Sunday, December 10, 2006

TDCJ: Funds spent on stronger probation reduced revocations to prison

As the Texas Legislature prepares to consider strengthening probation and reforming parole in the upcoming 80th session, it's worth looking at how well probation-strengthening measures taken by the Lege in 2005 have worked so far. Governor Perry vetoed the main legislation that would have shortened probation terms and beefed up front-end supervision. But tens of millions of dollars was allocated in budget riders for targeted grants to counties promising to implement specific reforms. (See Grits prior coverage of those riders.)

I can't find any news coverage, but on December 1 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice issued the first detailed analysis (pdf) of the effects of that new spending on probation revocation rates. The hope was that funds spent on stronger supervision would reduce the number of revocations and thus reduce front-end overincarceration pressues on the prison system. That appears to have worked, though less dramatically than some had hoped.

Only a fraction of probation departments (but including most of the larger counties), applied for and received funding for strengthening probation programs. The stated goal of the three budget riders was for agencies receiving the grants to reduce probation revocations by 10 percent. They didn't quite achieve that. According to a chart on page 6 of the report, agencies receiving the funds reduced revocations 7.08%, accounting for about 1,555 fewer revocations in the first year. However, agencies that declined funding saw revocations increase a whopping 14.1%, so counties that saw reductions were bucking the trend in counties that didn't receive new funds.

Departments that received new funds reduced caseload sizes by 13.5%, compared to a 2.6% caseload reduction in counties that didn't receive funding. Revocations for technical violations declined in counties receiving funding, while early discharges for good behavior increased in those counties more than 20%.

What does this mean? Legislators can move forward assured that investments in stronger probation can effectively reduce new entries to prison. Certainly additional investments must be made for the system to function properly. But coupled with new tools from the probation bill Perry vetoed in 2005 (the GOP committee chairman who will carry the bill says he's confident it will now pass), it's possible reductions in revocations could achieve the 10% goal.

Bottom line: Texas now has evidence stronger probation can work.

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