Monday, January 31, 2011

Risks, rewards of inmate labor and the Thirteenth Amendment

I noticed several recent articles about the use of prisoner labor (both from TDCJ and local jails) to do free work for municipalities, a policy that sounds good on its face but in practice is a two-edged sword, with added security concerns, staffing requirements, a greater risk of escape, and potential displacement of free world workers. See:
Back in the 19th century and into the 20th, Texas prisons completely paid for themselves by hiring out what amounted to slave labor to private employers at cut rates. In fact, from the perspective of terminology in the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, it was literally slave labor. ("Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Emphasis added.) Texas' plantation-based labor system was a primary focus of Robert Perkinson's book, Texas Tough, which described how, for many decades following Reconstruction, convict leasing was the single largest revenue source for the entire state budget.

Today prison and jail inmate labor is mostly performed on behalf of state and local governments and the prison system itself, so it's still a valuable resource even if it's mostly not commodified in the labor market. But free-world workers would likely chafe at prisoners' wider use in that regard, just like folks inevitably complain over prison industries programs and illegal immigrants taking all the good grapefruit picking jobs.

All three of the bulleted articles above essentially depict the positive aspects of using inmate labor. Countering those benefits, consider the situation of a just-captured escapee from a South Texas prison work crew, an episode which is causing TDCJ to reevaluate outside trusty assignments, with the likely result of reducing their number.

The most productive place for offenders to work is in the free world where they pay their own freight plus taxes to support the system instead of leaching from it. (See #5 from Grits' "Six Impossible Things.") In the meantime, inmate labor, as Christ said of the poor, will always be with us. If you've never seen it, set aside thirty minutes one day to watch Pete Seeger's 1966 documentary, Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison; if your attention span's not that long, here's a YouTube preview clip to whet your appetite:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

TAC lists unfunded mandates to counties from proposed House budget

A friend forwarded me a summary from the Texas Association of Counties regarding unfunded mandates from the proposed draft House budget, which I've uploaded to Google Documents. (I've always felt an affinity for TAC, since my grandfather W.D. Henson was one of its founders and their first president.) Though the list focuses on a much broader array of issues, here's a sampling of criminal-justice related topics where TAC says counties would be impacted:
  • Reducing criminal justice grants from the Governor's Office to state and local entities, non-profit organizations, and independent school districts for a variety of criminal justice related projects. 56 percentage reduction from all funds ($319 million to $140 million).
  • Reducing funds by 15 percent for grants to counties for the indigent defense program.
  • Community supervision (adult probation) provides programs and services to offenders who are on probation. 21 percent reduction from all funds.
  • Funding for Basic Probation and Community Corrections is distributed to 165 local probation departments around the state in the form of grants. 11 percent reduction from all funds.
  • Funding for Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs reduced by 28 percent ($24 million to $17 million). Mandatory JJAEP reimbursement reduced from $79 to $59.
  • Funding eliminated for Harris County juvenile boot camp.
In addition, drug court grants from the Governor's office would be cut by more than half, and counties will be required to pay a fee for inspections by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, to replace the zeroed out line item where the state used to pay for them. Also, reductions in funding for state mental hospitals and community mental health services\ will inevitably put greater pressure on local jails and law enforcement.

The criminal justice system has a lot of moving parts, and spending reductions in one area can easily cause costs to balloon in another. By the same token, the much greater "unfunded mandate" goes in the other direction: Locals decide who goes to prison, but the state pays for their incarceration. This conversation is only just beginning regarding unfunded mandates caused by state criminal justice cuts.

TDCJ reduced spending on prisoner food 13.5% since 2009

Here's a little-discussed budget cut that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has already implemented over the last couple of years which I was unaware of before seeing it in the recently released analyses of the proposed House and Senate Budgets (available from LBB):
Food for Persons - Wards of State:

Expended 2009: $106,601,431
Estimated 2010: $100,702,356
Budgeted 2011: $92,236,867
(Data from p. 552 of this enormous pdf)
If I'm reading these documents correctly, the 2011 "budgeted" amount (the current fiscal year) is the figure allocated after the agency was required to reduce its budget by state leadership last fall. In that preemptory move, TDCJ absorbed 15% of all state agency budget cuts totaling $75 million, and prisoners' food bill was apparently one source of savings. Alternatively, maybe the food money went to pay for un-budgeted security upgrades, drug testing of staff, or some of the other anti-contraband initiatives that seem to be implemented spontaneously every few months in reaction to each new crisis or negative revelation.

Texas prisons grow much of their own food, of course, but I'm aware of no upsurge in agricultural production that would explain this precipitous drop.

Whatever the case, for the upcoming biennium (2012-13), TDCJ requested a $5 million increase to $97.3 million per year to feed prisoners, but HB 1 gave them the same amount budgeted for 2011, and the Senate budget would spend just a few hundred thousand dollars more. Meanwhile, food costs are rising, so that leaves reduced quantity or quality as the only real ways to save money on that line item - unless, of course, the state decides to simply reduce the total number of people it's feeding three times per day.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dribs and Drabs: Taking Out the Trash

Let me just wipe the slate of a number of items that would merit more bloggerly attention if I had time to focus on them. First, there are good, recent posts up at a number of Texas legal blogs on topics I haven't been covering:
Also, Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice had a recent review of our pal Rev. Alan Bean's book, Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas, which the blogger highly recommends.

A halfway house run by the Geo Group in Houston has had two escapes in a month. Ouch! Another escapee from a South Texas prison was captured, an episode which is causing TDCJ to reevaluate outside trusty assignments. How much worse will the escape problem become if proposed staffing cuts are enacted without reducing the inmate population? And how much more difficult will it be to operate with reduced staff under proposed budget cut scenarios with fewer trusties?

A Nigerian prison guard has sued TDCJ complaining that racial discrimination was behind his firing over a false allegation of sexual misconduct.

The Texas Tribune has a story about thousands of rape kits sitting around untested at Texas police crime labs.

I failed last week to link to an interview in the Houston Chronicle with Alex Bunin, the new Harris County public defender.

The Los Angeles Times has a feature on the nascent phenomenon of movement conservatives promoting criminal justice reform, which quotes our pal Marc Levin from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The Justice Department convened the first meeting of its Science Advisory Board, and there are two Texans on the list: Dr. Jocelyn Pollock from the Texas State department of criminal justice (see more here), and Dr. Tony Fabelo, who I think of more as a policy and budget guru than a science guy. And speaking of high-level forensics discussions, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences is having a conference in February in Chicago; I can't attend but I wish I could be a fly on the wall to hear them discuss the National Academy of Sciences report on forensics and its implications for crime lab professions.

Finally, for Grits readers who recall this blog's coverage of the Great Eldorado Polygamist Roundup, frequent (and vociferous) commenter TXBluesman, who turned out to be a college cop in Denton, has been outed and fired for his online writings, which were apparently traced to his work computer. I found his commentary kind of sleazy and sometimes outright mendacious, but I wouldn't have wished this on him. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you government employees reading Grits: Don't comment on blogs from your work computer. Even if you're writing anonymously, it can be traced. If Texas Congressman Lamar Smith gets his way, in fact, your Internet Service Provider will be required to keep the tracking data for at least two years. Be forewarned.

Might budget crisis prompt rethinking of prostitution punishments?

Texas Watchdog says Texas could save $8 million per year by incarcerating fewer prostitutes, joining the overwhelming majority of other states that don't treat the offense as a felony, even after multiple offenses. Their post reacted to an excellent KHOU piece on using strong probation through a specialty court to divert repeat prostitutes from prison, and more generally, the life.

Some jurisdictions - in the Lone Star State, notably Dallas, which created its own specialized prostitution court - are have begun to pioneer new approaches to this problem that treat prostitutes, particularly juveniles, more as human trafficking victims than criminals, providing evidence-based supervision, services and assistance changing their lifestyle instead of only punishment. It won't always work, but neither does the traditional "catch and release" approach. State Sen. John Whitmire recently mentioned that about 300 women were locked up in TDCJ for prostitution, citing them among potential candidates for reducing inmate numbers. If the Legislature reduced felony penalties for prostitution and used some of the savings to fund specialty courts and/or dockets along the models in Dallas and now Houston, it'd be both cheaper and a lot better public policy.

See related Grits posts:

Budget cuts would separate church from state (prisons): Chaplains on the chopping block

I was forwarded an email from our friend Emmett Solomons, the former head chaplain at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who now runs the Restorative Justice Ministries Network, sounding the alarm about the House and Senate budgets both zeroing out all funding for TDCJ chaplains. Here are some notable excerpts:
Here is the ugly reality facing Texas: 
1) The primary budget cutters do not value what Chaplains do.  They have cut the entire department.  These trained professionals manage the religious programs at each Texas Prison. 

2) If they are cut, the program will have to be managed by a correctional officer or a secretary. (They will be pulled from their other duties -- little savings, huh!) 

3) Chaplains also provide "Pastoral Care" for everyone in the institution. It is difficult to find a community of 500 people in America which does not have pastoral care.  Such care will be very hit and miss without the Chaplaincy Department if it occurs at all. 

4) All a Chaplain has to do to recoop his entire yearly salary is influence one prisoner a year to give up his/her criminal activity.  The state will pay more on the person's next incarceration than is paid to the chaplain in a year. 

5) The very effective Religious Programming which we now have in Texas prisons, does not happen automatically.  Religious Volunteers must be recruited and managed.  That is the task of our chaplains.  Without them, the programming will become very uneven, if it is able to exist at all. ...
HB 1 has Chaplaincy listed as “zero funded” … which means if it is not “funded” in House Bill 1 (the Appropriation Bill), and not “funded in Senate Bill 1( the Finance Bill),  in a couple of months both the house and senate will appoint  from the Senate Finance Committee and from the House Appropriations Committee about 3-4 from each body. They will form the Conference Committee which works out the differences between HB 1 and SB 1.  It could be TOO LATE if chaplaincy is not “funded” before the conference committee.  The Key  is encouraging people (constituents) to get with their Rep and Senator and express how important it is to you and how it is good for Texas to continue the Chaplaincy Department with at least one chaplain at each prison.  Say to them: “Don’t Let Chaplaincy fail to get Funded on your watch” – “If we lose it here, we may NEVER get it back.” ...
Do not forget to Pray for guidance as you make contact with those who represent you in State Government! 
Say what you will about the chaplaincy program, and I know it has its critics, but I admire Emmett a great deal and couldn't agree with him more on this, particularly his observation that "All a Chaplain has to do to recoup his entire yearly salary is influence one prisoner a year to give up his/her criminal activity.  The state will pay more on the person's next incarceration than is paid to the chaplain in a year." How true. Another penny wise, pound foolish cut.

Hat tip to Bill Robinson at Corrections Concepts.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Giving props to an unsung hero

Michele Mallin, the rape victim whose incorrect identification of Timothy Cole mistakenly sent him to prison, has been an unsung hero, to my mind, for the way she's handled the aftermath of that horrible revelation. Her error was unintentional; she never meant to frame Tim Cole. But her identification was sufficient to send him to prison, where he died in 1999 from an asthma attack. From the moment the DNA proved Cole's innocence, Mallin took personal responsibility and did everything in her power to make amends with the family of the deceased (who graciously reconciled with her). She also helped push for changes to how such lineups are conducted - a bill which died last session amidst partisan feuding but which has been refiled in both the Texas House and the Senate. Bob Ray Sanders at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a nice column this week about Michele and her relationship with Tim Cole's family. Give it a read.

'Six Impossible Things': Do you believe in a conservative, rational, and smaller corrections budget?

Today in Texas, state and county government directly supervises around one in 22 adults in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole. Being "tuff on crime" is part of the state's self-promoted persona, one which has garnered bipartisan consensus for decades in support of political and policy decisions that took a "money is no object" approach to crime and punishment. Facing a $15-$27 billion budget gap, that road has now abruptly ended, and state leaders must chart a new path.

The other day I quoted the White Queen from Through the Looking Glass, who famously told Alice that, in her youth, she was capable of believing no fewer than six impossible things before breakfast. Following that theme, this post details Six Impossible Things about corrections policy that the Texas Legislature must come to believe before breakfast on the morning of Sine Die (the session's final day) if their aim is to pass a conservative, rational, and smaller corrections budget:

#1 Prison closures aren't just possible but necessary
It's been said many times, by many different people: Texas has never closed a prison since the first one  opened its doors in 1846, and it never will. There's always a first, though, and it looks like the Central Unit in Sugar Land will be the breakthrough case to disprove that rule, after which I'd expect to see more units follow it to the chopping block.

Beyond the Central Unit, there are several categories of facilities that might reasonably be considered for closure: Older units with higher per-inmate costs. Units with ongoing security problems (Mineral Wells comes to mind; at the Central Unit trusties went on shopping trips to the local Walmart). And units that have chronic trouble maintaining adequate staffing - the unit in Dalhart, for example. In addition, Texas leases more than 11% of its capacity from private prison companies and those contracts could be reduced or eliminated more quickly than state-owned units could be mothballed and sold. In any event, 80%+ of TDCJ's budget is spent running prisons but the agency has focused nearly all its budget cut suggestions on community supervision and treatment. LBB has already warned the Legislature that strategy won't work.

#2 Texas can safely incarcerate fewer low-risk, nonviolent offenders
There are two main categories of nonviolent offenders in TDCJ, both of which particularly predominate in state jails (Texas' equivalent of a fourth degree felony): Drug and property offenders. Pick your poison. For drug offenders, the most obvious and elegant cost saving approach for both the state and local jurisdictions would be to ratchet down criminal charges on drug crimes by one level, as described in detail here and here - not decriminalization but reducing penalties to focus limited resources to house more serious, dangerous offenders.

The other main category of nonviolent offenders are those incarcerated for theft. Texas' theft categories were set in 1993, but have never been adjusted for inflation. That means that if you were to buy exactly the same products in 2008 and 1993, they would cost you $1,500 and $1,027 respectively. Since $1,500 is the threshold where theft is treated as a state-jail felony, every year as inflation rises it becomes a felony to steal less and less stuff. Adjusting theft thresholds annually (the same way all sorts of things are pegged to the annually updated federal poverty levels, for example) would serve the twin purposes of a) diverting more low-level property offenders from state prisons and b) preserving the original intent of the statute.

Nonviolent offenders can be diverted through probation programs on the front end, their offense levels adjusted as described above, or they could be released more frequently on a discretionary basis by the parole board (arguably the least likely scenario) to make room for prisoners who've committed more serious crimes. If significant population reductions are to be achieved, they must come from this category.

#3 Incarcerating more people costs more money
OK, this is only an "Impossible Thing" to believe if you work for the Legislative Budget Board. Historically, the LBB has labeled "insignificant" the extra cost of bills sending new prisoners to TDCJ, increasing incarceration lengths, etc., which gave so-called enhancement bills what's known in capitol parlance as a "zero fiscal note." This useful fiction is a much-desired designation because it means a bill can pass without budget writers having to appropriate extra money to pay for any additional prisoners headed to TDCJ. Already since bill filing began in the 82nd Texas Legislature, dozens of suggestions for new crimes, increased penalties and unfunded mandates related to law enforcement are coming out of the woodwork. These legislators do not yet believe Impossible Thing #3, but somehow, some way, that spendthrift mentality must change.

In reality, as Grits readers are well aware, every extra prisoner brings significant cost. Texas leases extra beds from private prisons in addition to the units the state owns outright. So, because beds are fungible, the marginal cost of every extra prisoner equals the cost of the last prison bed leased. Using that calculation, at a (conservative) rate of $17,000 per prisoner-year, an "enhancement" bill that would send just 20 extra people to prison for two years - a day-for-day state jail felony sentence - would cost $680,000 (multiplying 20 x $17,000 x 2 years). Just because LBB puts a zero on that fiscal note doesn't mean that, when the extra prisoners show up, TDCJ won't be obligated to find somewhere to put them.

Since the Texas penal code was overhauled in 1993, every session the Texas Legislature has created dozens of new crimes and increased criminal penalties, often under narrow circumstances at the behest of special interests. Many of these Orwellian-termed "enhancements" make petty offenses into felonies - e.g., graffiti on a school or church (where kids mostly are), theft of a $35 goat - that should be misdemeanors and waste both court and incarceration resources beyond any measurable public safety benefit.

Committee chairs in both chambers should require that anyone proposing a new crime or increased criminal penalties must either a) convince the relevant budget committees to pay for it or b) simultaneously reduce other penalties to avoid boosting overall incarceration levels. That shouldn't be that difficult, and we'd still see some enhancements pass, but at least it would make legislators begin to think about budget implications and force them to pay as they go.

When you find yourself stuck in a hole you can't get out of, the first thing to do is stop digging. Seriously, folks. Stop.

#4 Community supervision is still punishment
Texas' incarceration fetish stems in part from widespread portrayals by the media and tuff-on-crime opinion leaders that probation is a cake walk. It is not. Many offenders actually choose jail time because probation requirements are more onerous than sitting in jail. But in the end, success under supervision is necessary for all of us to be safer, because most people who go to prison are released. It may seem impossible, but legislators must come to believe there are other viable punishments than prison. Because the per-offender costs are so much cheaper, investments in community supervision get far more bang for the buck than paying for prison beds.

Successfully completing community supervision can be far more challenging (and rewarding) than sitting out an incarceration stint - especially if probation comes with alcohol/drug treatment or other programming that requires the offender to actually change their behavior. Yes, there are folks who are so dangerous there's no real alternative but to lock them away from the rest of us. But strong, evidence-based probation has the benefit of a) avoiding much greater incarceration expenses and b) minimizing recidivism risks associated with reentry. Equally important, victim restitution is much more likely for probationers, a factor I often think is undervalued in punishment decisions on drug and property offenses.

All things considered, forcing offenders to live up to their own responsibilities in the real world often can be tougher than giving them a "time out" at the taxpayers' expense without ever forcing someone to change their ways.

As the LBB has recognized, community-based diversion programming created in 2007 is the main reason Texas hasn't already required 17,000 new prison beds. Eliminating those programs now would boost incarceration costs, not reduce them. As a local probation director bluntly told the Amarillo Globe-News, "If I lose things, it's going to mean more people going to prison." He's right; that's what happened in 2003. That's why, rather than eliminate those programs, the best bet for cutting corrections safely is precisely to expand on the success of Texas' 2007 probation reforms. We must improve our ability where possible to achieve the goals of punishment through community supervision for lower-risk offenders.

#5 Releasing people is what prisons do, so we must do reentry better
Nobody thinks Rick Perry's Texas isn't tough on crime, but every single year, Texas releases between 70-75,000 felons back into the free world. About half of these have completed their sentences and leave with no community supervision; the rest are released on parole. Roughly 97% of incarcerated offenders are ultimately released. From the perspective of public safety, then, what often matters most isn't whether the offender did three years or five, but whether they return to their communities able to contribute to the tax base and participate constructively in society.

Facilitating support from family and help finding employment are the biggest contributing factors to whether an offender returns to prison in a few years, but the House and Senate budgets entirely eliminate Project RIO, which is the main (admittedly deficient) state program for helping offenders get jobs. Every offender who finds employment and begins to contribute to the economy instead of suck from the teat of the nanny state (and prison, where government pays for three hots and a cot plus healthcare, is the ultimate nanny state) represents a tremendous boon to the state budget.

Another strong argument for earlier parole dates: Drug use during the early reentry process is a strong predictive factor for recidivism. In that light, releasing folks with at least minimal parole supervision would probably be a good idea, if only so they'll get UAs during the early months after release and treatment options if they need it. Half of offenders released each year (those who served their time day for day without parole) simply don't get any oversight at all when they enter the free world, whereas if they'd been released a year or two earlier they'd have reported periodically to a parole officer (not to mention cost the state less money).

This is an example where being tougher doesn't make us safer.

#6 The prison bureaucracy is not the best judge of its own inefficiencies
TDCJ is, first and foremost, a government bureaucracy that runs prisons. The idea that the best approach to doing its job might be to close prisons and focus on community supervision (which is run by local bureaucracies they can't completely control), well, that's just one of those "Impossible Things" to believe if you are a TDCJ bureaucrat. With the exception of closing the Central Unit, the House budget as filed largely aligns with suggestions from the Department of Criminal Justice's own proposals for what and how to cut. As you'd expect from any arm of government, TDCJ has suggested budget cuts that protect its own institutional, bureaucratic prerogatives, but at the expense of the public weal.

TDCJ has been asked to live within a budget more than $1 billion shy of its estimated need for the next biennium. If the agency closes the Central Unit as a lone, symbolic homage to frugality but cuts the rest from probation and parole, rest assured the agency will be back in two years with their largest budget request in history, telling legislators they "have no choice" because so many new prisoners are coming in the door. And by then it may be true - that is, if legislators continue to follow the agency's advice in the current round of budgetmaking. Today, though, right now, they still have a choice: Prioritize spending based on maximizing public safety per dollar spent, or ensure that corrections costs continue to spiral upward until some future Legislature finds the gumption to take up the challenge.

Like Fox Mulder in the old X-Files series, I want to believe.

See related, recent Grits posts:

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    Roundup: Ugly spectacles, alternative solutions

    While I'm focused today on work someone is actually paying me for, here are several items that merit Grits readers' attention:

    Failure to disclose exculpatory evidence caused another wrongful conviction
    In Dallas, a fellow named Larry Sims is about to be released after 25 years in prison after it was revealed that prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory biological evidence. DNA test results show the victim lied about parts of her story, and the district court is expected to find that no reasonable jury would convict him based on the newly tested evidence. The Dallas DA isn't yet calling this an "exoneration," but it's certainly a wrongful conviction.

    Law vs. Science: E pur si muove!
    At the Houston Chronicle, Rick Casey has a column about the Forensic Science Commission's coming request for an Attorney General's opinion on whether it has jurisdiction to investigate the Todd Willingham case and other older incidents of forensic negligence or misconduct. (See earlier Grits coverage.) Noting that the jurisdictional concerns came from the City of Corsicana and the state fire marshal (he said he suspects that's the case but Chairman John Bradley actually said as much at the meeting), Casey declares that "we are watching an ugly spectacle of two law enforcement agencies, unable to marshal science on their side, aggressively fighting against science with lawyers." (MORE: From the Innocence Blog.)

    Cuts to mental health would burden local jails
    An analysis by Harris County of the proposed Texas House budget found that "cuts would transfer the burden onto a county government already contemplating hundreds of layoffs." The biggest unfunded mandates would come from cuts to state mental health services.

    Legislating from the bench
    Liberty and Justice for Y'all has a writeup of a recent case in which "the Court of Criminal Appeals donned their legislative hats and signed a new bill into law." Blogger B.W. Barnett agrees with the end result, but notes that "of course, you would always prefer that a legislature be the body handing down the law." 

    Fourth time's a charm?
    Smith County is considering yet another jail bond proposal which could go before voters in May. This would be the fourth plebiscite in as many years promoting jail expansion, which voters keep rejecting. (At least they're suggesting a much smaller facility than some of the grandiose proposals in the past.) If at first you don't succeed, I suppose ...

    Jobs for ex-offenders reduce prison costs
    The New York Times published an interesting story this week on various states helping ex-offenders get jobs to reduce recidivism and prison populations. In Michigan, "Through vigorous job placement programs and prudent use of parole, state officials say they have cut the prison population by 7,500, or about 15 percent, over the last four years, yielding more than $200 million in annual savings. Michigan spends $56 million a year on various re-entry programs, including substance abuse treatment and job training." Notably, both the Texas House and Senate budgets would eliminate Project RIO, which is the only state program we have (whether or not it functions as well as one might like) aimed at connecting ex-offenders with employment. These results argue the program should be expanded instead of deleted if the goal is to save money.

    How to cut 30% from prison health costs
    In California, legislators are gagging over high prison health costs, but the federal conservator appointed to address the problem says medical parole is the best, quickest solution: "You let me unload 1,500 inmates, and I'll give you a 30% drop in [prison healthcare] costs," he told legislators this week. Fifteen-hundred inmates amounts to less than 1% of the total California prison population.

    Court program teaching art to graff writers
    In Brooklyn, a juvenile court judge teamed up with an ex-tagger to create an art program for juvenile probationers convicted of graffiti crimes. The youth are actually taught professional-level art skills and the judge hangs examples of their artwork around his courtroom. Excellent idea! There are a lot of jobs and economic growth to be had in the creative sector, and I'd rather see the small handful of juvie graff writers who're actually caught channeled in that direction instead of focusing on punishment for punishment's sake.

    Feds may cut reentry, reduce local asset forfeiture shares to save money
    Budget cutters at the US Department of Justice have suggested reducing federal funds for reentry available under the Second Chance Act. They're also suggesting "Increasing the amount of time deducted from prison terms for good behavior," as well as "Sharing less of the proceeds from property confiscated from criminals with state and local authorities."

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Mental health cuts by state would shift costs to local jails, emergency rooms

    A story in the Austin Statesman by Andrea Ball focuses on the effects of proposed budget cuts to mental health services on the criminal justice system, noting that "Austin Travis County Integral Care, which provided psychiatric services to about 16,800 people last year, is expecting to lose funding for about 2,500 people each year." Ball particularly predicts an impact on the jail and local emergency rooms, noting that:
    cuts to the system don't translate into cost savings, said Chris Ziebell , director of emergency medicine at University Medical Center Brackenridge . Studies show that people with untreated mental illness are more likely to end up in emergency rooms and jails, where treatment is far more expensive.
    "They're not going to save any money, and the people are going to end up suffering," Ziebell said.
    The jail system is already dealing with the constraints of a limited mental health system, said Daniel Smith , counseling and education manager for the Travis County sheriff's office.

    About 20 percent of the approximately 2,400 inmates currently at the Travis County Correctional Complex and Travis County Jail are on psychotropic drugs for a mental illness. Many of those could not get help before their incarceration because of Integral Care's 1,400-person waiting list for adults, he said.

    "We do get a bunch of people who really shouldn't be in jail, but the officers find a reason to arrest them so they can come in here and get care," Smith said.
    This isn't just a Travis County problem, of course. This recent article out of Midland similarly lamented a surfeit of mentally ill offenders in their local jail. The same is true in virtually every county in the state.

    Counties are generally willing to build jail beds for the mentally ill, but nobody wants to build hospital beds. Cuts to community-based mental health treatment will only exacerbate that problem, but they seem unavoidable in Texas' current budget climate.

    This is an example why I'd be shocked to see Rep. Burt Solomons pass his proposed constitutional amendment banning unfunded mandates. State and local systems are too tightly intertwined, and virtually any reduction at the state level - particularly on healthcare and education - results in an increased burden on local government. Nowhere is that more evident than on mental health spending.

    See prior, related Grits posts:

    TYC bracing for big budget cuts

    The following email was sent out last week to TYC staff from executive director Cherie Townsend regarding proposed cuts in the House budget:
    TYC Staff:

    This morning the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) House Version of recommended baseline appropriations for the 2012-13 biennium, House Bill 1, was released.  This is the first version of a funding plan for state government operations during Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013.  As you are aware, the State of Texas is facing a shortfall in revenue over needed government operations estimated between $15 billion to $27 billion for the upcoming biennium.  As a result, lawmakers are forced to make some difficult decisions for major reductions to every state agency budget, including the Texas Youth Commission.

    HB1 would reduce the TYC budget from $397 million in general revenue for the current biennium to just over $334 million for FY 2012-2013, a reduction of $62.8 million.  In all funds, our budget would be reduced from $455.9 million in this biennium to $360.3 million in the upcoming two-year cycle, a reduction of $95.6 million.  Obviously, these cuts would have a dramatic impact on our agency.

    The reductions occur across the board and would affect every aspect of TYC operations.  The reductions were based on three things:  LBB population projections, appropriated cost per youth per day in each service category for FY 2008-2011 applied to the population projections, and uniform reductions of 10% to some categories. While we are still working through the details of the bill, some affected areas are immediately apparent:
      • Freezes the career ladder – A rider change would prohibit TYC from making any JCO career ladder salary adjustments during the 2012-13 biennium. Our understanding is that a similar limitation will be considered for TDCJ correctional officers. This rider has the potential to significantly impact both recruitment and retention of employees who have the most direct contact with youth. 
      • Reduces institutional capacity – A new TYC rider would establish a maximum cap of 1,600 institutional beds beginning January 1, 2012, compared to the current budgeted cap of 1,900 average daily population. This morning, TYC’s institutional population was 1,459 youth.  The wording of this restriction states that the agency may close up to three facilities to reduce institutional capacity, and TYC would need to report the plan for reducing capacity to the Legislative Budget Board by October 2011. There is no current plan for closing specific facilities; therefore, the plan would need to be developed once the budget is finalized.
      • Maintains current capacity in contract care and halfway houses but with some reductions in funding.
      • Reduces parole services – The agency would serve a population of 1,160 youth in FY 2012 and 1,220 youth in FY 2013.  The introduced bill would result in fewer staff and may impact both parole contracts and the number or size of district offices.
      • Reduces FTEs – The agency would be funded for 2,986.8 FTEs in FY 2012-13, down 553.2 from the FY 2010-11 level.
      • Scales back retirement contributions – The State of Texas will scale back the amount it contributes to each employee’s retirement account from 6.95 percent to 6.0 percent. The employee contribution currently at 6.5 percent will also be reduced to 6.0 percent. At this time, we are not aware of any planned incentives to increase the number of employees who retire before or during the next biennium. 
    It is important to remember that the bill introduced today is the House’s proposal to accommodate the revenue shortfall and to fund core government services for two years.  We anticipate that the Senate might lay out a different version of the budget in its separate bill sometime next week.  We are still very early in the process, but HB1 demonstrates the kind of reductions we are likely to face.

    This isn’t easy news to deliver or receive.  We knew this would be a difficult legislative session financially for everyone, and I assure you that every state agency today is trying to determine how it will continue to fulfill its mission.  I understand this news will likely cause a great deal of speculation, so I will do my best to keep you updated on developments as they occur. The appropriations bill versions and recent LBB reports are posted on their website at  The TYC section starts on page V-62 in Article V.

    As we work through this legislative session, we will respond to the legislature on the impact of the different versions of the budget (until it is finalized).  Our focus will be to analyze the impacts in three areas:  youth services; employee needs; and the potential ripple effects from reductions to other agencies on TYC youth and on public safety.  I encourage you to continue to strive toward excellence each day.  I sincerely appreciate the work you are doing.

    In a separate email on Monday, Townsend described the Senate's essentially similar draft budget for the agency.

    Regardless of whether the agency is merged with the Juvenile Probation Commission, a reduction in force of 553 FTEs is a lot of folks. OTOH, looked at another way, TYC has 3,540 employees to oversee a total of 1,710 youth in its residential population as of November 2010, according to LBB. Astonishingly, that's more than two employees per incarcerated youth! Think about that: Every kid sent to youth prison accounts for employment of two adults. No wonder Sen. Whitmire and LBB see TYC as prime ground for budget cuts.

    Cherie punts on the question of which facilities might close, but I've little doubt we'll get a clearer picture of the answer to that question as the legislative session progresses.

    Pub ed going well on surcharge amnesty, but probationers need to be notified

    I'm pleased to see that a press release issued yesterday by DPS on the Amnesty program for the Driver Responsibility surcharge has received a great deal of mainstream press.

    Just 650,000 of the 1.2 million drivers whose licenses are suspended under the program are eligible for Amnesty, but for them it's a tremendous boon. Those who made payments in the past likely now owe little or nothing at all. If your license was suspended for surcharges owed from 2004-'08, go here to find out if you're eligible. You can also call 1-877-207-3170. Seriously, do it now: It took a lot of effort by a lot of folks to get these Amnesty rules approved, so please take advantage of them if you're eligible.

    In other good news on the Amnesty promotion front, on Thursday I'd written that it's important the media promote Amnesty because DPS couldn't afford to notify eligible drivers. I said that because of an email I'd received from Tela Mange in their public information office declaring, "As you know, the Department does not have the funds to provide a full campaign.  ... The use of mailed notices and telephone campaigns is not feasible." In last week's post, I expressed frustration that the agency wouldn't notify eligible drivers because they're already paying their vendor, Municipal Services Bureau out of Austin, to contact people who owe surcharges by mail and by phone on an ongoing basis.

    But DPS' front-line employees picked up the slack where their media flack let me down. ;) Rebekah Hibbs, who runs the DRP program for the agency, saw the recommendation on Grits and ran with it, I'm informed by her boss, Paul Watkins, who is the DPS' Deputy Assistant Director for Customer Operations in the Driver License Division. MSB will be including information about Amnesty in its correspondence beginning this week! Great job, Rebekah, thank you!

    There's one area, though, where promotion efforts for the Amnesty program have so far flagged. A retired judge and friend of the blog emails to say that "my wife is adult probation officer and instructions on this subject have NOT been disseminated to CSCDs so they can advise their probationers, we would have thought might be a good idea. DOH."

    Ideally TDCJ-CJAD would do this, perhaps even matching lists of surcharge-owers with current probationers, but this needs to happen ASAP. The Amnesty window closes April 17. So for those probation chiefs who read this blog: Please figure out how to get information about surcharge Amnesty to your eligible probationers (particularly DWI), and let your fellow chiefs know they should do the same. Local judges, contact your probation director and ask them to distribute this information. If nothing else, reducing other obligations might make it more likely probation fees get paid!

    Bottom line: The more people who successfully apply for Amnesty, the more licensed, insured drivers we have on Texas roads. A whopping 4% of Texas drivers are eligible for Amnesty (and that's only half the total number with suspended licenses from an unpaid Driver Responsibility surcharge). So far, according to one report, 4,000 drivers received amnesty in the first week (before the agency's big media push). I have no idea what participation rate to expect, but I'm hoping it's a lot more than that before it's done.

    This has been a fun little campaign, but it's important to finish strong by maximizing the public ed component to get the most people possible to participate. DPS is pulling their weight, and now the MSM. What will you do? Please help spread the word, Grits readers, in any venue available to you: Amnesty applications can be filled out at or by calling 877-207-3170.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Interim reports from House committees posted online

    For those interested, check out the recently released interim reports from criminal-justice related Texas House committees:
    Once I've had a chance to read them, some or all of these reports - particularly the one from House Corrections - may merit their own (perhaps multiple) posts, but for now I thought I'd pass along the links for anyone interested in a preview of what these committees have been discussing over the interim (which may or may not have any relationship with what they actually do during the session).

    RELATED: See Grits' earlier coverage of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee's interim report (pdf).

    House, Senate budgets set up false debate on corrections priorities

    "Must one smash their ears before they learn to listen with their eyes? Must one clatter like kettledrums and preachers of repentance?"
    - Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

    The Texas Senate Finance Committee released its own draft budget yesterday, and according to initial reports it was more generous overall than the starkly sparse House budget. (See the Legislative Budget Board for all the relevant documents.) The Senate draft, like its House counterpart relying mostly on suggestions from agencies, continues to focus most cuts at TDCJ in community supervision instead of suggesting more prison closures (with the exception of the Central Unit, which is slated for elimination in both), but it does restore some of the treatment and diversion funding proposed for deletion in HB 1.

    According to a summary provided to Grits by a local probation director, while the House bill would cut 21.7% of state funding for local probation departments (or $122.9 million), the Senate version would "only" cut 12.8% (or $72.7 million). Basic supervision, diversion programs, community corrections, and treatment alternatives to incarceration would all be slashed under the senate draft, but with less severity than what the House proposed. Also suggested for elimination was drug treatment funding for probationers from the Department of State Health Services.

    Regular readers know I think even this level of cuts to community supervision is a mistake, particularly when the budget envisions closing just one of the state's 112 prison units, which soak up the vast majority of TDCJ's budget. If Texas is going to close schools and even community colleges (the House draft would close four community colleges; the Senate's kept them funded), TDCJ can damn well suck up and accept more prison closures. That's the only way to safely cut TDCJ's budget by hundreds of millions of dollars, which is the level of savings required under both budgets. And to reduce incarceration safely, the state must both change its policies and increase investment in precisely the programs targeted for cuts. The resultant savings from closing a half dozen prison units or more would be greater, even, than the paltry savings from eliminating probation funding, which is less like rational budget cutting and more like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    I'm incredibly frustrated by these first two proposed budget drafts because they set up a false debate regarding criminal justice funding: "Should we cut community supervision programs more, or less?" That's the wrong question because it ignores the third, more sensible option: To save much more money, both in the short and long term, by expanding community supervision funding, emphasizing evidence-based diversion programs and progressive sanctions, and to take all the budget savings out of prison closures, with the added bonus of revenue from land sales in addition to reducing the number of state employees.

    To do that, however, would require changes in policy to reduce incarceration levels in addition to lowering TDCJ's budget. In this recent post Grits suggested a number of policy changes that would help them achieve that goal:
    Do those things and closing 6-8 units wouldn't be a problem. (To be fair, both budgets contain provisions designed to encourage medical parole, but appear to contemplate nothing else on that list.) Criminal justice is one of the few areas in state government where IMO it's possible to make large cuts by reducing government inefficiency, eliminating waste (particularly overincarceration) and closing outdated facilities. But that's not what's been proposed in the initial House and Senate budgets, both of which would boost inefficiencies and, ultimately, the prison population.

    Ironically, this morning I noticed a couple of stories about a delegation from Florida who visited Texas yesterday to learn about our community supervision and diversion programs, hoping to emulate the state's investments to avoid more prison building the Sunshine state cannot afford. Of course, those are precisely the programs the House and Senate budgets place on the chopping block, despite warnings from their own number crunchers that doing so would increase overall incarceration costs.

    See related, recent Grits posts:

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Texas Monthly vs. Charles Sebesta

    Former prosecutor Charles Sebesta has created a website criticizing Texas Monthly for Pam Colloff's investigative stories (see here and here) about Anthony Graves, who was released last year after 18 years in prison because prosecutors found exculpatory evidence was withheld at his capital murder trial. Sebesta accuses Colloff of all sorts of things, but his claims would be more credible, points out Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein, if Colloff hadn't recorded all her conversations with Sebesta. The recordings contradict his most outlandish claims, including that Colloff told him TM is "going to get you alright." Mildly fisking Sebesta's presentation, Silverstein finds the site "truly remarkable, not only for its wildly delusional tone, but for its wanton disregard for the facts."

    All the relevant links - to TM's coverage, Sebesta's response, and TM's rebuttal - are in this post. Read them and decide for yourself.

    See related Grits posts:

    Delay, delay, it's the word of the day: Bradley proffers excuses to put off investigating forensic errors

    I attended a meeting Friday of the Texas Forensic Science Commission at which Chairman John Bradley continued his quest to delay the commission's work as long as possible, this time pushing in executive session to request an Attorney General opinion to decide whether they have authority to consider the Todd Willingham case. See MSM coverage:
    The commission retired to executive session immediately before the Willingham case was publicly discussed. When commissioners each silently reentered the room about an hour later, everyone looked tense and grumpy; I'd love to have been a fly on the wall. (OTOH, as fate would have it, I ended up sitting next to Judge Barbara Hervey from the Court of Criminal Appeals, so the delay gave us a welcome chance to chat.)

    Clearly jurisdictional issues were the main focus of discussion in executive session. Bradley has repeatedly argued that the commission has no authority to investigate older cases because it can only investigate accredited labs, and accreditation wasn't required until 2005. However, the Attorney General staffer who'd been advising the Commission - before Bradley pushed for creation of a General Counsel position, that is - repeatedly advised the FSC that they could investigate entities that now require accreditation but didn't in the past. Further, notes the Austin Statesman, "several legislators who were instrumental in creating the agency rebutted Bradley's analysis, saying the law was not intended to limit investigations to accredited labs or to post-2005 cases."

    Both legislators and the commission's AG adviser have repeatedly said it would be absurd to limit investigations to post 2005 cases because the FSC was created in reaction to Houston crime lab scandals, and it would be nonsensical to claim the commission could not investigate the very case that spawned its creation. (It'd solve quite a few admittedly self-inflicted problems for the commission if the Lege would clarify that language this session: It would solve many more problems if they changed the law to let commissioners name their own chair.)

    In any event, Bradley wouldn't let the jurisdictional issues go, so now every active case before the commission - not just Willingham's - will be delayed while the chairman seeks to neuter his own agency's authority. (Of course, by all appearances, that's the main reason he was appointed.) Further, under state law, only the chairman himself - not the entire commission - may draft an opinion request, so look for Bradley to slant the request as much as possible to solicit the outcome he wants.

    On Bradley's motion, though quite clearly over his objection, the commission voted to move forward drafting their report on the Willingham case while the AG opinion is pending. This was a clever parliamentary move. It was pretty clear the chairman has isolated himself by pushing delay so hard, and the rest of the commission seemed determined to move forward regardless of his contrary opinion. But through the language in his motion, Bradley was able to exert more control over that process by changing how the final report will be drafted. From Chuck Lindell at the Statesman:
    Originally, a four-member subcommittee was to draft a report during a public meeting and then present it to the full committee of seven forensic scientists, a defense lawyer and a prosecutor.

    Now, commissioners will submit suggestions to the agency's general counsel, who will compile a draft report. Final language will be hashed out by the full commission in a future open meeting.
    Of course, the brand spanking new General Counsel reports to Mr. Bradley, so this new process gives the chairman much more input over drafting than if a committee did it. Indeed, between controlling the content of the AG request and shifting drafting duties on the Willingham report to the General Counsel, the chairman cleverly asserted greater control over the process in a number of important ways on Friday, even though he'd (much) prefer it not go forward at all.

    And speaking of the new General Counsel, the proposed House budget cuts the Forensic Science Commission's budget by roughly the amount of her salary. Assuming that reduction stands, the FSC would be faced with a choice of firing their General Counsel or taking money for her salary out of the pot available for investigating forensic flaws. My own view is that was precisely the purpose of Bradley's push to create the General Counsel's position to begin with. But whatever his or anyone else's intentions, that's the tradeoff facing them under the proposed budget. (The budget reduction wasn't mentioned by commissioners at Friday's meeting.)

    Another sign of behind-the-scenes tension - and another topic where the commission seemed united against its chairman - regarded whether to accept anonymous complaints, which heretofore had always been allowed. The commission is updating their intake forms, over the chair's objections, specifically to allow for anonymous complaints. Bradley argued against the idea briefly, but it was clear he'd already lost this fight in other forums and he didn't press the subject. Dr. Sarah Kerrigan noted that the federal Forensic Science Reform Act filed by Sen. Patrick Leahy would allow for anonymous complaints.

    A final oddity was that the chairman seemed to misrepresent or at least dramatically downplay the opinion of Dr. Niram Peerwani regarding a recommendation to accept a case based on allegations against the crime lab in Austin. Peerwani regrettably was unable to attend because he had to testify in court that day. But at the screening committee meeting in December (which Grits attended), he recommended the FSC close out the case, declaring there was "no basis" for the complaint. It had been thoroughly vetted by three other agencies and both Drs Peerwani and Eisenberg said enough investigation had been done. According to that discussion, much of the complaint deals with personnel and supervisory issues, not science, and no specific defendants' cases were implicated.

    In response, Bradley had made a rather legalistic argument that the screening committee should consider only a handful of objective criteria - is it an accredited lab, is the complaint about a forensic science as defined under the law?, etc. - and that Peerwani's arguments for "closure" of the case would be better made before the full commission. The chairman also argued that, since the complaints seemed unfounded and the lab seemed to have responded to them as they should, the case would give the commission a chance to "deliver a positive message" to accredited labs by affirming their work. After Dr. Eisenberg seconded the chair's motion to recommend the case, Peerwani reluctantly went along.

    But Peerwani's rather strong objections to spending resources on the Austin case weren't voiced in absentia when it was discussed on Friday. Instead, his Aye vote at the screening committee was portrayed as an endorsement that the FSC investigate, which was the opposite of my impression from my memory and notes. Be that as it may, the case has been delegated to an investigative committee whose first meeting date has not been announced.

    Some of Mr. Bradley's stratagems are breathtakingly bold and crass but as far as I can tell they're essentially working, at least if you assume the chairman's goal is to delay the commission's work as long as possible and ultimately, if he can, to kill all its ongoing investigations while diverting resources to innocuous projects. He's alienating his fellow commissioners in the process, no doubt, but there's scarce evidence that the chairman particularly cares about their good opinion, or for that matter yours or mine.

    See related Grits posts:

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Whither Texas prison healthcare with 24% budget cuts?

    Just about everybody who's looked at it thinks the 24% budget cut slated for prison healthcare in Texas proposed House budget is unworkable; now we learn it supposedly opens a path toward privatizing prison healthcare, reports Mike Ward at the Statesman:
    Health care for inmates in Texas' 112 prisons costs taxpayers more than $929 million for two years. The House plan would cut that to just over $707 million.

    Most of the proposed cuts would come from reduced treatment, a situation that prison officials worry might eventually cost more, as convicts whose health needs could have been addressed early on require more expensive hospital care.

    In addition, drug costs are expected to continue to increase, and legal costs could go up significantly as inmates file lawsuits over reduced medical care.
    In this post, Grits called the suggested the healthcare cuts "untenable" soon after they were published. They just make no sense except for Ward's observation, "Most of the proposed cuts would come from reduced treatment." Many voters may say they're happy with that, but particularly for offenders who the state is caring for long-term, the extra cost in the out-years from chronic, preventable ailments is substantial and ultimately, unavoidable.

    The $64 Question: Will the Legislature force UTMB-Galveston to remain in its unwanted shotgun marriage with TDCJ at the new, reduced rates described in Ward's story, or will they be allowed to leave in pursuit of new suitors, perhaps opening the door to Geo Care or some other private prison health contractor? ¿Quien sabe? That's one of the may great unknowns facing the prison system during the 82nd Texas Legislature.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Adult probation cuts detailed from just-filed Texas budget bill

    A reliable informant forwarded me an email from Carey Welebob, director of the Community Justice Assistance Division at TDCJ, to local probation directors around the state, including this "preliminary summary" of cuts to probation funding in the recently filed version of HB 1:
    Preliminary Summary of the FY 2012-13 General Appropriations Bill, as Introduced, House Version
    As stated in an email yesterday, the House version of the general appropriations bill was filed on Wednesday, January 19, 2011.  Below is a short summary of the proposed reductions specific to probation; following that is the impact to other TDCJ functions. The general appropriations bill is typically filed in both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, and a similar summary of the Senate version will be sent when it becomes available.  It is important to remember the bill, as introduced, is only the starting point for budget deliberations occurring during the legislative session. TDCJ will work closely with members of the legislature and the Governor’s Office throughout the next five months to ensure they have accurate information regarding the impact of various reductions on operations and staff. Final decisions regarding appropriations for the FY 2012 – 2013 biennium will only be made after intensive review by legislators and numerous opportunities for input in the budget process.  All TDCJ operations and programs were reduced and the bill, as filed, would eliminate over 2,000 positions within TDCJ alone.  The reduction in probation funding would also eliminate staff positions in the local CSCDs.  I will be calling upon you to help with an impact analysis for your departments so, as it is necessary, we can present information both at a state level and a local level.  During our webinar next week and each of the "Coffee with Carey" sessions, I will be asking questions regarding budget impact; tomorrow we plan to send spreadsheets for you to review how the House bill, as introduced, would impact your formula lines; this is another step to identify criticality of services/functions within departments.  After Legislative committees are named, it is anticipated that hearings will be scheduled quickly; therefore, it will be imperative for you to identify how this initial bill (and the Senate bill, as filed) will impact your department.  I look forward to our discussions and the energy I know you will contribute to this process.  More soon, Carey

    The House appropriations bill, as initially filed:

    • Eliminates funding for misdemeanor probation supervision and reduces the felony probation formula funding per diem to $1.37, based on the LBB June 2010 population projections
    • Reduces treatment/diversion programs as initially funded by the 80th Legislature, to include the elimination of 800 probation residential treatment beds and program funding for medically targeted substance abuse treatment (currently aftercare treatment services), and a reduction of one-half ($2.5 million annually) for probation outpatient substance abuse treatment; state-contracted intermediate sanction facility beds were also reduced.
    • Excludes funding required for the biennialization of the FY 2010-11 approved pay raise for community supervision officers and direct care staff
    • Eliminates program funding for the Harris County Community Corrections Facility, the Battering Intervention and Prevention Program and made substantial funding reductions to Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration Program (90%)
    • Reduces funding levels for mental health services and continuity of care for adult offenders

    For other TDCJ functions, the House Appropriations bill, as initially filed:

    • Directs the agency to close the Central Unit no later than September 1, 2011
    • Reduces staffing and funding for core operational areas within the incarceration function (such as correctional unit support staff, utilities, maintenance, and agriculture operations)
    • Excludes funding required for the biennialization of the FY 2010-11 approved pay raise for correctional officers and unit staff
    • Freezes the salaries of all correctional officers, ranking correctional officers, and food service and laundry managers, at a rate not to exceed their salary as of August 2011
    • Reduces funding for over 1,100 substance abuse treatment slots
    • Reduces funding for adult offender release payments by 50%
    • Eliminates funding for approximately 2,000 beds in Contract Facilities
    • Eliminates program funding for Academic/Vocational Training for offenders
    • Eliminates staffing and funding for Project Re-Integration of Offenders (RIO), the chaplaincy program and reentry transitional coordinators and reduces funding for sex offender treatment program
    • Reduces funding levels for offender Psychiatric Care, Unit Care, Hospital Care, and Pharmacy, and would eliminate staffing and program funding of the Correctional Managed Healthcare Committee.
    • Provides no general obligation bond funding for major facility repairs in FY 2012-13

    • Reduces staffing and funding for nearly 100 parole officers and parole support staff
    • Eliminates funding for approximately 550 halfway house and intermediate sanction facility beds
    • Excludes funding required for the biennialization of the FY 2010-11 approved pay raise for parole officers
    • Freezes the salaries of all parole officers at a rate not to exceed their salary as of August 2011

    • Eliminates staffing and program funding for the Victim Services Division
    • Reduces staffing and funding levels for all other administrative and support functions (for example, Central Administration, Information Technology, Office of Inspector General, State Counsel for Offenders, and Health Services)
    I hadn't realized until reading this that prison and parole staff not only won't be getting any pay raises under the proposed budget, by not making permanent raises received in the last biennium, they're actually getting a pay reduction!

    Wrote the probation director who forwarded this to me (italics in original), "This doesn’t just cut us; it guts us."

    See related, recent Grits posts:

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Media should promote amnesty on Driver Responsibility surcharge if DPS won't

    The Waco Tribune Herald has a helpful article from Cincy Culp (subscription only) informing their readers about new Amnesty opportunities for drivers who've defaulted on their Orwellian-named "Driver Responsibility" surcharges, including some stats I hadn't seen before on how many Texans are actually eligible for the program. The story opens:
    People who have had their driver’s license suspended for failing to pay certain fees to the state have a chance to settle up for just a fraction of what they owe.

    The Texas Department of Public Safety has launched an amnesty initiative for the state’s Driver Responsibility Program. It requires people convicted of certain driving violations to pay an annual surcharge to maintain their driver’s license.

    People who qualify for amnesty will only have to pay 10 percent of the surcharges they owe, up to a maximum of $250, said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange. Any previous payments people have made will count toward the new total, meaning some will have the slate wiped clean as soon as they apply, she said.

    Statewide, about 650,000 people are eligible for amnesty, Mange said. Between them, they have about 3 million instances of unpaid surcharges, she said.

    “We want them to become legal, licensed drivers,” Mange said. “It’s important for people to be licensed and to be able to purchase insurance because we all have to drive with them.”

    To be eligible for the program, people must be delinquent on one or more surcharges assessed between Sept. 30, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2008. That period was chosen because it accounts for the bulk of unpaid surcharges, Mange said.
    Regrettably, DPS tells me it has no funds available to notify the 650,000 drivers who're eligible for amnesty. I find that stance frustrating because the vendor who runs the program - Municipal Services Bureau - already sends dunning notices and followup phone calls to delinquent surcharge owers. Why not just have the vendor change the messaging in the ongoing collections communication they're already doing to notify eligible drivers of Amnesty opportunities? I don't think it would cost more, it would just require crafting messages in ongoing communications to reflect recent DPS rule changes. For whatever reason, though, that's not going to happen.

    In any event, please help spread the word, Grits readers, in any venue available to you: Amnesty applications can be filled out at or by calling 877-207-3170.

    Indeed, that goes double for bloggers and newspaper, radio and TV reporters and editors reading Grits: If DPS is not going to publicize the amnesty programs beyond a press release or two, please consider performing the same public service as the Trib for those 650,000 Texans (or at least the subset among your viewership - we're talking about 4% of drivers) who would benefit from applying for Amnesty.

    Grits along with the Texas Fair Defense Project and other allies fought for more than a year to convince DPS to offer this Amnesty opportunity, and they may not do it again any time soon. It'd be a shame if participation rates were low because word just never gets out about the program.

    Of course, in an ideal world all of that would be moot if Rep. Leo Berman's HB 299 passed and abolished the DRP program altogether. Until that happy day, though, the amnesty program, not to mention the indigency program which will follow it, are a tremendous boon to Texas drivers owing surcharges who heretofore couldn't afford to get street legal. All I can say to them is: Please, for heaven's sake, after all the effort it took to get the rules changed, take advantage of the opportunity!

    See related Grits posts: