Thursday, June 07, 2007

Criminal justice funding in the 80th Texas Budget

Add it all up and criminal justice funding in the 80th Texas budget will cost taxpayers $17 billion, with a "B," in the next biennium. (The judiciary branch as a whole costs just over half a billion more, roughly the same amount the state pays for criminal-justice related bond debt.) When the summary is 199 pages long you know you're in trouble, but today I decided to delve into the state budget to see what finally made it into the conference committee report on criminal justice.

I'll have more to say soon on programming and policy changes implied by new juvie and adult community supervision funding, and I think Isela Gutierrez might step up and tell us what finally transpired with the TYC and juvenile probation budgets. But in the big picture the youth agency's budget will actually decline slightly - an astonishing fact considering the Senate Finance Chairman said they would be first in line and the agency became the premier media circus of th 80th Legislature. That's in part because budgeters assumed the number of kids projected to remain at TYC would decrease from about 4,700 before the West Texas scandals arose to an averate of 3,151 in each of the next two years.

The Department of Public Safety made out well. Their beleaguered crime labs will get an extra $16 million, plus DPS won
appropriation of $200 million in General Obligation Bond Proceeds for the construction of a new regional office and crime laboratory in Lubbock, new offices in McAllen and Rio Grande City, crime laboratory expansions, and an emergency vehicle operations course, contingent on the passage of legislation and voter approval of the additional bonds.
But $8 million per year and some new facilities won't even come close to fixing the problems DPS crime labs face. That's $6 million less than recommended by the Governor's Criminal Justice Advisory Committee and new spending is focused on strategies I think don't address the problems. So in my book, count crime lab problems as a big, unsolved hairball the Lege didn't adequately resolve. Time will tell.

The lion's share of new criminal justice funding, though, as always, will happen at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

More than 90% of new probation funding comes in the form of grants administered by TDCJ designed to encourage use of progressive sanctions and prison diversion alternatives prescribed in various bills that passed the 80th Lege and are currently awaiting the Governor's approval. So new funds will be used as a carrot to create diversion programming instead of throwing money at more or less failed systems. To me that's a wise approach.

Much has been made of the approximately $200 million in new community supervision and diversion funding, but the really big increase in TDCJ's new budget comes in the "institutional division," i.e., at the prisons themselves.

Texas prisons will cost taxpayers $375 million more in the next biennium than the last - a 9.4% increase in General Revenue funds over the last budget just to cover the baseline before we construct any new prison units. (Of course, bond authority for three new prisons was approved. Voters could still reject it, but it was packaged along with lots of other high-profile pork, so that makes it unlikely.)

It's these baseline, budget busting 9 figure increases each biennium that drove a bipartisan legislative bloc to seriously consider prison alternatives, and it's worth mentioning that even with all the new spending, it's prison spending hikes that are really soaking the taxpayer, not the alternatives, which by comparison are much more cost effective and frequently generate better public safety outcomes.

And even with that much new spending on state run prisons, the budget projects a 27% increase in spending on private contracted beds for adult prisoners - up $15 million to $66 million overall. (This need will hopefully decline when the new probation and diversion programs are fully online, or at least that's the idea.)

Perhaps my biggest disappointment in the new Texas criminal justice budget: The crisis over the lack of state hospital beds for retarded and mentally ill inmates who are declared "incompetent" by the courts was ignored copmpletely: State hospital capacity will be kept at identical levels as the last budget with now new money for forensic beds. Expect litigation to possibly force the state's hand by 2009.

There's new funding for 300 new parole halfway house beds. Another big chunk will go to fund 700 intermediate sanctions beds for parolees, though it's worth mentioning that's only about a third the number Tony Fabelo recommended at the beginning of session.

Kathy asked me when the legislative session ended and new prisons had been approved along with diversion funding, "Did we lose?" I still don't know - the overall result is a mixed bag. (As Homer Simpson once declared, "Maybe there is no moral to the story. Maybe it's just a bunch of stuff that happened.") A lot will depend on whether these programs are successful, and for that to happen there will need to be a cultural as well as a statutory shift at Texas criminal justice institutions that can only be hoped for but never guaranteed.

Stay tuned for more post-legislative analysis as I slowly muster the courage to peek out and see what happened during what was admittedly an end of session frenzy.


Anonymous said...

Scott, can you you get some investigative reporter who has the money and clout to look at the Texas Youth Commission before "THIS SCANDAL" and today.

What has changed?

Who knew what when this broke?

Did the Administrators get their retirement and allowed to retire?

Why are professional staff quiting today if all is well?

Why are all the employees being kept in the dark (no communication)?

Is there a PLAN and if so where is it?

I believe a Case Worker who worked at WTSS broke this story or tried to turn all of this scandal into the administrators, where is he now, would he be willing to talk with you about the old administration and what the agency has now?

Someone from the outside will need to investigate all of this and get the answers, I know you have seen all the blogs on your sight and would have to believe that something just is not right here.

Unknown said...

I have a cynical question. When law enforcement funding exceeds education funding will the media designated "taxpayer reform movements" that are in reality the "hell no we won't pay" crowd who love spending but hate paying taxes lose power? Or will governments mortgage the future to pay to imprison social misfits and dissenters under these mass incarceration scams?
I have yet to meet a "taxpayer" political leader who said one bad thing about "tough on crime" initiatives or the drug war or military interventionism or any other big ticket government spending that leaned on the masses. You would think that the prison and military fairies funded those boondoggles if you listened to the "small government" verbiage of the GOP>