Thursday, March 20, 2008

Most new prison diversion programs at local probation departments demonstrate success

About half of new entrants to Texas prisons every year result from probation or parole revocations, so new programs aimed at reducing revocations have contributed greatly to resolving Texas' immediate prison overcrowding crisis.

With news of a new probation facility opening in Texarkana, I spent a little more time checking around the TDCJ website this morning for more information about new probation funding. I found this report from December (pdf) analyzing the use of new community supervision diversion funds aimed at reducing probation officer caseloads and minimizing revocations to prison for technical violations. The results so far seem really positive. Let's just walk through a few of the highlights.

For starters, the analysis divides Texas probation departments (CSCDs) into three categories, departments who:

  • Received New Funding: (26) CSCDs with regular caseload sizes over 95 and accepted the additional funding.
  • Did Not Receive New Funding: (73) CSCDs with regular caseload sizes under 95 that were ineligible for additional funding.
  • Declined New Funding: (23) CSCDs eligible to receive diversion funding because regular caseload size was over 95 but declined the additional funding.
The results for felony probation revocations were striking. Departments receiving new funding saw a 7.3% decrease in felony revocations in the last year. Those that didn't receive new funding saw a slight rise in revocations (2.0%), while probation departments that declined new funding saw their number of felony revocations INCREASE by more than 10% (see charts pp. 8-9).

That said, there were wide variations in how effective new programs were by county. The percentages in this chart, e.g., compiled from Appendix A in the report, show several counties' change in revocation figures from one biennium to the next:

Changes in Revocation Rates by TX Probation Departments Receiving New Prison Diversion Funding over First 24 Months of Program

So while overall, new probation funds appear to have assisted counties in reducing probation revocations, some counties have achieved more success than others, and in some places, like Bexar and especially Collin County, new funds either created or did not deter a negative impact on probation revocations, for reasons I don't fully understand.

Even so, the big picture trends from this evaluation seems positive. Overall, departments that received new funding saw their overall caseloads decline by more than 17%, while those who rejected new funding saw their caseloads per officer decline by a measly 0.7%.

A key reform in a stronger probation regimen is to give offenders a chance to earn their way off probation through good behavior, particularly because most offenders who will recidivate do so in the first 2-3 years, but Texas felony probation terms are up to ten years long. All three categories of departments saw the number of early discharges from probation increase, but those who received funding increased the number of earned probation discharges bu 34.6%, compared to 25.6% for departments that declined funding and just 5.7% of those not eligible for new funding.

Also, CSCD's that did not receive new funding actually saw their number of probation officers decline slightly, despite higher caseloads, while agencies that accepted the funding increased their number of probation officers by 7.3%.

What to take from these data? That strengthened probation systems are empirically reducing both recidivism and the number of unnecessary technical revocations to prison in Texas. The report described recent trends, but also identified what additional funds that will be expended in this fiscal year:
A total of 42 CSCDs submitted 70 program proposals for the additional FY 2008-2009 diversion funding for outpatient substance abuse treatment and/or residential substance abuse treatment beds. Total requests for funding amounted to $24,743,530 for the $19,253,739 available in FY 2008. Specific funding appropriated included $5 million for Rider 84a (Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Counseling) funds and $14,253,739 for FY 2008 million for Rider 84c (Residential Substance Abuse Treatment) funds.
So about 80% of proposed probation department diversion programs should get funded this year, according to these figures. One hopes they're targeting departments that succeeded in using the last pot of money in ways that achieved the goals of the legislation instead of thwarted it.

The report doesn't give more detail, but I'd like to better understand the differences between what's happening in counties implementing these new programs that resulted in such widely disparate outcomes, on new revocations in particular. The overall trend seems encouraging, but looking county by county, the results seem a bit more mixed.


Anonymous said...

Ok, Bexar choked because Fitzgerald cannot follow directions. Have we not seen this before from him? He put the funds into the County Courts. Caseloads never went down for felonies. Get a copy of the audit. Rumor has it as the worst audit in the History of CJAD. I have 140 cases and cannot tell you where the money went. Nothing ever changed from the new funds. We are still the lowest paid in the state and cannot keep officers. Quite a few caseloads will sit without an officer for months because of our retention problem. When will someone listen to us about our chief??? Call him and ask him where he put the money? I'm sure the County Commissioners are thanking him for trying to reduce the Bexar County Jail population. Tell Madden and Whitmire they have to make it easier to understand if they expect Bexar County to follow the rules with Fitzgerald at the helm. Officers have tried to tell the state that we are a public safety nightmare. We never go to the field. Even most of the field units do not go to the field. Gang and Sex Offender Units cannot go out after 6pm. How many gangs can you find before 6pm. Follow up on this Grits- really Bexar should be stripped of funding because it is wrong in how they are using the funding. Most officers call in sick because all of the old officers are burning sick leave to get out soon and the new officers use it right away for new job interviews because the pay is so low. The officers that are trying are burnt out from the normal caseload they carry and trying to see all the other officers out on sick and vacation leave. Officers have filed over 30 grievances and call it a Hostile Work Enviroment. The buildings are up for rent and we are about to be in the street. We have no Case Management System that works but yet it feeds wrong data monthly. We have 7 new overpaid computer employees and not enough officers to work the real mission. The UA lab is sending out positives like Cocaine is being handed out in the UA line.The officers knew this would happen at least the ones who care.

Anonymous said...

Look at the revocation rate of Bexar County. From the beginning of this odessey called Progressive sanction, Bexar County had one of the lowest revocation rate at 39%,then the latest number have been released and Bexar County revocation rate is at 40%. Bexar County had a increase in Placements at 19%, and Early Terminations at 18%. The total number of Offenders in Bexar County going to TDCJ is well lower than the Dallas or Harris counties.

Anonymous said...

I have unfortunately found myself on probation for a third dwi. When sentenced I had not had one in 15 yrs and was maxed out in every aspect, including a two year suspension on my dl. having said that, while in collin county doing a 10 day commitment as a "condition" of probation, I met several coorfull characters. What disturbs me though is what came from everyone I spoke with about my probation. Most of the ones I met in there were for a revocation of some sort. After reading your post I'm frankly terrified of ten years probation. I realize the biased of the individuals incarcerated there, however the more research I do the more it seems there truly is something wrong here. Where is the system of checks and balances? I chuckle as I write this because govt has become way larger than I think anyone realized it would and a lot of it seems justified. But why bother with placing an individual on prob. with the intent of failure?

Anonymous said...

Collin County I can not stand. I have one Dwi and have served 4 yrs probation and every time I turn around they try to revoke me and if they do they add 2 yrs on top of my other sentence. Its crazy and the officer I have there lies and lies. Good luck on getting released within 10 yrs cuz im doing a 7 so far on one Dwi never been in trouble before, paid all my fines ahead of time, did my classes and reported they come up w something everytime im about to be off.