Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Probation funding fix key to reform package

Another preview from tomorrow's House Corrections agenda:

Ever since the Texas Legislature first began discussing the idea of reducing probation revocations by letting offenders earn their way off supervision through good behavior, local probation departments have had one overarching concern - because they were paid per probationer, letting offenders off early, even if for a good reason, reduced their agencies' overall budgets.

In the big picture it costs the state a lot of money to pay to incarcerate revoked probationers, but the funding structure for local probation departments gives them perverse incentives to keep offenders on the rolls for no other reason than to keep getting their fees.

HB 3200 by Madden is the legislation that supposedly will fix that conundrum, giving probation departments incentives to participate in progressive sanctions intiatives. Here's how the bill's fiscal note describes Maden's solution:
The bill would amend the Government Code by establishing a new funding formula for basic supervision probation for the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The bill would collapse the funding mechanisms for per capita funding for felony probationers, misdemeanor probationers, and pre-trial defendants into one funding formula. The bill further specifies that in establishing the new funding formula, the CJAD would include the following:

1) Higher per capita rates for those defendants supervised by a department who were serving the early years of a term of community supervision than for those defendants who were serving the end of the term of community supervision;
2) Penalties in per capita funding with respect to each defendant supervised by a department whose community supervision was revoked due to a technical violation of an applicable condition of community supervision; and
3) Awards in per capita funding with respect to each felony defendant supervised by a department who was discharged following an early termination of community supervision.

The first two factors would be applicable to both misdemeanor and felony probated cases, the third factor would apply only to felony probated cases. Under the present funding formula, state funding for misdemeanor cases is limited to 182 days. The bill would authorize funding for the duration of the term of the misdemeanor case. Current policy includes that CJAD award funding to departments on a biennial basis, however the bill would require CJAD to develop a new funding formula each year.

Finally, the bill would authorize the Texas Board of Criminal Justice to adopt a policy limiting the percentage of benefit or loss a department could realize as a result of the operation of the per capita funding formula established under this measure.
So bottom line, funding for supervising each probationer is front loaded so departments get less money per supervised person the longer they're on probation. Departments face slight but collectively significant financial penalties for each technical revocation, and also rewards for offenders terminated early. Those parameters benefit departments who successfully supervise probationers through the rehabilitation process, where the current system encourages them to milk probationers for money for years on end.

Congrats to Rep. Madden and whoever helped him develop this plan. Some solution like this was needed for his HB 1678 (discussed here) to work, and it appears to me this will do it. HB 3200 is an elegant and clever solution, IMO, to one of the stickiest problems confronting Texas' efforts at probation reform.


Don said...

but probation officers won't have any leverage if the probationerss think they can't be revoked

Don said...

The probation bills are a step in the right direction, but they have problems. #1, if they expand programs significantly, where will they find qualified counselors, especially in small rural areas?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don, it shouldn't be an either-or thing - that's what progressive sanctions are for. Weekends in jail, additional CS requirements, curfews with home visits (possible with lower caseloads) - I've even heard of judges who require book reports in drug court settings. There are lots of alternatives to revocation, but POs haven't always had the training or formal tools to use them.

On the treatment, I'm sure they're assuming (or maybe hoping) that a) the new funds will generate new interest among treatment providers, and b) that rulemaking at the agency level can handle contingencies when treatment isn't available. I know the latter is true, and I suspect the former is at least partially true, though I'm sure there will be near-term shortfalls, just like there were in California when Prop 36 passed.

Don said...

Scott, first of all let me say congratulations on the success of Grits. I have been reading for some time and it was just what I was looking for. I am an LCDC, semi retired but I worked for about 20 years in the substance abuse field, and most of it directly or indirectly in the CJ arena. I know that treatment programs will proba bly expand to meet the dollars available in Austin, Houston, Dallas, etc. but they won't in Levelland where I live. Not even Lubbock, for that matter. For one thing, the counselors are not available. (qualified ones, at least). I would almost bet that our local cscd won't even apply for the money. (They didn't last time). I think the legislature may be trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and garner atta boys for for fixing at a problem they caused in the first place. There are still the powers that want to build new prisons, and one thing is for sure: We will fill 'em up as fast as they can build 'em.

Catonya said...

**applauding step in right direction**

(as I trudge through year 7 of a 10 yr def adj probation sentence)

Anonymous said...

Hey Catonya, Be glad you live in the U.S. You could be deceased or missing a limb, like they do to those who commit criminal acts in other countries, instead of being free to earn a living here. By the way, probation officers are probably more abused than you are!

Anonymous said...

Rep Madden is truly a very nice, sincere man and wants to do the right thing. His bill was given careful thought by him and all who he trusted enough to help him.

Jerry Madden, you are an honest, caring person and may the Lord bless you in all your endeavors. I pray for your success and the people who depend on you to do what is right.

It is too bad when the DA's are allowed to enter into deciding what bills to pass and what bills they don't like. Don't they have jobs at home, like courts to run and cases to pursue? Keep the DA's our of the Legislature and out of Mr. Perry's office.

My hats off to Mr. Madden!

Anonymous said...

yes we are abused from everyone such as defendants; judges; da's, managers; admin, chief, adn judges. noeone seems to given a helping hand. they take our weapons from us such as in Bexar County - flat ass lying to us - telling they will rewrite the side arm policy - that is now over a year ago march 2007. just ask Mr Fitzgerald. Yet we are expected to go in high crim arears and unable to defend ourselves should it come to that. Mr Fitzgerald, just tell us the truth, you never intend to give the firearms back isnt that right. we found out about you taking up the firearms in arizona. yet he contiunes his retaliation practes by retention interviews. allows family memebers to supervise other family memebers, ect. byt the way how do you have imunity for retalition - what a joke. my next question who will be monitoring these new funds other then the chief it is obvious that he cant be trusted - im sure he will try to sneak in a 20k pay raise for himself such as he did attempted to do May 2007. Mr Fits will will be watching - judges keep in mind election time is soon coming and there are alot of pissed off po's. yall really should do the right thing STOP THIS BULLSHIT / INSANITY NOW.

Anonymous said...

One huge problem with the entire theory of this type of funding:

Offenders can go wild on probation because their probation officer is discouraged to file a violation to the court (technical). What is the point of probation? This is dangerous waters, and obviously the decision makers have not or could have not supervised offenders. Sometimes it not always about the money. How about protecting the community and getting the offenders who are in non-compliance off the streets and protect some of our neighborhoods? The guy who did not report, smoked some "weed," and failed to pay his restitution just broke into granny's house stole the only TV she has in her possession, broke the door down and possibly hit her on the way out the door. This could be your granny. What would you like to do with this guy? Remember, he just didn't report and smoked a little bit of "weed." (Nice little unimportant technical violation) How about protection of our community for those who don't get it? Texas needs to relook at the very basic concept of probation. Fund counties by the head and not by how many you let go. We should not be giving incentatives to officers for not reporting probation violations. These offenders are crmininals, and the Courts need to be informed when the criminals disregard the sanctions in place. Closer monitoring, strict sanctions, creation of a "house arrest" probation can reduce prison population and give a bit more protection to our neighbors.

Bryan Shreve

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Bryan, funding counties by the head is what's causing the problems now. And I have to disagree with you that "obviously the decision makers have not or could have not supervised offenders." Actually they're taking best practices from probation departments that have been tested in the field and applying them here. That's what all the talk of "evidence based practices" is about.

The answer of what to do with your hypothetical weed smoker is summed up in two words: Progressive sanctions. There are not only two options - incarceration or nothing. There's a whole range of options in between that aren't right now being utilized because caseloads are too high and financial incentives discourage them. best,

Anonymous said...


The issue at hand is trust in the system. I agree progressive sanctions can work. County administrators and courts have a monetary incentive to make it work. This means offenders who failed to obey rules, conditions, and continue drug use are more than likely not going to be locked up and left in the community. This very important fact will statistically inflate the numbers, reduce the inmate population, and makes progressive sanction theory look good to you and others. What message does this send to the thousands of offenders on supervision? I am not saying we should throw out progressive sanctions. I am saying we must not give incentives to counties to continue releasing possible dangerous offenders in the community who break the law, probation, and possibly victimize our family members. Again, it is really tough sitting across a victim explaining progressive sanctions when they simply want justice. Any theory including mine used to one extreme or another will have a negative impact in our society. I am asking for a middle of the road approach and give the courts/community supervision authority and incentives to lock up those who prey on society. Balance is the key. Supervision officers and courts need tools and incentives to protect society and not turn our heads and pretend we don't see offenders making a mockery of the court.

Thanks again,

Bryan Shreve

Gritsforbreakfast said...

B- You ask,

"What message does this send to the thousands of offenders on supervision?"

A: That refusal to comply with restrictions will lead to a series of undesirable consequences, ultimately leading to incarceration, but as a last resort.

It seems to me you're too worried about the court's dignity and whether it will be 'mocked.' That's a sign of somebody too deeply identified with the system to see clearly, with all respect. The system is broken and often deserves mockery - with stronger probation, lower caseloads, and new tools to do something besides the all or nothing option, it will actually solve some of the lack of legitimacy problems that you seem to fear will be exposed. The emperor already wears no clothes - the real question, IMO, is what should we dress him in? best,

Anonymous said...

and the philosophical debate goes on. . . I believe you missed my points. With all do respect and sincerity, I am not too worried about how it will look upon the court, and I am not too close to those who make these decisions. I do work in the system and feel maybe you don't see what I see. As you have pointed out, imo, on the contrary, the emperor is not the bad guy here, just give him a thicker robe. I don't believe we need to target one particular court or one specific principal, I believe staying in the middle of the road and offer our citizens accountability and protection at the same time will serve all the people. Progressive sanctions, as stated before, are good tools but we should be mindful the risk we take when setting free violators and give the tools to immediate sanction those few who are a real risk to society.

Best wishes,