Thursday, August 19, 2010

If they wanted to, parole board could cut TDCJ spending easier than legislators

Far and away the biggest cost to Texas taxpayers from illegal immigrants - nearly double the amount spent on health and human services - is $171 million per year spent to house people in Texas state prisons who are eligible for deportation, the House State Affairs Committee was told yesterday. Reports Julian Aguilar at the Texas Tribune:
As of last July 2010, about 11,760 of the offenders incarcerated in the Texas State prison system, or 7.5 percent of the total prison population, claimed foreign residency, according to testimony from Jerry McGinty, the budget director for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Through current agreements with the federal government, specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the state can identify prisoners eligible for deportation at the end of their sentences. Roughly 9,800 of the foreigners incarcerated had ICE detainers placed on them. Though not all entered the country illegally, McGinty estimated that the state pays at least $171 million annually to detain prisoners who could be deported. The remaining inmates with foreigner status, McGinty said, are currently being processed to determine if they, too, qualify for deportation.

A competitive federal grant program known as the Criminal Alien Assistance Program partially reimburses state governments for those costs. For Texas, however, that hardly settles the score. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice received $17.9 million in fiscal year 2010 — just 10 percent of the costs of incarceration.
Since about 56% of Texas prison inmates are eligible for parole, according to TDCJ's most recent statistical report (pdf, p. 15), there's a good chance that many of those eligible for deportation have also finished their minimum sentence. In those instances, particularly when the risk factors for recidivism are minimal, exactly what is the parole board waiting for?

In case you're keeping track, Texas is spending $171 million to house offenders eligible for deportation, and another $320 million on medical care alone for frail elderly prisoners. At a recent House Corrections Committee meeting, the chairman revealed that "40% of TDCJ's $800 million healthcare budget was going to pay to care for frail, elderly inmates" at a time when the number of medical paroles is declining. Add to that the fact that the parole board is less likely to follow its own release guidelines for low-risk inmates compared to high-risk ones, and the parole board is at the center of a lot of TDCJ's overspending problems.

Not all of those inmates should be released, but if inmates in these categories were evaluated based on less fearful, more evidence-based risk-assessment criteria, the state could save hundreds of millions and likely close multiple prison units just from focusing on how to safely release those prisoners. In the case of medical releases, likely either Medicare or Medicaid will pay the bills on the outside, with state government picking up none of the costs for the former and a little more than 1/3 of the latter. So it shifts costs, but from a state government perspective, in the context of current rules and programs, it makes tons of budget sense sense to offload healthcare costs to the feds.

These are policy decisions so they weren't suggested by TDCJ in its recent Legislative Appropriations Request. But for those at the capitol and the Governor's office seriously considering how to cut unnecessary state spending, there'd be a lot of benefit from somehow requiring the parole board to more closely vet such release candidates based on less restrictive criteria. The parole board could do more to cut the state corrections budget - especially if the state ups its investment in reentry, community supervision and intermediate sanctions - than any legislative committee will likely be able to accomplish without their assistance.


Anonymous said...

Lazy, Intergenerational poor work ethics of some members of the board

Hook Em Horns said...

Members of the board have bought the "tough on crime" FABLE that permeates this state.

TPN said...

Absolutely ridiculous that they aren't cutting more people loose. Many first time offenders with no violence, drugs, or history in their past are doing almost 50% of their time, the same as agg sentences. Http://

Hook Em Horns said...

"If they wanted to, parole board could cut TDCJ spending easier than legislators"


Anonymous said...

Maybe the parole board would make better choices, and run more efficiently, if they weren't embedded in TDCJ. CSCDs are not directly affiliated with TDCJ, working individually under the guidance of CJAD. Perhaps parole would function better under such an arrangement. Oh, but the screams we will hear about this!

sunray's wench said...

@ 8:44 ~ no, they'd do a better job if they were actually accountable to anyone. Currently, they have the final say on all decisions, do not publish their decisions the way they have been told to, cannot be removed from office by anyone other than the Governor (who picked them in the first place) and can deny parole based on things an inmate has absolutely no power to change during their incarceration (most common denials are for "insufficient time served" and "nature of offence"). Fixing those things, and having a bias towards release instead of incarceration would help everyone in the long run.