Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Correction budget cuts concentrated in community supervision, set TDCJ up to fail

The Texas House budget was finally released last night (see a summary-pdf), and initial MSM reports indicate Grits' concerns were justified that the Department of Criminal Justice would focus most of their cuts on probation and diversion programming instead of closing prison units. The Statesman summarized the criminal justice cuts thusly:
In public safety and corrections programs, the budget report recommends shutting down a unit in Sugar Land, three Texas Youth Commission lockups and 2,000 private prison beds, a move that could close at least two additional lockups. About 1,562 prison jobs were also chopped.

Probation programs would see funding cut by 20 percent, parole supervision would be cut by almost 9 percent, and the agency's construction and maintenance funding could be cut by 83 percent, along with 90 jobs. The Victims Services Division would be eliminated.
Meanwhile, the Legislative Budget board has revealed its budget cutting recommendations for criminal justice (pdf via the Texas Tribune). Notably they've suggested a new "supervised reentry" program, releasing offenders with either one year to go or when 90% of their sentence is served on the grounds that public safety benefits from supervising them in the community their first year out instead of just cutting them loose with no oversight. LBB also suggests expanding use of medical parole for individuals on dialysis and others with high medical costs. But those are relatively minor reductions in the scheme of things.

Ironically, but predictably, some of the budget cut ideas seem contradictory: For example, cutting parole supervision while reducing delays in the parole process to release more parolees at a time when parole caseloads are already too high. And of course, the Lege has been told in the past that cuts to probation programming - and 20% would be a radical cut on top of already existing shortfalls - would cause recently declining incarceration rates to immediately shoot back up. IMO that's intentional: TDCJ has prioritized prisons over all its other functions and prefers to close none of them, so they've suggested cuts that set the agency up to fail.

At least TDCJ has backed off its absurd stance that prisons should be sacrosanct and totally immune from closure, but these timid suggestions are too concentrated among community supervision programs instead of state lockups, which account for the vast majority of the agency budget.

I'm also curious which private units TDCJ might close, since they've already renewed contracts on some of the most likely candidates. My guess is that the pre-parole facility in Mineral Wells is on the short list - its contract expires at the end of February.

The Statesman also mentioned that "Earlier Tuesday, a group of conservative legislators laid out suggestions for reducing spending by $18 billion withouttouching transportation, public safety or criminal justice." Under their plan, "education bore the brunt of the cuts - $12 billion - because federal health care laws prevent states from reducing eligibility for people covered through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program." But of course, health and education are the main areas voters want spared: In a poll published last fall, "More than half [of Texans] — 53 percent — said they'd leave public education alone if lawmakers cut state spending to balance the budget, and 63 percent said they'd protect health care for children."

In that light, I believe cuts to criminal justice are inevitable. But concentrating them in community supervision programs threatens to wipe out any other minor potential savings identified by LBB. Former state Rep. Ray Allen - who chaired the House Corrections Committee when Texas last went through a major round of budget cuts - last year wrote that focusing cuts on community supervision "backfired" in 2003. Back then, wrote Allen:
despite my objections, the legislature slashed the criminal justice budget by cutting corrections expenditures in every category other than prisons. Within a year, the prison system exceeded its capacity and began leasing beds from county jails to house a flood of new inmates. About half were sentenced with new criminal offenses, and the balance were returned to prison because Judges revoked probations at a much higher rate, often for violations which were merely technical in nature rather than for new crimes.

Offenders on probation are supervised by county probation officers whose ... cost of daily supervision is about $1.50. Prisons are funded in full by state tax dollars at a cost of $35-$40 per day.

So why did the prisons fill up until they were overflowing into leased space? The answer is simple and logical: elected judges who must answer to voters were afraid that the funding cuts to probation supervision and treatment had made it too difficult for probation officers to effectively supervise their caseloads.

For the next four years, the state's new criminal justice challenge was to handle the flood of inmates pouring into expensive prison beds. This fiscal and managerial problem was further complicated by the longer sentences and reduction of parole eligibility which was written into law in 1993, and that population was aging rapidly and along with that aging came the serious and costly medical problems inherent to high-risk populations.
Allen describes precisely what the next few years will look like for Texas' justice system if budget cutting priorities in corrections don't change from this initial proposal. Locals make decisions about whether to sentence someone to prison or revoke their probation, not the state, so if the state guts all their community supervision options, they'll send more people to TDCJ. Conversely, when the state expanded community supervision options after 2007, they sent less. Budget cutters were told this by LBB, but those warnings (at least in this first draft) were ignored.

Some will say it's "historic" that Texas would consider closing even one prison (though the Central Unit is actually a facility the local chamber of commerce types in Sugar Land want closed because it abuts the airport, an industrial park and a proposed minor league baseball stadium). Maybe that's true, but TDCJ will need to close even more units and restore community supervision funding in the budget to avoid an unwelcome repeat of errors from last major round of budget trimming in 2003.


Anonymous said...

Grits, other than the provision of office space and utilities which counties are required by law to provide for local adult probation departments, no local tax money is spent on adult probation. The system is funded with state tax dollars, offender fees, and an occasional grant from the feds or the Governor' Criminal Justice Division.

Anonymous said...

"education bore the brunt of the cuts"

But ofcourse, how else will they justify their non-closure of prisons if they didn't set the youth up for later incarceration. All the reports show an ignorant population are more likely to be a visitor to the penal system atleast once in their lives, where as an educated population are more likely to avoid it.

I for one can only stand here mouth open to the obvious failures of this government in their ability to lead the state. How anyone else in this state can continue to support such a broken corrupt system of checks and bank-accounts, I will never understand.

Don said...

I predicted TDCJ might agree to close one unit as a token gesture. Another Grits commenter totally nailed it-----one state unit, two private units, and a could of TYC units. So your mouth shouldn't be too agape, since they are that predictable. TDCJ owns the Lege, apparently. Then again, I guess you have to open your mouth in order to toss your breakfast.

Anonymous said...

Have you looked at the numbers the LBB put out? For TYC/TJPC they are saying to incarcerate fewer kids; but at the same time they are saying that there should be fewer kids on probation/parole. That isn't possible.

And, at the same time, TDCJ gets an increase in the number of offenders to be on probation and parole.

Maybe what should happen is reductions in time related to adult offenses - then we could pay less to house people and not cut the treatment budget. If people don't get treatment while incarcerated, they are likely to be incarcerated again.

And parole review in TDCJ definitely needs to happen faster. I have a relative who was parole eligible in June 2010 and they aren't even going to make a decision until May 2011 - that is 11 months of paying to incarcerate him that wouldn't be necessary if they would speed up their decision making.

Anonymous said...

Oops - should have said TDCJ gets an increase in the number of offenders to be on probation and to be incarcerated.

And TYC/TJPC was a decrease in probationers, not parolees.

I should have reread my post

Anonymous said...

Lots of thing I would like to buy but don't have the money to do it. Employer controls how much I make.

So I do without. Time for government to do the same and everyone to do with less.

Time for some of you to grow a garden. Wait til we get $3.50 to $4.00gas. We ain't seen nothing yet.

Anonymous said...

Most of the cuts will be in probation and diversion huh? There used to be an Adult Probation Commission until it was combined to form TDCJ.

The same state funding decisions will eventually happen on the juvenile side when TYC/TJPC are combined. Maybe not initially but over time.

Hook Em Horns said...

"Earlier Tuesday, a group of conservative legislators laid out suggestions for reducing spending by $18 billion withouttouching transportation, public safety or criminal justice." Under their plan, "education bore the brunt of the cuts

Of course because that's the Texas way of doing things! To hell with education as long as we can keep the prisons open...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:22, you're absolutely right. I edited the chairman's comment to ellipses out the erroneous statement.

Angee said...

If Texas had to choose between closing all school and closing all prisons our children would grow up to become uneducated inmates. Education is the best tool we have for fighting crime. I have to wonder if this is really what the majority of Texans want.extry

Anonymous said...

Several months ago the Statesman reported that the sex offender registry online public access might be cut as the cost of maintaining it was too much. I support this for many reasons and looked carefully to see if it was mentioned in this list of budget cuts but didn't see it. Have you heard if cutting the SOR online is still a possibility?

Chris H said...

What's with the photo copy link to the summary? The PDFs that can be searched can be found at the LBB's website:

Anonymous said...

What does that say about our state who will cut funding to education, children’s healthcare, and supervision and re-entry programs while not touching prisons. Prison who have people languishing in there for decades over petty drug crimes. I suppose since the state wanted a big population of prison raised kids who are now in their 30’s, the state is simply taking responsibility of taking care of them?! I suppose educating them and letting them take care of themselves is just to right wing?!
What is the deal with the parole board? They get such a bad rap out here, how can a system be as dysfunctional as some people say? Even for post 80’s government work how is it that one department like the parole board can create such an obvious theft of tax payer resources? So Texas has created a wonderful job corps like TDCJ but how is it that one group can be so obvious at committing aggravated robbery against the citizens of Texas? I’m aggravated that I feel robed by these people. I need to look into this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Chris H, they weren't on the LBB site when I posted this this a.m.. When I got back later in the day I noticed they'd put it online.

David RD said...

WOW, after witnessing this last election - what did people of this State expect? Voters put most of the very same "idiots", "cronies", and just downright "hicks" that have made Texas one of the very highest states in incarceration rates in the county...if not in the World! I think these "dufuses" in their raping of education to protect and already corrupt prison and parole system is almost methodical. While Texas remains very far down the list in education quality and excellence it remains (and will remain) the highest in prison population. These guys (politicians, the Governor, and republican agency heads) are just attempting to perpetuate a State full of stupid uneducated voters that will keep handing them power every election. We may be a very big and proud State and people, but we sure do have IMO the largest number or downright idiots and hicks running it!

Hook Em Horns said...

David RD said...
WOW, after witnessing this last election - what did people of this State expect? Voters put most of the very same "idiots", "cronies", and just downright "hicks" that have made Texas one of the very highest states in incarceration rates in the county...if not in the World!

Like a lot of us, David RD hit the nail on the head. Austin sucks, period. Texas is a huge modern state with politics mired in the "good ole boy" South and the folklore non-sense of the wild west.

Regardless of what we think, this is WHAT THE PEOPLE OF TEXAS WANT! They had a chance, more than once, to rid the Governors office and legislature of these lying, self-serving bastards but instead gave them an even bigger margin with which to continue there "tough on crime," "cut education but keep the prisons" mantra.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that Texas may be broken but it is EXACTLY how the electorate wants it.

Anonymous said...

cut funding to probation you increase the chances of them going to prison, sounds like a good plan to me. you think it would be the other way around, more money in probation keeps them from going to prison so you don't have to send them to prison. remember everyone, no education or common sense requirements to be in the leg!

Anonymous said...

Can probation officers and parole officers effectively supervise their large caseloads?

David RD said...

You can bet that Brad (TDCJ Dir, ED, his 2nd, and Ressi are just leaning back in their chairs, rubbing their hands together, with big grins - kinda like a "scrooge" in a movie just counting his money - laughing about all the people he's cheated out of it. They're sitting and their new mantra is "Keep em dumb and they will come!" HAHAHAHA Right into our own little kingdom called the Texas Gulag!!! LOCK EM UP and throw away the keys!. They have 4 more years to just screw Texas up further!! Makes me really sad about what could happen to the people of our state...but, then again...these same people did put them BACK into power?? See - it works!! The conservatives have been in control of our State for almost 15 or more years - their plan is working very very well

Anonymous said...

David RD you nailed it. A couple years ago the lege wanted TYC to have smaller units and more treatment. Now we are going to bigger TYC facilities and going to drive off all the professional staff with the mentioned 5% pay cut for professional staff and decreases in benefits. And then lets screw the people of Texas with cuts to probation and parole and education. What idiots. Why do people keep moving here?

Anonymous said...

TDCJ...set up to fail? That's kind of an oxymoron isn't it? It's bent on failure. Failure of a real justice system. Failure of education. Failure of a system that believes putting people in prison is better than educating them or helping them.

Anonymous said...

Why do people keep moving here?