Sunday, August 03, 2008

Opponents of Amarillo halfway house misunderstand their own safety interests

As Texas lurches toward reinvigorating its carceral drug treatment programs after draconian budget cuts eliminated most of them in 2003, gaps in services and NIMBY opposition to transitional treatment centers threaten to stymie some of the legislatively mandated programs, particularly the drug treatment program SAFP (pronounced Safe-P), which stands for Substance Abuse Felony Punishment.

Part of the SAFP program requires a three-month stint in a halfway house before final release, but TDCJ has been unable to find contractors willing to provide that service.

Even when someone is willing to establish and run a new halfway house, NIMBYism frequently crops up to threaten the project. In Amarillo, reports the Globe News' John Kanelis, halfway house up for a vote at a city commission meeting on August 11:
has drawn opposing fire from neighbors, which is the least-surprising - and most distressing - aspect of this debate.

Few people doubt the need to provide a transition for convicts back into civilized society - just don't put 'em anywhere near me!

The Panhandle Truth Squad this spring editorialized against the NIMBYs from their perch as Panhandle populists, calling the movement to oppose the facility evidence Amarillo is a "city without pity."

But IMO what's needed is not "pity" but informed, rational self interest. Amarilloans who oppose the halfway house simply misunderstand where their real public safety interests lie.

What do they think happens if TDCJ can't build any halfway houses, anywhere? Will those prisoners simply "go somewhere else"? Hell no. They'll just be released directly on parole with LESS supervision than they'd see in a halfway house! In that context, opposition to such a facility can only be described as mind bogglingly foolish, stemming from a complete failure to understand their real public safety interests. By opposing this facility, they're really making a de facto argument, if never an explicit one, for releasing drug offenders on regular parole without initial close supervision at all.

So would Amarillo be safer if SAFP released offenders directly without such program? I've seen no data, but Kanelis quoted a local probationer who'd been through a similar facility in Odessa describing his experience and residents' interaction, or lack thereof, with their neighbors:

Brian is adamant about many points concerning the halfway house, especially the control it exercised over its residents.

He was released from the Odessa residence on Sept. 11, 2006 and has lived in Amarillo ever since. Brian is still on probation, but once he completes his sentence successfully, his felony conviction will be removed from his record.

He credits the treatment he received in Odessa, along with SAFPF, for saving his life.

The concerns of residents who oppose the treatment center in Amarillo are misguided, Brian said.

"You don't leave the house except to go to work," he said. Brian worked nights loading trucks for a chain of stores. "I left at 9 each night for work and would return in the morning," he said. He had to attend three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each week; moreover, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice bused him to the meetings.

"We had lights out at 10 each night," he said, "and we couldn't play loud music."

His point simply is this: The neighbors of the proposed AWARE residence in south Amarillo "won't ever see the people" who live in the house.

Oh, what about the perceived threat to neighbors by residents who fall of the drugs-and-booze wagon?

Brian stifled a chuckle, and then said, "The people who mess up aren't going to stick around. They're going to try to go home - wherever that may be. They would be long gone."

Brian would get weekend passes while living in Odessa. He would come home to spend time with his parents.

And when he returned to Odessa? He had to provide a urine sample to be tested for drugs. "If I came up dirty, then my probation would be revoked," he said. Happily, he stayed clean then and is staying clean now.

Would opponents of this facility prefer if Brian had come straight home to Amarillo without this more intensive level of supervision when he first left prison? If he went immediately back to work for his father's Amarillo business (where he is today and in any event would be inevitably), would the city's residents be more or less confident he was prepared to responsibly exercise his new freedom?

I'm guessing if you asked them in the abstract, everyone opposing this facility would say they want offenders closely supervised upon release, they just don't want them in their neighborhood. The tragically ridiculous and ignorant part of that stance is that the folks in such facilities were their neighbors before they were drug offenders - when they get out, back to your neighborhood is where they're headed, anyway - just with less supervision.

If I were Jewish, this would be a good moment for use of the word, "Oy!" - it expresses a sentiment that doesn't quite have an English equivalent. Sometimes the stupidity is so visceral, it hurts!


Anonymous said...

All that these residents can see is the worst possible scenarios.They imagine drug dealers hanging out by the halfway house to sell drugs.Everytime a neighborhood home gets robbed,it's the residents in the halfway house.This is the nature of people to never see past the sin and declare these people are not qualified for redemption.

Anonymous said...

In trying to get money to increase the size of jails and prisons the voters are told the prisoners are the worst-of-the-worst.

When the prisoners are put on parole some of them are transitioned to community supervision via work release. Now the voters are told they are not the worst-of-the-worst but instead they are low risk offenders. It is not a good idea to tell self-contradictory stories the voters don't like it.

Anonymous said...

If Texas can railroad things in other areas, why not just put the Halfway Houses where they are needed and flip the bird to the NIMBYs? Make a deal, tell the neighbours that if the crime rate rises over 2 years as a direct cause of having the Halfway house there, then it will close, but the residents will have to prove that it is the direct result of the Halfway House.
Texas is good at making unpopular decisions, why is this one so difficult?

Don said...

To Sunray: The state doesn't operate the TTC's. They try to award grants to private operators. Thats the problem, they aren't getting any takers for the RFP's. You can't shove it down the town's throats. They have to be agreeable; otherwise it won't work. It's not really the NIMBY's usually, although that appears to be the problem in Amarillo. Mostly, it is that qualified people don't want to operate the center under TDCJ's oversight. The reasons, if listed, would fill up the free space on this site.

Independent Accountant said...

Don't feel guilty about not being Jewish. Welcome to the world of "oy". Now embellish it as a real New Yorker would, "oy vais meah", or my translation, "oh why me".

Anonymous said...

It's very short sighted on Amarillo's part to oppose the TTC. Amarillo has people on probation and paraole who have been sent to SAF-Ps who eventually get out and WILL return to their communities. If they don't have a TTC in Amarillo they must go somewhere else for 90 days and then return and it's all the harder for them to start over again.