Monday, August 09, 2010

Incarceration rates headed "straight up again" if Texas cuts diversion programming

At the Dallas News, Robert Garrett reports on a concern I've expressed here on Grits that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to focus budget cuts on treatment and diversion programs while keeping the prison budget whole ("Addiction program for offenders too valuable to lose, proponents say," Aug. 9). Wrote Garrett:
Many criminologists and others in the field say that groundbreaking work on drug and alcohol counseling and community supervision has proved so effective that it has prevented another Texas prison-building boom. But they fear that could change if lawmakers cut diversion programs as they tackle a projected $18 billion budget shortfall.

"We've saved money, kept the public safe, and we're not getting the state in such a situation where they're having to just open the doors of the prison and start pushing people out," said Teresa May-Williams, assistant chief of probation in Dallas County, which has been a leader of Texas' big push to treat nonviolent offenders' addictions.

But the state's incarceration rate would be "going straight up again – and it would be fast" if cuts were made, she said.

The diversion programs' uncertain future demonstrates a potentially recurring problem: Cuts that lawmakers make now to prevention efforts – whether aimed at disease, child abuse, high school dropouts or ex-cons' relapses into drug abuse – could cause long-term woes that cost more to address. The cuts also could cancel lively experiments praised by criminal justice experts around the country.

Texas' offender population has decreased slightly since 2007, when the Legislature began investing more money in treatment, diversion and lower caseloads for local probation officers. State analysts project it to stay essentially flat at nearly 155,000 adults through 2015.

"It is reasonable to conclude those actions are largely responsible for the decline," said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the state criminal justice department.

Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry have ordered all state agencies to identify 10 percent in spending cuts over the next two years, preparations for tackling the budget gap next year. While the department has a few more weeks to fine-tune its cuts list and isn't tipping its hand, backers of the treatment and diversion initiatives fear the worst.
I couldn't agree more that slashing diversion funding would be penny wise and pound foolish. The Legislative Budget Board in June released projections that Texas' prison population had leveled off for the time being, but would increase again if diversion programming was cut. Closing prisons while doubling down on community supervision and probation funding is the only realistic way for the agency to cut 10% without harming public safety. If the state just slashes treatment and keeps all its prison units open despite declining inmate populations, there's little doubt they'll fill up and overflow again with breathtaking rapidity.


Anonymous said...

When Jeb Bush was elected governor of Florida, one of the first things that he did was cut, by half, the "Truth" anti-smoking campaign. It was the most successful anti-smoking campaign ever.

The only thing that republicans hate more than a government program is a government program that works. How long have they tried to cut Social Security and Medicare?

Anonymous said...

There are so many smarter ways to save money in TDCJ, as has been posted on this blog in the past. It would seem to me that closing empty prisons and ending private prison contracts would be a good step in the right direction. But also combining probation and parole would save a lot of administrative expense since both of these entities essentially deal with the same people. I understand the resistance in bringing probation in as state employees but the savings in reduced administrative costs (fewer chiefs/directors, fewer supervisors, fewer offices) and less reliance on probation fees (as has also been criticized in the past) could potentially streamline this system.

Anonymous said...

Combining probation and parole would be a disaster. I've been around both of those systems and the mindsets are worlds apart. I was in a training with a parole supervisor who said, "And when the scumbags come to report...Oh we don't mean anything by it, we call all of them scumbags."

I've had a couple of probation officers go to parole and within two months they both came back because they said that parole is just another world.

Probation has its problems because we have 121 different departments with almost that many different ways of doing things. On the other hand, one reason it has been successful is because it is NOT a statewide system where one set of rules for Houston-Dallas-Austin is supposed to fit every department across the state (like all the small departments in West Texas and East Texas). Local control can be a pain in the butt, but it has proven to be much better in being more innovative and more sensitive to local issues, needs, and resources.

You can bet that if TDCJ were to combine probation and parole, they would let the tail wag the dog with parole taking over probation even though there are a lot more probationers than parolees.

Hook Em Horns said...

It remains to be seen whether the legislature has the guts to scrap, at least part, of this state's massive prison system.

IMHO it would be much more politically favorable to shudder some diversion programs than to close prisons...after all...we are TOUGH ON CRIME!

Don said...

Horns is right. It WOULD be more politically favorable to ditch the diversion programs, so that's what will happen. It always does. Remember 2003? Despite the fact that most people on this blog can see the folly of that, politics and TDCJ's self-preservation instintcs will win out. The lege will let it happen!

Anonymous said...

There is still a vast amount that can be cut in prison and TYC programs. Anyone can see the waste throughout the Texas criminal justice system. It helps few people but wastes extreme amounts of state funds. Cut Cut...cut...cut.

Jim Stott said...

As probation professionals, it appears once again we have our work cut out for us to justify our very existence. Thank God we have some legislators who understand the basics of probation enough to know that scrapping the successes of the last four or five legislative sessions would drive the state that much more in debt. I believe that the people who think "tough on crime" means sitting in a prison cell need to come to terms with reality. For many offenders in our system today, it is much more inconvenient to be held accountable for your actions.

Combining probation and parole is insane. They are two separate systems, responsible for different areas of the criminal justice system. Dealing with offenders in the local community is what the core of probation has always been about. Local judges and local control has proven to be a very effective system. We should keep it that way

Anonymous said...

I understand the concern over cutting the Diversion Programs but they already cut the Basic Supervision Fund already for 2011.
This covers the cases that don't fit into a Diversion Caseload. In my county we trying to use those funds also to divert from prison.The new cuts just sent the prison population back up and it will go unnoticed unless Grits picks up the cuts to the Probation Basic Supervision Fund.

I work the normal line cases not all cases can fit into a Diversion Program. We were trying hard to keep caseloads down so we have the time to call a defendant and find out why they did not report or follow up to make sure the defendant attended treatment. Probationers are sometimes like Kids if they are being watched they behave. You show no one cares and they become out of control. Just that extra 5 minutes with each defendant can make a big difference.
The Probation Officers Statewide are young, untrained, poorly paid and overworked. If you take the cuts that just were seen in prison reduction add some lite training, a little more pay than the 30,000 a year pay check and keep the caseload low......It will work. Probation started this change without training, fairly paid officers and caseload max numbers. There is more work to be done to save money for the state. When a male goes to prison the family ends up using more state funding in other arears to compensate.
This is a no brainer....but will the brains in Austin figure it out?

Anonymous said...

I recall some years ago an adult diversion program called Restitution Centers in which non-violent property offenders were housed rather than being sent to TDCJ. The offenders were kept in their own communities, required to get and keep a job, pay for their own room and board, pay taxes and pay child and family support. I recall that the centers seemed to help tax payers and help offenders keep families closer together. The offenders were also required to participate in counseling and educational programs. Wouldn't that work again?

Jim Stott said...

Several of those programs still exist, although many have gone on to address specific treatment modalities. Our 60 bed facility for females here achieves great success in accomplishing all of the things you mention, thereby addressing the problem and reducing commitments to ID. The problem comes with keeping them afloat with state resources being cut. To keep these important programs going, many department must dip into their core probation funding to keep the doors open.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but restitution centers (RCs) became useless because they (like many of the community corrections facilities-CCFs) were underfunded. By the time the centers finished charging residents for room and board, laundry, transportation, etc., etc., etc. so they could meet their budgets, the residents were paying only pennies on the dollar towards restitution and fees. That's why RCs had the longest average stay in the facility of any CCF and why they also had the highest absconder rates. It was not unusual for residents to stay in a RC for two years. As a result, many of them just gave up and ran away.

Anonymous said...

Seems such a waste to leave a potentially good program (the Restitution Center) out of current correctional diversion concepts. Certainly underfunded programs lag desired outcomes, but isn't that where corrections professionals come into play? Find the right combination that makes them work; save taxpayers money, let criminals pay for their crimes and offer rehad chances. Just seems right to me.

Anonymous said...

Countless millions of dollars could be saved if disabled and feeble prisoners---no longer a threat to anyone---could be paroled. The inmates at BOYD and SKY VIEW prisons look like the worst condition nursing home patients I have seen during my life. This situation is patently ludicrous and the taxpayers of Texas have no right to whine about money until they come out of their sleepwalk. When I visited my family member at Boyd I watched old men sit down to catch their breath after they had walked 50 feet across the visiting area! Tax dollars well spent! Could this be the reason why the Texas representatives that oversee TDCJ only seem to visit certain prisons? I live outside Texas so I can laugh at this deal. The GREAT thing I can say about TDCJ is that they are paying for the ever increasing drugs and health costs that my relative is receiving and for that I can only bow and say "thank you Texas." Eleven years down and nine to go and by that time my brother should have soaked up a million in room, board, food, prescriptions, mental counseling and all the rest from YOU, the rough and tough Texas public! YEE HAAAAA! Well, you want it, you got it--as the old car commercial said. Well, all I can say is THANKS. Wait, I forgot, old Bill has had a stroke so he doesn't walk too good anymore, so, with a bit of luck, so to speak, Bill will spend his last years of life at a hospital like the TDCJ Galveston facility where he will rack up maybe another half million in tax dollars in health care and depart this world more comfortably situated than a lot of Texas taxpayers will. Now THAT is what I call justice.

My brother once told me that if ALL the cell doors in his prison were left open he would stay where he was since "I have nowhere to go, nothing to do when I get there and they take care of me here." From the sound of it TDCJ is already providing OBAMACARE and the welfare state that the Bush supporters detest. How ironic.

Hey, Texas, Who is punishing whom?

Uh, keep up the good work, Y'ALLLL!

James Harrison
Charlottesville, Virginia