Thursday, February 10, 2011

LBB lays out recidivism study, adult and juvie corrections population, cost projections

I turned on the House Appropriations Committee hearing first thing this morning to listen to exceedingly brief presentations from the Legislative Budget Board and TDCJ chief Brad Livingston about the prison system. LBB presented the committee with several important new reports, including updated adult and juvenile inmate cost and population projections and three-year recidivism rates. Here they are:
Since both adult and juvenile systems (especially juvenile) saw major reforms in 2007, Rep. Warren Chisum wanted more recent, post reform recidivism data, complaining that the report linked above only included offenders released in FY 2006 and 2007. That, of course, is because they calculate a three-year recidivism rate, so the number can't be produced until three years after the release of any particular "cohort" of offenders (their word). Thus data on post-reform recidivism rates won't be available until the next report in 2013. Chisum said he'd "get it from somebody else," but he doesn't understand. Unless he's planning to consult someone with Tarot cards or a crystal ball, nobody can tell him the three-year recidivism rate including offenses in the future that haven't yet occurred. Sans magic wand, LBB and everybody else must wait until three years out to calculate a three-year recidivism rate. TYC does produce an "annual" recidivism report, a staffer later recalled, but frankly that doesn't tell you as much.

Rep. Sylvester Turner would (and did) say the same about LBB's adult population projections because they don't take into account cuts to probation, parole and diversion programs in HB 1. Thus, projections of a slight rise in inmate numbers over the next few years "don't do anything for me," he blithely declared. Whatever his opinion, emphasized data team manager Michelle Connolly, this is the projection the agency will use as a baseline for fiscal notes, budget estimates, etc., based on status quo pre-session laws and practices. Whatever HB 1 (or other options) might do to the budget, she said, are separate calculations and LBB has already been asked to undertake that task.

Turner insisted legislators must "dismiss" LBB projections until they see estimates based on HB 1, and I get what he means: The prison population will go much higher if community supervision funds are cut. But that's what fiscal notes are designed to tell them, these are projections updated every six months which can only base estimates on laws in place at the time. And as a practical matter, they're important because they're the basis for how LBB makes all sorts of other calculations.

Speaking of which, no one brought up the question of fiscal notes, but given these projections - prisons full with demand rising slightly, but much higher if diversion programs are cut - to me a critical question facing LBB is whether criminal penalty enhancements will begin to receive positive fiscal notes. More than 11% of Texas' prison capacity is made up of private prisons, so we pay for every single extra bed. Since beds are fungible across the system, the marginal extra cost of each additional prisoner is not "insignificant," as LBB has always claimed in the past, but equal to the last private bed leased by the agency, which according to the Uniform Cost Report averages $37.47 per day (excluding transportation and offender classification expenses, p. 3). There's no excuse for new felony crimes or felony enhancements to continue to receive fiscal notes calling their cost "insignificant." It's just not true that incarcerating more people is free and LBB's projections in the past in this regard have been more aimed at facilitating political theater - allowing legislators to pass as many enhancements as they want without paying for them in the budget - than giving accurate estimates of what penalty-increase bills cost. That should change.

Beyond that, LBB's projections confirm my sense, expressed in this post the other day, "that the 2007 probation reforms, while a great start, are starting to hit a wall regarding the limits of their effect on the prison population." The question is whether the Lege will double down on investments in strong probation or gut them to keep more prisons open. It's about time they began seriously discussing policy changes that will significantly reduce the inmate population, or else local decisions by prosecutors, judges and juries will trump cuts made on paper by the state: When inmates show up, TDCJ must find somewhere to put them.

There was some talk about how cuts in other parts of the budget might affect the prison population. Livingston said 40-45,000 inmates have serious mental health diagnoses. Cuts to mental health funding - and in the long-term, higher dropout rates in schools (he adduced in response to questioning from Rep. Scott Hochberg) - will likely increase the prison population down the line, Livingston said.

Prison healthcare issues were discussed briefly, with Livingston pointing in particular to rising costs for treating just under 13,000 offenders who are age 55 and above. There was loose talk, nothing too specific, of making medical parole easier for incapacitated or terminally ill inmates, but there's a lot of cost savings to be had from that strategy. In California recently, a federal receiver told state legislators, "You let me unload 1,500 inmates [with high medical expenses], and I'll give you a 30% drop in costs."

On the question of continuing UTMB-Galveston's contract with TDCJ to provide medical services, a move endorsed this week by the Governor in his suggested budget, Livingston said ultimately it's the Legislature's decision whether UTMB provides prison healthcare as part of its "statutory responsibilities." That conforms to everything I've read and heard: UTMB can't unilaterally back out of this shotgun marriage, and I doubt the Lege will let them after the recent state auditor's report, which will almost certainly spur the Lege to reduce their reimbursement rates.

One option for savings LBB suggested will piss off county sheriffs: Waiting longer to pick up paper-ready prisoners from county jails. Currently average time in county is 28 days before heading to TDCJ after an inmate is paper ready, says LBB. Lengthening that average time could save millions at counties' expense while still coming in under the 45 day statutory maximum, after which the state must pay counties. That suggestion was tantamount to whacking a hornet's nest with a stick: So-called "blue warrants" Delays in picking up "paper ready" inmates are a perennial sore spot for county officials complaining of "unfunded mandates." I bet the good folks at the Sheriffs Association and the Texas Association of Counties leaped out of their seats and were on the phones complaining about the idea before the LBB staff left the witness table.

UPDATE: Robert Garrett at the Dallas News has more from the hearing, focusing on detail not included above on the medical parole debate:


Anonymous said...

Another instance of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Prison Doc said...

More like robbing both Paul and Peter; James and John too.

Texas Maverick said...

I have been watching various hearing for the past week and am at a loss to explain the lack of questions for Brad Livingston. Other witnesses on other committees are addressed at Mr. or Mrs. but there is an obvious difference in the relationship with MR. LIVINGSTON. The tone and lack of questions indicate one of two things IMO: one, BRAD is well liked and whatever report he submitted will be taken as gospel; or two the committee members are apathetic to the corrections problems and don't really care (Madden McClendon & Turner excepted). I would hope harder questioning would be forthcoming, but I'm not holding my breath.

The >55 population given as 13,000 distorts the nbr of medically eligible inmates that could be paroled. Yet an exact nbr of these inmates is never given. >55 does not mean you are medically eligible for parole. MR. LIVINGSTON, quit beating around the bush and give meaningful information, even if the committee doesn't want to hear.

Anonymous said...

Recidivism rates of released TYC inmates is an interesting topic for discussion. It's interesting that TYC claims that the cult like nature of its organization doesn't adversely affect its rates of recidivism.

Sam said...

There will be about a ten year slump in courts sending adults to prison. It's all demographics.

DeathBreath said...

So the circle of insanity continues. I remember how the 1990's explosion of prison construction began. It was quite a show of smoke and mirrors.

Little Johnny Klevenhagen, the former Harris County Sheriff was a master at eliciting fear in the general public.

Yes, he would whine & cry about overcrowding due to delayed transfers to TDCJ.

Local Houston televisions stations certainly obliged this crafty politician by showing offenders leaving the county jail in droves; however, this was staged for effect. People swallowed the bait.

So, now, the prisons will have less space, less probation & parole officers supervising convicts, & fewer officers due to cowards in the Texas Legislature who a afraid taxes when they are truly needed?

Sounds like a great plan! Perhaps, the American Correctional Association will ask TDCJ representatives to present this plan to the ACA National Convention.

sunray's wench said...

Texas Maverick - 55 is the official age that TDCJ uses to classify an inmate as geriatric. It is one of only a handful of DoCs to actually have a specific age and is something TDCJ should be commended for.

I agree, hitting 55 doesn't and shouldn't make an inmate automatically eligible for medical parole, but if the BPP were reformed into something recembling a fair system, then those over 55 could be assessed under different criteria for parole and may benefit from community supervision especially where they have families that can absorb any medical costs.

Texas Maverick said...

SunRay....The question asked in the hearing concerned medically eligible inmates and why they were not being paroled. Instead of discussing the nbr TDCJ recommended and directing the conversation to the BPP, Brad chose to circumvent the question. If the actual nbr of recommendations had been presented the questions would IMO continued and gone in a more productive direction. Most of these reps don't understand the TDCJ/BPP relationship.

A new member of the Senate Corrections Interim Committee asked the same question in that hearing and was astounded when she heard the answers. She was asking on behalf of a constituent and promised to follow up with her staff. I want to see the same kind of interest from the appropriations committee. I didn't see it yesterday.

Anonymous said...

on of the problems I see is that they are not classifying the offenses, only using high level headers for the re-arrest and recidivist percentage. I fa little more time and effort had been put into the report, they might have had the epiphany moment realizing which offences have better success and which are currently doomed to fail.

It was disheartening to see the high recidivist/rearrest stats for the kids though. That cycle will not be broken when they become 18.

Again, good report, it highlights again things we know about older offenders being less likely to re-offend; However it falls short of the mark if its goal was to show offenders who are less likely to re-offend thus should be looked at harder for community supervision over prison time.

Anonymous said...

I would love to say alot of negative things here but the elected so-called leaders of this state are either afraid of TDCJ becuase maybe one day they will be guess there or what I believe now after this get "tuff" lock every body up it is much simplier than that. THEY DO NOT NOw AND NEVER HAD A BACK UP ALTERNATIVE PLAN!!!! They only want to throw people in prison.

sunray's wench said...

Texas Maverick - I agree, and I have figures from TDCJ for the number of TDCJ medical parole recommendations and actual medical paroles by the BPP for 2008 (the most recent year available when I asked last year). It's just under 1 in 4 applications - and I'm pretty sure that TDCJ would not have made the recommendations lightly.

The BPP appear to be untouchable, and I don't see how that can continue to be so if Texas seriously wants to tackle the issues of funding incarceration.

Those over 55 are a sensible group of inmates to consider for early parole (medical or not, to be honest, and not just those there for "non-violent" crimes), except that many of them will have been in TDCJ for so long they wont have any support in the free-world from friends or family and probably wont be able to readjust to life outside TDCJ. It's a very sorry state of affairs, and could have been avoided.

sunray's wench said...

Thanks for the update Scott. So for 2008 the figure for medical paroles granted was around 1 in 4, and for the following year the number had dropped to around 1 in 6. It would be interesting to see what the reasons for denial were by the BPP, and for 2010 as well, given that the BPP are now required to provide their reasons for the decisions they make.

I still don't see why so-called "violent inmates" are excluded though. It is highly likely that some of these inmates are in their 70s and frail because of their illness, and committed their crime some 30-40 years previously. It is also highly possible that they have not been at all violent while in TDCJ, and that it is the crime not the inmate which was violent. Why ignore that group of inmates for medical parole, when they are the more likely to become ill with an age-related condition simply because they have been in TDCJ the longest?