Friday, July 02, 2010

The contract: A reasonable alternative to adjudicating low-level offenses?

Before I leave the subject of Wednesday's House Corrections Committee meeting, one more idea from Harris County DA Pat Lykos that might be more widely applicable. She said her office has instituted community supervision by "contract" with some 2,200 juveniles in lieu of formal adjudication, saying it's not really true that juvenile records are closed. When the contract expires, there is no formal criminal record.

The catch: In some cases prosecutors have been forced to file charges in order to access services for youth, said the DA. That's pretty pathetic, when you think about it. Basically, kids can only get help when they screw up.

The "contract" idea reminds me of a program described on Grits a few years back "In South Australia [where] many low-level juvie cases are handled not through the courts but through agreements extracted through a police officer with youth and their parents that keeps them out of the system entirely."

I mentioned earlier the suggestion that drunks and druggies might be taken to "detox centers" instead of jails to sober up without going through formal adjudication, and it's possible this "contract" model might be a good mechanism to enforce limited supervision terms on such offenders. So tell me, gentle readers, what potential benefits and drawbacks of the idea come to mind?

UPDATE: A commenter points to a program along these lines in the UK called "Acceptable Behavior Contracts," see this description, which is used there for both juveniles and adults.


Anonymous said...

grits - did the harrris da tell you the outcomes of the 2200 juvies who contracted with her? who did the supervision? how long have they been doing this? what level of offense? sounds a lot like deferred adj. to me. most larger counties defer adjucicate hundreds per year with about a 20% reoffending rate. tell it all, brother, tell it all.

Whitney said...

I know the Governor's Office gets lots of money (or at least used to a few years ago when I worked there) for "juvenile justice" grants, many of which were targeted at intervention for "at risk" youth, or youth who had had contact with the criminal justice system. I wonder where these funds could come in here, perhaps as a type of diversion program or program for low level offenders...

Anonymous said...

I understand trying to find solutions for juvenile offenders, but the question presented here is about adult offenders if I understand correctly.

My first question is exactly why would this be a consideration for adult offenders?

Are we concerned that individuals are being prosecuted that you feel should not be, and so they are innocent of any wrong doing to begin with?

Or, are we concerned that these sorts of crimes are creating an impact on the jail overcrowding issue, and this is some sort of possible solution?

Or, are we concerned that these individuals should be receiving treatment in order to change their behavior, and this is some sort of possible solution?

Or, are we concerned that prosecuting such cases is too costly and this boils down to economics, and so this is some sort of possible solution?

Please shed some insight on the purpose.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'd say your last three reasons all apply in varying degree, 10:39.

8:24, the DA didnt' "tell" me anything, I'm quoting from her public testimony at a hearing. I don't know the answers to your questions.

Anonymous said...

Deferred Prosecution(aka "the contract") is a statutory scheme in the family code, not to be confused with adult deferred adjudication.

john said...

The problem is basically as the commenters are asking---is this about kids and/or adults, and is it about rehabilitation or preventing crime, or persecuting crime, etc.??
Another thing it's about is making money off the head count, at local levels, but maybe some fed money coming in, too.
Then there's the lawyers' "union," where they do anything to keep their business booming--and some always move on to be judges & politicians.
So even with the cops that want to help people, they're hamstrung by whatever laws the Legislature put in, as well as whatever interpretation the lawyers' "union" gives it. The POWER is used, not necessarily with authority.
HAVING WHINED about that, obviously if juveniles could be helped and rehab'd and their minor or early "offenses" could be held in reasonable perspective, THAT WOULD BE A GOOD THING. Once they're tossed in a general jail/prison population, they may be lost.
And by the way, it would help if Texas "authorities" would stop abusing traffic Class C Misdemeanors and other non-jailable offenses by sending people to jail for various excuses in order to get mo' money from them, the State & the feds.
And that gets back to: unless We The People can BE the term limits on the few who ARE elected to office, we will never get the force needed to keep appointed/hired officials from abusing their power. THAT honor system has to come from the top down---and can only do so if the public holds them accountable. In these tough economic times we just keep seeing more and more Rod Blagojeviches and Rick "Rod" Perrys and so on.

Paul UK said...

These forms of contracts have been available in the UK for a number of years, as to their effectiveness results are mixed. They do need to be targeted for the correct behaviour and not used as a cheap method of providing sanctions where court action would be justified. But also they must not be distributed like confetti by police departments in order to prove that they are "Doing something" Below is a link outlining them

Anonymous said...

Re: 10:39 and Grits reply,

It appears then that economics is the main focus of the criminal justice system.

It would also appear that there is some sort of consensus by the Harris County DA’s office, Judge Caprice Cosper with the Harris County’s Office of Criminal Justice Coordination, and Jim McReynolds the Chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee that treatment for drug and alcohol abusers is more effective than incarceration.

What remains unclear is at what cost are they contemplating the implementation of new programs to address these issues, would those costs actually reduce costs, and why if economics is a major focus are they not seeking out all ways to reduce the cost factor which would then free up already allocated resources in order to help implement programs that they feel would be more prudent in the first place.

Harris County Pretrial Release for example has moved long ago from an agency created to serve the “indigent.” It is questionable if they have ever served the indigent. This is a government bureaucracy that not only bogs the system down by interviewing (everyone) immediately upon incarceration, but serves in other capacities and in this particular scenario it serves to coordinate the drug testing of pretrial defendants, even those who have not been charged with a drug offense.

Enormous amounts of money are spent to staff and administer drug testing to presumed innocent pretrial defendants resulting in the re-incarceration of these pretrial defendants. Incarceration once again places economic burdens on the jail overcrowding issue and offers no treatment.

Much like the failure of state jail to implement its original purpose, revisiting Government Pretrial Release in the words of Harris County DA Patricia Lycos would be a “ray of sunshine.” Revisiting the purpose and intent of Harris County Pretrial Release and the huge dollars spent for its implementation might also work to help divert and provide needed tax dollars for analysis, planning, and implementation of possible treatment programs and other possible programs rather than incarceration.