Monday, July 26, 2010

States seek to fix broken probation systems

Looking outside Texas' borders for just a moment, let me point out a couple of notable stories from other states on the usually sleepy subject of community supervision.

An investigative report from the Boston Globe on the Massachusetts probation department found cronyism in hiring, dramatically inflated caseloads aimed at boosting state allocations, and a GPS monitoring program that was expensive and failed at most of its fundamental goals. Their risk assessment instrument labels 2/3 of defendants as "maximum" threats, far above the rates found elsewhere. An independent counsel has been appointed to investigate a situation that sounds like a complete clusterf&%k..

Meanwhile, AP has a story, "Study finds Ohio probation system fragmented," citing a study by the Council of State Government Justice Center which found that "offenders who commit minor drug and property crimes are often supervised for years, while inmates who pose a high risk to public safety are released from prison without supervision." Says AP:
California is trying to slow the so-called "churning" of inmates by better managing minor parole violators in hopes of reducing the prison population by 6,500. In Texas, parole and probation violators are sent to detention facilities outside the prison system rather than re-imprison them.

The Ohio study, to be unveiled at a daylong symposium, found that four of every 10 inmates serving short sentences have a low risk of re-offending. Two of every three committed property crimes or were drug offenders, and have two or fewer prior convictions. 
The issue of estimating risk for low-level drug and property offenders is a recurring theme in both these stories, which reminds me I still need to read (and then post on) Marc Levin's latest report (pdf) on the use of risk-assessment tools in community supervision. For such a technical subject, it's a particularly important one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope that CJAD can come up with a more useful and relevant risk/needs assessment that what is currently being utilized across the state. Many officers find that the Wisconsin assessment is a waste of time as it does not give an officer much useful information. Experienced officers can tell if an individual is high risk or not based on a five minute conversation. I understand the need for assessments, but we need a more accurate and relevant tool. Levin's report noted that the Wisconsin assessment sstudy in 2005 only found that 30% of "high risk" offenders were reincarcerated after two years. A better tool would be able to increase that percentage of high risk proving more accuracy.