstances. If the fees are too high for your income, if you don't have a car for regular visits, if you're mentally ill, or for many other reasons, it can be impossible for individuals to stay on probation. It's also still possible for some to succeed, thank heaven.

But pray, too, for those who don't succeed. Some "absconders" are bad people with bad intentions. Others just have sloppy lives. Ten years is too long for probation - a lot of people don't have that kind of discipline.

Anonymous said...

What the Senator is referring to is what is happening to my 19 yo. Grandson now. At 17, he made a mistake committed a non-violent crime. This was his first and only crime. he received 10 yrs probation. Since being on probation
he has been drug, crime free and has never failed to report for probation. Yet, he has been thrown in jail by his PO and judge 4 times with no bond for such things as being 5 minutes late to a class and another time for his cell phone going off. One time for a dirty drug test that was shown later to have been false. Parole Officers can and do rig these test when they want to. They also send Probationers to classes and mental evaluations that are are located in locations that are far, hard to find and in dangerous locations. Probation Officers often set a schedule for certain probationers that is impossible to complete. Failure is certain. He is now being made to move to Transitional Housing and possible probation revocation. He has not violated Probation but yes, sometimes it can be impossible.