Monday, February 22, 2010

House Corrections Committee has much to discuss regarding probation/diversion programs

The Texas House Corrections Committee will meet March 17 at the capitol to discuss one of its interim charges:
Charge 2: Study and evaluate the availability and efficiency of community-based corrections supervision and treatment programs and their impact on prison capacity and recidivism rates. Determine whether the supervision and treatment programs have been designed in accordance with evidence-based practices and whether adequate evaluation methods have been incorporated.
Among topics I hope will be discussed:

Why wasn't a new annual report on diversion programs published in December? The latest information publicly available (pdf) is pretty dated. Here's the latest evaluation (pdf) of diversion programming and Grits' writeup of the document, which gives a lot of background on how programs are working.

The committee should question TDCJ's decision to focus possible budget cuts on diversion programming instead of selectively closing the most expensive and inefficient prisons. If cuts to diversion programs would increase recidivism and thus the inmate population, as TDCJ has said, wouldn't it make sense to increase investment in community supervision and reduce prison spending by closing facilities?

I hope they also interrogate TDCJ's suggestion for reducing the budget for "underutilized treatment programs." Why exactly aren't those programs being used? Are they simply not needed or are there barriers to wider use? Did the Lege authorize inpatient beds when probation departments more immediately needed more outpatient treatment, as one probation director has suggested? Will they be needed in the future or should they be taken offline? Why were the state's need projections off? There are a lot of questions here.

Also, why have Bexar and Collin counties, in particular, thumbed their noses at best practices they agreed to utilize when accepting sizable state grants for diversion programming? What can be done to bring these wayward counties into compliance? Should they continue to receive these grants if they refuse to use the money for the purpose it was given?

Since they're charged with determining whether programs fit best practices, I'd like to hear a discussion regarding whether best practices for drug courts should include mandatory treatment, or assign it on a case by case basis after failures in a stronger probation regimen. The much-praised HOPE program out of Hawaii takes the latter approach with reportedly excellent success.

Overall, given the state's need for large budget cuts looming darkly over the horizon, I hope the committee will explore in detail the relative cost-benefit analysis of prisons vs. community supervision. They should press witnesses to identify alternative budget-cut scenarios that would preserve diversion programming and build on recent successes at reducing prison populations, recidivism, and crime.

This hearing should provide a lot of new, more current information about the state of Texas' diversion programming. It should also give us a sense of how legislators feel about TDCJ focusing budget-cut suggestions on probation and staff in ways that seem destined to fill up prisons and wipe out hard-fought improvements by the community supervision system that reduced crime and saved taxpayers money.


Anonymous said...

Is this adult specific or will juvenile justice diversion programs be discussed?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Very good question, 10:47. Here's the full announcement. It sounds like they're talking about adults (b/c of the reference to "prison," etc.), but a) they're accepting public testimony, b) it doesn't exclude juveniles, and c) the same committee covers the issue for both.

Marie T said...

there is a outline at web site of the study and changes being implemented in Bexar County as of Dec 2009. Good start for major improvements.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Can you cut and paste a link, Marie? I'm not seeing it.

The last thing I've seen from the Justice Reinvestment folks on Bexar was pretty unflattering and published in November. And as I understand it, judges and the new probation director are balking at implementing the Justice Reinvestment suggestions, though I'd be very pleased to be corrected.

Anonymous said...

"wouldn't it make sense to increase investment in community supervision and reduce prison spending by closing facilities?"

Absolutely! The evidence shows it.

Anonymous said...

"Why wasn't a new annual report on diversion programs publised in December?"


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Good catch, 3:13 - I'd gone to look for the document while writing the post and it wasn't with the others on their publications page. Just a brain fart that I'd forgotten blogging it. I don't know why it's not linked with the others but I'll correct it in the post.

Anonymous said...

Mary T you are only partially correct concerning your information about Bexar County. There was a study completed but the changes have not been implemented. The actions of Chief Jarvis Anderson strongly suggest the recommendations will not be implemented. In early January 2010 Chief Anderson stopped committee meetings within the department which were created to help these changes occur.

Three of these committees were led by the department Assistant Chiefs. On 2-22-10 Chief Anderson informed the Assistant Chiefs they needed to reapply for their jobs. It seems some things will never change in the probation department.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the adult system be cut back and give more money for the juvenile system, especially TYC since they are in need of help?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reporting this! I have mentioned in a couple of posts around that they only vacant beds TDCJ has are the empty ones in SAFP and trusty camps.

The SAFP vacant beds are "under utilized diversion programs" and 3 SAFP's that I know of have capacity for 1800 and less than 900 filled between the 3.

Counties and private are getting these treatment offenders, making TDCJ appear to get out of the rehabilitation programs. Evidenced by cutting re-entry out of Rehabilitation Programs and making it a separate division.

Check out joint letter from Mr Bell and Mr Livingston to TBCJ and TDCJ Executive Staff. Under Rehab Programs paragraph it basically mentions the thousands of volunteers (which are great, but there is more to rehab than volunteer programs).

Reentry mentions hiring a few new positions - 65 is more than a few and as a separate division there is a lot of cost involved especially when we are having to cut back 5% as a whole. Perhaps shelving this reentry which was already a part of the Rehabilitation and Reentry Programs Division would have been a lot more cost effect.

Anonymous said...

One thing I would like to see is more focus on EVIDENCE BASED treatment. Instead of packing relapsers off to repeat after repeat of abstinence based rehabs/SAFP, etc, better use should be made of MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment), especially for opioid addicted offenders, with methadone and buprenorphine.

For example, methadone is the most effective treatment available for opioid addiction BY FAR, with a 65% to 90% success rate for those who remain in treatment, as compared to the 10-15% success rate for the same population in abstinence based "treatment". Yet Travis COunty's Drug Court judge refuses to allow any of "his" offenders to utilize this treatment method (or to remain in it if they are already patients at a clinic). Instead, he insists that they attend 12 step group meetings, despite the supreme court's findings that these groups are RELIGIOUS and people cannot be legally compelled to attend them. When the person graduates from Drug Court, Judge Bennett gives them an invitation to come and see him at his own "home" AA group,

If AA worked for the Judge, that's great. However, it is NOT TREATMENT, but a support group. Many so called rehabs are nothing more than an intro to AA/NA course, with their primary focus on working the steps, and they completely ignore the physical, biochemical aspects of addiction. Addiction treatment, all too often, is stuck back in the 1930's. They give lip service to addiction being a disease, but treat the patient as though they had a moral failing, a character defect, or a "spiritual malady" that causes them to use drugs.

Forcing patients out of, or refusing to allow them to seek the most effective treatment available for their disorder not only violates ethical principles galore, but it also crosses the line into engaging in medical treatment without a license. Would a judge prohibit someone from taking medication for schizophrenia? Major Clinical Depression? Bipolar disorder? Of course not--yet they do forbid people to take methadone or buprenorphine, thereby dramatically lessening their chances of recovery, based on their personal prejudices and sometimes their personal desire to promote their personal method of recovery. This is a real shame, and costs lives every year.

Marie T said...

Anonymous said...

Grits, Bexar is making the needed changes! They are just having a changing of the old corrupt asst.chiefs. The changes could not be made unless new managers were brought in. I feel the department will turn around in the next year.
The Fabelo plan is on full steam ahead. Some of the asst chiefs have been there over 30 years and are just not up to the change!

Anonymous said...

As the spouse of a TDCJ employee who works at one of the prisons you're advocating to close, it's very disheartening to think that hundreds of people will be out of jobs if they close even one prison. If these programs are working, great, but do we really think they are? Prisons have been around for many more years than any of us have been around and they serve a purpose. Rehabilitation is a choice, not a program. If being in prison doesn't make them want to change their ways, what will? The ones who truly want to change, will change. Even the best programs won't change the rest. You make it sound so easy, cutting hundreds of people off from jobs they've known for many years. And don't think they'll be absorbed into the system at other units. It won't happen. Sad.

Anonymous said...

I agree some of the Assistant Chiefs and Managers may not be doing a good job and need to go. But it is unrealistic to believe ALL assistant chiefs and ALL managers are failing and need to reapply for their job. The time spent for all these interviews delays the implementation of the changes recommended by Dr. Fabelo. It would make more sense to just get rid of the incompetent employee by demotion or termination. Assuming ALL the current assistant chiefs and managers will be replaced is equally ridiculous.

The union filed a law suit when a former chief made competent employees reapply for their job. Why has the union failed to speak out on the new chief doing the very same thing?

Marie T said...

Anony. 3:58 Yes, Prison will help someone see they have a problem, but that is just the first step to change. AA & Al-Anon Step 1 is admitting I have a problem I can't solve. But how do I change. I need help from someone or a program that can show me how to change a lifetime of bad behavior. That's what the TDCJ programs are designed to do. Just dumping someone at the front gate with $100 and saying don't come back without giving them the tools to keep from coming back is recidivism.

Yes it is unfortunate that closing units may result in job changes. Many people in the workforce are faced with moving, taking different jobs and even early retirement because of downsizing, but sometimes those difficult choices have to be made by responsible managers.

Anonymous said...

Marie T - I'm not going to debate you on this. Let's just agree that we disagree on the subject of programs helping people "change a lifetime of bad behavior." I've seen one of these programs up close and personal as a volunteer for one in another State. Let's just say that 8 out of 10 in the program did not appreciate what was being done for them and felt "entitled" and that society "owed" them something. It's just not that easy changing a "lifetime of bad behavior." If you choose to believe that, then you're certainly entitled to your beliefs. I believe it comes down to a lifetime of bad choices. It becomes a way of life. And no program on earth will change that for most, not all, people. I'm all for helping people, but the desire to change has got to be there. It has to come from your heart and soul. Period.

davidsnaustin said...

The State should charge every county half of what it cost to house an inmate in a State or TDC prison. Maybe then and only then will counties begin to utilize some of these "diversion" programs. My friend with a non violent and victimless drug possession charge tried to get Williamson Cty to put him in a "diversion" program; fitting all the criteria. However, they told him they did not do that. He's serving 15yrs in TDC - much more time as the violent Wilco rapist kidnapper cop Jimmey Fennell - he'll possibly be out of jail in 2.5 yrs. So the Committe definately needs to come up with more persuasive ways to entice counties and prosecutors to DIVERT non violent and victimless defendants away form our "gang factory" prisons.