Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rethinking probation as primary punishment

Beaumont probation director Jim Stott offered this optimistic wish in Grits' comments to this post: "I hope that one day, we can effectively argue that prison is the alternative, not probation." That's an at-once ambitious and also a rather pedestrian goal - one that certainly should be achievable if the Texas Legislature continues to focus on the problem.

Probation is already the sentence a majority of adult felony offenders receive, but the adult system is still heavily reliant on incarceration compared to the juvenile courts, where fewer than 2% of convicted juveniles are sent to TYC - a ratio of 50-1 probation/prison. By contrast, the same ratio for adults is around 3-1. So there's a lot of room to move toward greater reliance on beefed up community supervision in the adult system.

Stott goes on to make an observation I think is too often underplayed or poo-poohed when it's raised, but which IMO really has tremendous merit:
Over the past three or four sessions we have had all kinds of legislative champions, who understand the community corrections system and are willing to focus more on treatment than retribution. As a probation official, I am pleased to see the message finally getting across. Being tough on crime is a great message, but it doesn't always mean a prison sentence. Much of the time being tough means holding people accountable and making them productive. In many cases, that is a far more severe sanction.
Many people don't believe that a probation sentence can be a "far more severe sanction" than a prison sentence, but there are many reasons why that can be true. Probation restrictions can be severe, including curfews, bans on drinking alcohol, and regular urinalysis requirements. What's more, probationers must pay significant fees, restitution and treatment costs, perform community service, and at least try to remain employed, which is collectively more than some people who wind up on probation - who may have chaotic, messed up lives to begin with - have ever personally accomplished before.

By contrast, though there's certainly an element of indignity, from another perspective jail or prison just provides "three hots and a cot" for a finite, definable period of time, living in an environment where someone else controls their schedule, activities, personal space, you name it. Such restrictions essentially infantilize the inmate instead of teaching him or her how to be responsible for themselves. For a lot of offenders, it truly is harder to be responsible for their own behavior in the free world than it is to sit out their sentence in a cell without ever doing the difficult work to change their mentality, habits, or associations.

I see this misconception frequently - the idea that probation is somehow not a "real" punishment. Mark Pryor over at DA Confidential, responding to a commenter's question regarding which offenses warrant probation vs. prison time, recently wrote:
first one needs to chalk up the purposes of the two options, probation and prison. Boiling them down to their essentials, I come up with:

Probation = rehabilitation
Prison = punishment
That's a typical framework for thinking about community supervision, but I also happen to think it's grievously flawed. He did caveat this statement by adding:
Sure, there are punitive elements to probation and one always hope for self-betterment in prison but from the stand-point of the prosecutor, those seem to be the basics. (I'd thought of adding "community safety" to the prison category but if rehabilitation is achieved, then probation gets us there, too). For a more detailed discussion of probation and its goals, look at last week's post, here.
But by undervaluing the "punitive elements to probation," I think prosecutors like Mark may come to over-rely on prison when they think "there has to be some punishment."

Whether an offender goes to prison or is sentenced to probation, the bottom line goal of their sentence from a public safety standpoint should be the same: To prevent the offender from committing more crimes. In most cases that goal is best served by supervising the offender in the community and requiring them to demonstrate they can be a functioning, productive member of society. That's something that can never be proven while sitting in a cell. Plus, the reentry period when they leave prison is the single riskiest period for recidivism - a treacherous stage in the process that probation wholly bypasses.

State Sen. John Whitmire told the Austin Statesman today that, “It’s premature now to be calling to close units, while we’re still seeing the full impact of all the diversion and treatment programs we started putting into operation in 2007.” I certainly see his point. Perhaps, though, the 2007 reforms shouldn't be viewed as the end-all be all, but the Lege could expand on that work and bolster diversion programs even further to push prison populations even lower.

When the 2007 reforms were first proposed in 2005, they were harshly attacked by Williamson County DA John Bradley and several House members (all of whom have left the Legislature, or will before next session) who complained that the changes would unleash a crime wave on the state. Not only did that not happen, though, crime continued to decline, even as thousands of offenders were diverted from prisons each year through the new programs.

Those attacks led bill sponsors to weaken the legislation and take out key provisions that would have resulted in much greater prison population reductions, according to LBB estimates. Now that we know the sky didn't fall when the first stage of probation reforms were enacted, the Lege should go back and pick up the rest of the proposals that were stripped out of the legislation in 2005.

Other strategies to safely reduce inmate numbers: Investing even further in diversion programming instead of leaving it at 2007/2009 levels. Those investments have seriously paid off and it's time the Lege upped their ante to achieve an even bigger return. I'd also like to see them seriously consider targeted sentence reductions for nonviolent offenses, starting with reducing low-level drug penalties by one offense category and indexing theft categories to inflation.

There are other creative strategies they could use to trim prison populations at the margins without harming public safety. That's a better strategy than sitting back and hoping the 2007 reforms will be enough to solve TDCJ's problems, when clearly more needs to be done.


Anonymous said...

Stotts is a genius plus a 'good ol' boy. Hope Grits endorsement is not the kiss of death.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Plato, your career survived you being mentioned by name on Grits in the past, I'll bet Jim gets by alright, too.

BTW, I deleted another comment here this morning that had no connection to the post and ended with angry obscenity. I welcome opposing views on this blog, but try to stay on topic and express yourself in language you wouldn't mind using in front of your kids or your grandmother. Those wanting to engage in obscenity-filled flame wars should go elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Grits, I'll take the bait. In my county, most first time non-violent felony offenders get probation now. One has to screw up pretty badly--usually a significant crime against another person--to get sent to prison for a first offense. For the most part, I think our county (and I would venture to guess most counties) is utilizing probation as it should be---a second chance for most first time property crime and drug offenders. If there are other counties out there which are giving these kinds of offenders pen time for their first felony transgression, I wish you'd name them. There seems to be this huge misconception among your readers and the liberal media that lots of non-violent offenders are getting pen time the first time around. I just don't see that happening very often anywhere in the state.

I'll concede that probation has some punitive elements. And you're right; some offenders just aren't afraid of doing pen time. My question to you is this: What do you suggest we do with non-compliant probationers who aren't afraid to do pen time? I've seen many drug and property offenders who persistantly do not comply--won't pay their fines and fees, won't report, repeatedly test positive for using drugs, etc.. They don't care. We work our way up the continuum of treatment options until we get to SAFPF, and then NO ONE wants to go to SAFPF. Invariably, when we get to that point they'll ask "how much time will I get if I just go ahead and do my time?" If you attempt to force them into SAFPF, they'll flunk out or screw up just to get out of having to go through that program so they can go on to do their time in the pen.

Have you ever heard that old adage, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink?" That applies to a significant percentage of probationers. Some people just don't do "liberty" very well. Maybe it's because of the choices they've made, or maybe it was the way they were raised. But in either event, probation just doesn't work for them and they couldn't care less. You're right, "three hots and a cot" is actually a step up in life for many of these people. But what else would you have us do with them? Banishment? I think that's probably unconstitional. Just give up and leave them to go free to continue to prey on society? I'll welcome your comments.

ckikerintulia said...

Grits, I certainly agree that there is an element of punishment in probation. Take the case of Tom Coleman. He's a gun nut. He was (is) deprived of possession of guns, along with the other usual stipulations of probation. He can never be employed as a law enforcement officer again, barring a pardon. Certainly there's a better chance of rehab in probation than in incarceration.

Thanks for deleting the nasty comment that was off subject (and no doubt anonymous?) I wish you would do that more often for anonymous trollers.

Anonymous said...

I know probation works. My son came out of TYC after 4 years and was on probation for 5 years. In that time, the only violation he had was when the monitor he was wearing didn't work correctly, and after the monitor was changed out, no more problems. It took alot for us to get used to the restrictions that came with his being on the monitor and probation, but we got through it.

There are drug test/classes, classes in anger management, counseling, and recommendations of either work or school. There was also assistance fromm various organization, that helped with doctor visits, transportation cost, school supplies and an allowance for daily living expenses, and assistance to get his disability approved.

At 25 he now owns 2 barber shops and employes other people on probation or parole and a written contract with them outlining his requirements and the treatments that any violation will bring.

Yea it work, if he had gone to TDC he never would have made it out live and undamaged.

What needs to be done is that the :power that be: need to speak with some of the family members of people on probation or parole and get thre feedback as to what does and doesn't work in the system.

D.A. Confidential said...

Anon @ 8:22 - that could have been my post!

I, too, agree that probation can be punitive, but I think sometimes those who don't work in the system take the high-altitude, objective view and don't necessarily see how it works in practice. What I mean, more specifically, is that you and I know probation can be punitive in effect, but in 95 percent of cases defendants don't. In their minds it's simply better than prison, and if that's true then the "probation as punishment" is somewhat watered down. It becomes a let-off, almost.

I suppose the corollary to that is to wonder whether, if probation indeed is punitive, and the defendant doesn't get this going in, isn't he more likely to flunk out? I have to do what, now? Not drink? Not smoke weed?

I also agree that it's a misconception that even serious offenders go straight to the pen. I have had numerous cases, involving robbery, weapons, etc, where the defendant got probation.
And, to sound like a parrot on Anon's shoulder, what IS your solution for the petty (or non-petty) offender who simply won't abide by the conditions of porbation, who won't stop stealing or continues to smoke weed or drive without a license? Threatening them with more probation doesn't seem to be a great plan.

Finally, I'm curious about your 3-1 statistic. Is that state wide? I'm betting here in Travis County we're a little different. :)
Good discussion though, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Most of those I've seen in TYC had been on probation and treated it as a joke. They made little or no attempt to comply with probation requirements. Many had a long rap sheet and crime was their lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I have been to SAFP. Let me tell you what led up to it.

In 1998 I was convicted of POCS by fraud--for calling in a prescription for cough syrup containing hydrocodone. I had no previous record, was in my mid-30's, married, 3 kids, owned my home, college degree, not exactly a flight risk, etc. I was sentenced to 5 years probation, a $5,000 fine, 400 hours of community service, and Central Texas Treatment Center and forced to wait for a bed to open up in Wilco jail (a requirement of the center). Unfortunately, since they had beds for only 12 women and 68 men, the men's wait in jail was about two weeks. Women's was about 4 months--which is how long I waited. I then did 117 days in CTTC. Following that, I completed aftercare for one year. I paid my fees off and completed my CSR. I paid my fine in full.

Towards the end of my probationary period. I had a positive UA for opiates. I had broken my ankle two weeks earlier and had been prescribed medication at the ER. It was prescribed to be taken every 4 hours "as needed". My PO was upset because I still had some of the drug two weeks after breaking my ankle, saying that if in fact I had taken it as prescribed it would be all gone. I tried to explain to her that it was prescribed "as needed" and the prescribing doctor also called to explain this to her, to no avail. She then told me I could either agree to go to SAFP and sign for it on the spot and that I would then have my freedom until the case could be scheduled before the judge, OR I could refuse and be arrested on the spot and she was going to recommend SAFP anyhow. I asked for time to consult my attorney. She stated that if I spoke to an attorney the offer was no longer on the table and I would be arrested instantly. I had no choice but to agree to SAFP.

I had a 15 month old child, two older children and a seriously ill husband at the time. I needed time to arrange care, so I signed. I then had about 45 days before being sent to WILCO to await a bed opening in SAFP. I waited 4 1/2 months, spent 10 months at SAFP, and had to go to an Austin halfway house (a horrible environment for anyone contemplating recovery) for another 3 months. None of this was necessary or a wise use of community resources.

As for people not wanting to go to SAFP, there's a very good reason for that. I won't go into details here, but suffice it to say that I agree in full with the series of articles published by the Austin Chronicle last year regarding the abuses and torture that go on at those facilities, particularly towards women, in the name of "treatment" and that I testified before Senator Whitmire about it.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks probation = rehabilitation needs a caseload!

Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:17, don't you know that the money being spent on SAFP is all being done under the guise of what Grits, Sen. Whitmire, Rep. Jerry Madden and others call "being smarter" on criminal justice? That's why in 2007 the Leg. increased the money available for CSCD's for so called "treatment options" including increasing the number of available SAFP beds. And the more people that get sent to these "treatment programs" the more they can justify their existence and generate additional tax dollars in the next legislative appropriation. I can't even begin to tell you how many people I've seen in your shoes over the years who say they wish they'd just gone ahead and taken 6 mos. in the State Jail, or maybe an equivilent county jail sentence under Penal Code 12.44, and just been done with it.

Don said...

Anonymous 9:17--thanks for your story. That's why, as one poster put it, when it gets to SAFPF, nobody wants to go. He's a prosecutor and wants us to tell him what he's supposed to do with those people. You might start by questioning what goes on at SAFPF under the guise of "treatment". I think most people simply don't believe the horror stories, which 9:17 wisely wouldn't even go into. But I worked in one of them and worked with people coming out of them, for several years. I saw them before they went and after they came out. They were, with a few exceptions, worse, not better, when they came out. I would opt for straight prison time, too. The answer to 8:22 is: use your influence to try to make the option real treatment, as opposed to a place where the staff has more issues than the offender.

Jim Stott said...

Thanks Plato. Although many would disagree about the genius part.

Anonymous said...

To 2/12, 9:17AM......without meaning to be rude, you sort of skipped over the part about 45 days later when you had the opportunity to go in front of the judge with an attorney and still went to SAFP.

If you went to SAFP on one positive UA and no other indicaters (pos ua's, new drug offenses, pattern of Dr/Dentist/ER visits where new Rx are often obtained) then you are a very rare case.

Anonymous said...

One thing wrong with probation/deferred adjudacations is The information input is sometimes incorrect and after probation/deferred adjudacations are completed, these records should be removed. The same with prison sentences, once completed these should be removed and are in some States; murders usually do not get out of prison so why not Texas??

When a person gets out of prison and has completed parole, that person should not have the 800 lb. gorilla hanging around their necks that being available to anyone who pays the price to subscribe to Public Data. After all, this is a person's life and should not be ruined by some who think they are above the rest of society. This gives employers the opportunity to see the information on Public Data and more times than not is input incorrectly and looks much worse than the original mistake.

Until the Texas Legislators get back to forgiveness and realize they are not the judges of people, Texas will never change and what a waste of talent and lives TDCJ and the Legislators are making of people's lives. Any one but me ready for TERM LIMITS?

Sam said...

On a slightly related issue, it is my opinion that TJPC is making a big mistake in grouping probation violations with all other criminal offenses and counting them as recidivism. A good officer may bring a kid in for violating his probation, reasoning that he is likely to commit another offense if he doesn't get the kids attention. Something like a good parent might do if their child is breaking curfew but not gone to the dark side. But TJPC counts it the same and when the lege sees that they will mistakenly jump to the conclusion that probation doesn't work that these kids are all out of control.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:22 writes, "There seems to be this huge misconception among your readers and the liberal media that lots of non-violent offenders are getting pen time the first time around."

Please point out the comments you're reacting to - I don't see that said very frequently at all, certainly not in this post or in my day-to-day wrtings, and it seems like a straw man you've created rather than anything I or others have said on Grits.

RE: leading a horse to water, I sometimes wonder if the system doesn't lead its horses to a contaminated well.

You're making my case for me when you say some offenders won't comply and just say "how much time will I get if I just go ahead and do my time?" That was my point - incarceration is easier for many offenders! That doesn't mean it's better, for them or society. Sending them to prison is letting them off the hook and fails to force them to change their behavior, making it more likely they'll offend again when they get out.

As for, "What do you suggest we do with non-compliant probationers who aren't afraid to do pen time?" How about using intermediate sanctions facilities and short-term 'jail therapy' instead of always revoking them for their full term, especially when there's no new crime, no victim, etc.? Repeat as necessary. It's not like what you're doing now is working so great, by your own description.

DAC, the 3-1 statistic is (roughly) the statewide ratio of probationers to those in prison. Don't know the Travis numbers.

I also think you are 100% correct that "if probation indeed is punitive, and the defendant doesn't get this going in, isn't he more likely to flunk out?" The system IMO sets itself up to fail in that regard. By falsely characterizing probation as "lenient," you set false expectations that become self fulfilling - they're not going to try to succeed if that expectation hasn't been established from the time they choose to accept the sentence at the time of their plea.

Steve said...

Jim Stott is right about probation being a first option. I have absolutely no problem with putting assaultive, dangerous people behind bars. As a victim of crime, there are some people I don't want to see on the streets. On the other hand, I've never seen the sense of thinking that our first option with non-violent offenders should be to have them live 24/7 with robbers, rapists, and murderers for several years and expect them to come back to our community as "better" citizens. DUH!

And just because a probationer doesn't touch all the bases and follow all the rules when they're first put on probation doesn't mean they should be revoked. Most of them have been living dysfunctional lives for 25 years, so a few minutes a month with a brilliant charming probation officer isn't going to change their lives instantly. As long as they don't present a danger to others, we need to give them every chance possible to change. That's why we have all these intermediate sanctions. Once we've tried everything reasonable that we can, sometimes we have to tell them to say goodbye and let them go into their own train wreck. Unfortunately, we still have some PO's who get PO'd because a probationer doesn't jump through the hoops in just the right way, and they try to get the person revoked unnecessarily for nickel and dime stuff. That's where people like Jim and I have to train our POs better.

As for the SAFPF system, I helped create it, and I was one of its strongest supporters. I realize that there are some offenders who hate it because they hate any effort to help them change. On the other hand, there have been too many stories about the "abuses" to ignore them. TDCJ has never been known for caring bout quality of care, so those stories do have some element of believability.

Anonymous said...

Well, Grits, you're certainly a very vocal advocate of diversion programs. If you aren't trying to "divert" property crime and drug offenders from prison, then who exactly are you trying to divert? I do know firsthand that back in 2007 when they were advocating additional funding for CSCD's, SAFP's, etc., the editorial staffs at the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News were all proclaiming that we were wasting prison space on first time drug offenders. Well I couldn't tell you the last time a first time drug offender got sent to the pen in my county straight out of the box unless it was for something like possession of a kilo.

And then they were complaining that we were revoking too many people on "technical" violations. Well the technical violations that people were getting revoked for in our county were like 6th or 7th positive UA's after they'd been to AA, NA, ISF, and SAFP; or minor transgressions like failing to report to their probation officer.....for about a year!

At the end of the day our judges have the final say on who gets revoked and for what. I promise you they aren't getting revoked for "nickel and dime" stuff like Steve indicated. To the contrary, we can't get folks revoked who desperately NEED to be revoked.

I think it's really easy for you "academic" thinkers to be critical of the status quo and pontificate about how much "smarter" it is to spend our money on diversionary programs. I'd challenge you to tell me who is currently in prison that doesn't need to be there. I suspect you might be able to find a few isolated anecdotal examples here and there, but for the most part I suspect you are going to find that they are either violent offenders or people who have been given every opportunity in the world to do probation and totally refused to follow the rules. JMO

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:11 wrote, "If you aren't trying to "divert" property crime and drug offenders from prison, then who exactly are you trying to divert?"

Where did I say I'm against diversion for those offenders? Again, you're arguing against a position neither I nor anyone here has taken. Ditto for your complaints (unrelated to anything written here) about first-time offenders, etc.. You're just arguing against a straw man created in your own head, not any position taken here. I feel no compulsion to defend positions I've never taken.

As for, "I'd challenge you to tell me who is currently in prison that doesn't need to be there," let's start with crimes that have no victim. Nearly 20% of inmates are there on drug possession charges, most of them low-level. What's more, about 60% of current inmates are parole eligible and many of them don't need to be there. Also, failure to adjust theft levels for inflation means that every year people are sentenced to harsher punishments for the same crimes. And there are sick, elderly inmates who're costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands per year in medical costs who should receive medical parole. Finally, maybe your county doesn't regularly revoke on technicals, but that's not true everywhere. Bexar County, for example, has a terrible record on that score, and has sent many people to prison who shouldn't be there. That list should get you started; I could go on.

Your own description is of a system that's not working, not changing behavior, and that's generally helpless to deal with noncompliant offenders. So if the status quo doesn't work, why resist innovations? Sending them to interim sanctions facilities or brief jail stints instead of revoking to a full prison term saves taxpayers' money and can't work out any worse than the current system, where to hear you tell it the reason folks are revoked is their PO says, "I'm frustrated, I don't know what to do, I give up," even though you acknowledge prison is often no solution, either. You seem to be saying, "The current system has failed so we must never do anything differently."

Keep in mind, other countries don't incarcerate at nearly the rates we do, including many with much lower crime rates. We can always follow their leads. There is simply more than one way to skin this particular cat.

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast wrote:

"... incarceration is easier for many offenders!" and that "probation has some punitive elements."

I agree, but you only understand (it seems) the surface elements ( that which can be measured and reduced to statistics). Those who have been through the system may have a deeper understanding...see as an example

Anon. 9:17 wrote:

"...I agree in full with the series of articles published by the Austin Chronicle last year regarding the abuses and torture that go on at those facilities, particularly towards women, in the name of "treatment" and that I testified before Senator Whitmire about it."

alot of this community supervision is outsourced (which means that there is a profit motive involved for catching you do something...or setting you up... so don't drink out of any containers unless YOU open it might have been spiked with something), and anyone with connections to the police may be involved, from citizens in the neighborhood, whether they are good people or gang-members / mafia, to off-duty cops/prison guards and their relatives(often the same group since background checks are minimal)... so the same abuses that go inside of a facility can and do happen in the community, especially since the "tools" given to these invisible community-based prison gaurds who watch over you are increasingly high-tech, such as the Directed Energy Weapons (references below).

I recommend that you dig into the website I listed above as a primer to understand what is going on. Here is a quote:

"The public front portion of the program currently appears to emanate from a Department of Homeland Security initiative, known as, Citizen Corps. It is partnered with a National Neighborhood Watch program called, USAonWatch, which conducts citizen patrols. It is directed by FEMA, the FBI, & the National Sheriffs' Association. The public front is supported by individuals & groups of informants, that have no official ties to any state organization, & is also run by the FBI & other federal agencies. These federal agencies work directly with local governments to coordinate the activities of this colossal network. Other countries apparently have similar ones.

The citizen patrols (Gang Stalking) are done under the guise of keeping an eye on internal threats to state security & cleaning up neighborhoods. As I'll demonstrate, this is exactly what the informant networks in East Germany & Russia were told when they were recruited into these state-sponsored programs. These are essentially global Psychological Warfare operations, done with the support of the civilian population. On the neighborhood level, despite claims of patriotism, the main reasons for their participation are empowerment & adventure."

Anonymous said...

I have worked in the criminal justice field for over twenty years. Some offenders will not change their criminal activity no matter what a policeman, judge,or probation officer offers. These offenders are just comfortable with their life and consider their life just as normal as the law abiding citizen. I am not saying society should just give up but we need to recognize there are limitations.

These offenders are for the most part not lazy. They have a job and that job is steal and hussle for your property. Many work more than an eight hour day and are awake early. This offender considers being arrested and incarcerated just part of their job description.

The challenge is how to influence this life style. It is hard to make a difference but the criminal justice job is rewarding when the change happens.

Anonymous said...

Probation = rehabilitation
Prison = punishment

Probation+probation fees = surcharge which I believe most have a hard time paying and probably get hounded about.
Probation fees are like the DPS drivers license surcharge in this sense.

Anonymous said...

"Keep in mind, other countries don't incarcerate at nearly the rates we do, including many with much lower crime rates."

Tell us more. What are the reasons for these countries having a lower crime rate?

Don said...

Steve: If you helped create the SAFPF system you know that part of what is wrong is a flawed concept of rehabilitation, especially of alcohol and drug addicts. The "modified therapeutic community" stuff that TDCJ bought back in the 90's was a throwback to the 50's and 60's "insane asylum" era. It works on a communistic paradigm, which cultivates "snitching", collective punishment, sacrifice of individuality in favor of "community". The idea of rehabilitation over punishment was new at the time, (in Texas at least)and was very appealing as a concept. But, as often is the case, the devil was in the details. (implementation) Hardly anybody would argue that having 250 people sit in a chair facing the wall for 16 hours per day for several days straight, in order to get someone to cop to knowing who smuggled the contraband (cigarette) in, will make an addict commit to lifelong sobriety. I know everyone won't agree the "therapeutic community" concept is flawed. For one thing, because a variation of it is used in your CRTC facility, and I think that is a pretty good facility. But that is, IMO, because you DON'T do some of the things that the SAFPF's are infamous for. Thank you for conceding that the stories of abuses coming out of SAFPF have some element of believabilty. Indeed. Witnessing them firsthand sure made a believer out me. :-)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:58 - there are as many different reasons as there are countries on the list with better outcomes than ours. However, if Britain, e.g., can have lower crime and incarcerate at about 20% of the per capita rate we do (source), then it's clear to me that ours is not the only way to achieve better public safety results.

Jim Stott said...

Isn't the real purpose of the criminal justice system to stop crime? I'm not certain of the statistic, but a very large percentage of our population is in prison for drug offenses, either delivery or possession. If the program is corrupt, as mentioned in an earlier post, it needs to be fixed. If probation officers are advising their clients to not talk with their attorneys or a deal is off the table, they need to be fired. That's not their job anyway. The fact is that locking someone away because we are mad at them never works. As Dennis Chaleen said, we need to reserve prisons for the offenders we are afraid of. I believe that probation should be the primary sentencing option for all eligible offenders. Our adversarial system of criminal justice may never allow for that, but maybe one day it will.

I think that most people honestly want to change. Having been to hundreds of Drug Court graduations over the years, it is honestly the only time I feel my efforts as a PO are a success. Watching people chenge is a rewarding feeling. I never felt that great watching someone go to prison, unless I was afraid of them. All community corrections programs should work as well as Drug Courts. With proper resources, an understanding legislature and a decline of people in the criminal justice system who believe prison is the only option, we can accomplish our purpose.

Anonymous said...

06:41 You said:
"These offenders are just comfortable with their life and consider their life just as normal as the law abiding citizen."

You got it right.

Levi said...

This is my plan to reform the criminal justice system:

1. Eliminate the concept of misdemeanor or felony by allowing the judge and jury to choose any legal punishment for any crime.

2. Legal punishments are as follows:
Probation: No time limit; lifetime probation is possible.
Jail: Maximum legal jail term is 90 days.
Prison: Maximum legal prison term is 4 years hard labor.
Execution Any crime deserving more punishment than 4 years prison is a capital offense.

3. The burden of proof on capital offenses is "beyond a shadow of a doubt."

4. If lawmakers feel that the maximum jail or prison terms are not enough punishment their only recourse is not to lengthen the maximum term but rather to increase the degree of unpleasantness of the incarceration.

5. All lawmakers, prosecutors and judges must spend 1 week per year in jail except every 4th year that week is spent in prison. The annual incarceration term for lawmakers is doubled in any year in which laws are modified to increase the unpleasantness of incarceration.

Anonymous said...

Again Grits, the question is why are crime rates lower in these other countries?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:54, I answered your question: "there are as many different reasons as there are countries on the list with better outcomes than ours."

If you think you know a one-size-fits-all answer, by all means please provide it.

Anonymous said...

Anyone can do time but not everyone can complete probation. With all of the cutbacks in the prison system effectively eliminating many of the self-improvement options, probation seems to be the one "punishment" which actually works to rehabilitate as well as punish.

Anonymous said...

We had a judge here in Dallas that put everyone on Deferred Adjudication and then just waited for them to screw up. When they missed their first report or failed to make a payment -- WHAMMO!!! -- maximum pen time.

Anonymous said...

If you think you know a one-size-fits-all answer, by all means please provide it.

Don't have answer and apparently you don't either. I didn't read anything about the crime rates of these countries (murder, rape, robbery, theft, assault, motor vehicle theft) and how they compare to the United States.

Incarceration rates and crime rates are two different things. Are you saying these countries have a lower incarceration rate because they have a lower crime rate? If yes, that's absurd. Maybe law enforcement doesn't have the same clearance rate we have in America.

Mexioc has a lower incarceration rate, do they have a lower murder rate?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:21, please pay closer attention: I don't have a one-size-fits-all answer, as I said, because "there are as many different reasons as there are countries on the list with better outcomes than ours." I don't know how much clearer I can be, but if you'd like to keep repeating yourself, I can keep giving you the same answer over and over. I didn't say there's NOT a reason, I said every country is different and there's not a single answer. Mexico is different from Germany which is different from Japan. The reasons why each of those countries has lower crime rates than in America (yes, including Mexico) are different in each case. What about that don't you understand?

As for, "Are you saying these countries have a lower incarceration rate because they have a lower crime rate? If yes, that's absurd."

Actually, you're absurd. Either you're intentionally misrepresenting what I've said or just are too dense to understand it. I did not conflate crime rates and incarceration - you did. The US ranks 8th internationally in per capita crime. By contrast, we have far and away the world's highest incarceration rate - 5% of the world's population and 25% of its prisoners. If locking lots of people up in and of itself reduced crime, nations like France, Germany, Spain, Japan, etc., that incarcerate at far lower rates should have higher crime - they do not. Worldwide, the average crimes per capita is at 33.7 per thousand, while in the United States our rate is 80 per 1,000.

BTW, I mentioned Britain earlier; looking at the numbers from Nationmasters, the UK's crime rate has increased since I last looked at the numbers a couple of years ago, and is now higher than the US. The vast majority of nations in the world, however, have lower crime rates than we do - most of them substantially so - so my overall point still stands. If other nations can achieve similar or (usually) lower crime rates by incarcerating a fraction of what we do, clearly mass incarceration is not the only possible way to reduce or prevent crime.

Anonymous said...

The US has a large hip hop, gang oriented predatory population with an attitude. Many other countries doesn't have that.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I'm not as intellectrual as you Mr. Grits. Anyway, it's been nice talking to you.

Anonymous said...

Locking people up as punishment has been proven inadequate right here in good ole Texas - look at TYC. Such a waste of our cherished state funds.

Anonymous said...

To understand the culture that probation and parole officers are facing, read the story of Larmondo “Flair” Allen from New Orleans who died of multiple gunshot wounds.

It seems that Larmondo “Flair” Allen was a 25 year old facing murder charges. The paper listed his occupation as "Entrepreneur." Unmarried with 6 daughters and 3 sons by the age of 25 I guess he was an "Entrepreneur" drawing over a hundred thousand a year from chumps, I mean taxpayers for his baby mommies and nine children.

Like so many millions, he just "did his thing."

Anonymous said...

Robbing, raping and killing is not enough - now this:

Report cites ‘radicalization’ of U.S. prisoners
As many of three dozen Americans converted to Islam, went to Yemen

Jan. 19, 2010 AP
WASHINGTON - U.S. law enforcement authorities believe as many as three dozen Americans who converted to Islam in prison have traveled to Yemen, possibly to train with al-Qaida, according to a Senate report.
The "radicalization" of the individuals has alarmed U.S. officials even though no evidence has immediately tied them to terrorist activities.

Hola said...

The reason Mexico has a lower "crime rate" is not that there are fewer crimes in Mexico.

The reason Mexico has a lower "crime rate" is that the police are so corrupt that many crimes are never reported. The police themseleves are guilty of many of those unreported crimes.

Anonymous said...

Probation works if and only if the probation officer takes it seriously. Too many times the officer is just out for their paycheck and will not take the extra time to really learn about their caseload. Everyone has their unique factors that contribute to their daily actions and the officers need to understand that and HELP. Many people make a bad decision that turns worse for them with an overzealous probation officer or district attny. Rehabilitation with compassion works better on first offenders than incarceration.

Anonymous said...

Please remember Adult vs Juvenile probation departments are 2 very different animals. I started out in juvenile, now in adult and the 2 are not only funded differently but an officer's approach is much different. A juvenile you can mold, an adult you have to coax. An adult is pretty much dealt with one on one, a juvenile you have the entire family dynamics to consider. In both disciplines you have an abundance of CYA'ing to do, so much more so on the juvenile side, that you loose effective time that could be used to deal with the clients. Probation works for all ages, just the approach is different and the juveniles you have a realitively shory window to try yo be effective with them.

Anonymous said...


How many crimes would all your precious TYC beauties have committed if they weren't in TYC? After all that is why they were sent right. A judge and a prosecutor in a county near you said the juve criminal was not safe in your community...TYC didn't recruit him. What good did your community do?