Thursday, September 20, 2007

California parole reforms mirror Texas probation approach

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has launched a program to fix that state's overburdened, broken parole system, reports the LA Times ("State aims to shorten some paroles," Sept. 15).

The idea is to evaluate each parolee, identify who are the offenders posing the greatest future threat, then give ways for lower-risk parolees to earn their way off parole through good behavior. That's similar in overall approach, though different in many important details, to what the Texas Legislature tried to do this year with Texas' probation programs - reducing probation lengths for people who've proven they can stay out of trouble to focus more supervision resources on more serious problem offenders.

While Governor Perry approved several bills that took important first steps, he ineffably vetoed with little explanation the main funding mechanism that would have added more teeth to reforms. (I'm hopeful that can be revisited in 2009.) Otherwise, what the Texas Legislature did conceptually on Texas probation agrees in general philosophy with what Schwarzenegger did in California on parole.

That the two most populous US states - one "blue," one "red," have taken similar approaches to overburdened community supervision systems may signal a new consensus slowly emerging about what pragmatic steps need to be taken to reform the community supervision systems: Reducing supervised populations and shifting supervision resources to focus on offenders who pose more serious threats.

The Texas parolee population hasn't received nearly the attention as the enormous probation population has, but one important Legislative achievement on parole in 2007 was expanding Intermediate Sanctions Facilities, which are short-term incarceration and treatment facilities (avg length of stay, perhaps 2-12 months) to which parolees can be sentenced for violating parole rules. As the name implies, these (mostly privately-run) facilities are used as "intermediate sanctions" in lieu of immediately revoking parolees back to prison. (The average offender revoked, by comparison, serves more than four years).

Ideally offenders there don't just sit out their terms, but must participate in skills training (and treatment, if necessary), to better prepare them to succeed when they get back out. A big missing component is finding these folks jobs, and I think the state could do a better job matching offenders to employers on their way out the door back to their home town.


Anonymous said...

it's a shame that states WAIT until time for parole. How about "identifying" those sentenced with a charge that includes a mandantory minimum "evaluate" each to see if there are those who pose a low risk to reoffend and then give them a chance to earn GOOD TIME so that they can get out of prison faster, too.

Anonymous said...

The article identifies an on-going issue all over the country. Both inmate and probation populations have increased and jails/institutions continue to struggle with overcrowding. Yet, as I have read crime is down natiionwide. Odd? I believe a lot of crime continues to plague our inner cities, and we fail to address changing the minds and souls of our youth. The glamour of crime continues to be the root of our problem. Easy money with drug dealing perpetuates the drama of our criminal society. The parolees look forward to their release to go back to the neighborhoods to make their fortunes or so they think.

The issue with California and Texas along with the nation will not be resolved until we make the risk of making money selling drugs less appealing with stronger sentences on drug dealers and the other hardened criminals.

To comment on Texas, it is a system of big treatment and weak on protecting society. The officers, both inside the wire and outside, supervising the felons are lost with low pay and no resources to do the job. Most new funding goes to treatment beds and not towards the staff that handle this dangerous population. Staff turnover is a major issue because the true professionals find other jobs leaving those behind with low pay and apathetic towards the system they serve. Boost the salaries of officers, treat them as the professionals, use them as a postive source to oversee these felons, and give the officers the necessary tools to effect change in society. Then, Texas will be worthy of mentioning as one of the true leaders in the country in regards to "criminal justice."


Anonymous said...

re: "The issue with California and Texas along with the nation will not be resolved until we make the risk of making money selling drugs less appealing with stronger sentences on drug dealers and the other hardened criminals."

The problem could also be solved by legalizing and taxing drugs. The tax money could be used to help youth learn skills and thereby earn a living in this society.

I have no problem with empty jails and prisons. It would be good for Police Officers and
Guards to also learn skills that provide a real value to soceity such as crime prevention!

Anonymous said...

"The issue with California and Texas along with the nation will not be resolved until we make the risk of making money selling drugs less appealing with stronger sentences on drug dealers and the other hardened criminals."

That won't work. It's never worked. It can't work. The higher the risk the higher the profits. That's what the profit is about.

The greater the risk, the greater the profits, the greater the danger... the more dangerous the risk takers, and those set against the risk takers, become.

The greater the "Risk"... the more "Hardened" criminals and death we create.

Why wouldn't they become more dangerous? They aren't fighting about drugs. They are fighting about illegal and huge profits. They are fighting about not being locked up and punished.

Kill them? I once read about a Taiwanese Judge, who said, upon delivering another death sentence for drug crime, "What more can we do? Can we kill them twice?"

Perhaps you might recommend that we could kill not only them, but their entire families? If that wouldn't work to stop the risk takers, maybe we could kill their neighbors as well?

Suggestions of more severe penalties and more police supervision is a recipe for more of the same "unexpected" consequences and results.

It's hard to imagine why such consequences and results weren't expected in the first place.

Legalization and regulation are the only reasonable options. When that day comes, we can rationally deal with the actual problems of drug use, instead of all the bloody, dark and "unexpected" problems born of the complete prohibition of drugs.

The key word is "Rationally".