Tuesday, February 08, 2011

TDCJ belatedly contemplates real-world implications of massive budget cuts

As legislators vet proposals for the next biennium's budget, officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice haven't yet figured out how to implement cuts ordered last year, reports Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman ("Prison agency proposed 1,000 layoffs, less drug treatment, fewer convict meals," Feb. 8), who obtained a four-page summary of the agency's budget-reduction plan through an open records request. He reports:
State prison officials are considering a budget-cutting plan to lay off more than 1,000 workers , close three drug treatment centers including one in Burnet and reduce the number of meals fed to prisoners on weekends.

Hundreds of parole and probation officers would be among those laid off. And a slimmed-down menu for prisoners proposes sliced bread instead of hamburger and hot dog buns, powdered milk instead of dairy milk, one dessert per week instead of two and only two meals — brunch and dinner — on Saturdays and Sundays instead of three.

Prison officials have been meeting privately with legislative leaders in recent days about the $74.5 million in cuts that the Legislative Budget Board ordered during the current fiscal year to help make up for a projected multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall. The cuts were ordered last fall, but the prison agency is just now working out details. The proposed cuts are separate from 10 percent cuts ordered for the next two-year budget, though they would reduce the agency's base spending going in to the 2012-13 budget.
State Sen. John Whitmire called the suggestions "DOA," declaring "Their plan could dismantle many of the treatment programs that are making our criminal justice system work right now." Thank heavens.

However, this news drives home a conundrum Grits has been focused on for some time: To make large cuts at TDCJ, the agency either must close prisons and reduce the inmate population,  laying off guards and support staff, or slash community supervision and diversion programs that manage a lot more offenders for less money and which have kept the state from spending billions on more new prison units. (The cut to food spending mentioned, Grits readers are aware, has already been implemented.) The Legislative Budget Board predicts that if treatment programs are dismantled, inmate populations would quickly rise, as they did after cuts to diversion programming in 2003.

Even if TDCJ closes three drug treatment centers, as they've proposed, the only real way to cut core costs at TDCJ, as is clear reading between the lines even in this article, is cutting staffing costs at the state's 112 prison units. That's why, in order to meet even the $75 million in cuts required of the agency in the current biennium, TDCJ must lay off prison workers: "If the layoffs begin on April 15, the earliest likely date, about 1,033 full-time positions would be eliminated, the document states. If they do not occur until July, 2,235 positions will have to be eliminated."

But cutting staff without reducing the number of prisoners or units operated is a recipe for leaving prisons vulnerable to contraband and all sorts of other security problems. And of course, these staff cuts only pay for the $75 million reduction required in the current biennium. On top of that, in the next biennium, the House budget would cut General Revenue fund moneys to TDCJ by a jaw-dropping $643.8 million, and the Senate by a still-enormous $440.9 million. Those levels of cuts would require much larger staffing reductions that will leave TDCJ dangerously insecure, that is, unless the prison population is simultaneously reduced and multiple units are closed. Otherwise, they'd essentially just be leaving some units unguarded, or more likely "guarded" by "building tenders" (inmate enforcers), like back in the bad old days, pre-William Wayne Justice and Ruiz v. Estelle.

It's astonishing, if lamely predictable, that TDCJ  is "just now working out details" of last year's mandated budget cuts, according to Ward, given that it was obvious, certainly to this writer and really to anyone paying attention, that they faced this dilemma more than a year ago, and that prison closures are the only rational solution, given that's how most of the agency's budget is spent. Cutting only treatment and diversion programs - which is what the agency keeps proposing, including in the document obtained by Ward - remains a clear-cut recipe for disaster, but it's all the prison-centric agency has so far been willing to suggest.

If a more rational budget approach to corrections is going to be taken, legislators and their staff must do the brain-work to figure out what units to close: TDCJ is obviously digging in their heels and beyond the Central Unit  (which the local Chamber of Commerce set wants closed for reasons unrelated to TDCJ institutional priorities), they've already said they'd fire 7,300 employees before closing more than one prison facility. If other more sensible strategies are to win the day, IMO they'll have to be imposed on the agency from without. The Lege won't get there simply following TDCJ's increasingly absurd recommendations.

MORE: From Mike Ward, see additional details on the proposed TDCJ cuts to community supervision and diversion programs.

See related, recent Grits posts:


Prison Doc said...

It's great to whip up on TDCJ, and they may indeed need whipping, but to close units--don't we need fewer prisoners? Seems like the legislature is to blame, they would be the ones to remove enhancements, reduce criminalization,lower penalties, increase treatment programs and community supervision...TDCJ can't do it alone.

The thing that concerns me is that most lay people--ordinary citizens--that I run into want to cut treatment, cut food and medical, leave people locked up...

What to do, what to do!

Anonymous said...

Just knowing one example is what I have. I personally have eaten a standard meal in a TDCJ Chowhall. I am a female, and I am not an inmate, we ate this meal during a marriage seminar. I am not a Big Person, although I am tall. I have a hearty appetite. If I were in TDCJ and I was indigent and solely depended on TDCJ for feeding me. I would really be hungry losing just those two meals. The meals arent much, and after eating mine, I could have probally eaten two more, to feel like I had eaten. A grown man, and A grown woman in TDCJ would definately suffer from that cut, if they were indigent, which a large percentage of prisoners are.. Why not cut the process of "Pressing" CO's Uniforms? Why dont they look into "Cosmetic" budget cuts as that. The pressing machings in TDCJ are there for the sole purpose of pressing CO's uniforms. The machines need constant upkeep, maintance, chemicals for the pressing of the uniforms. US Soldiers dont have there uniforms pressed, why should TDCJ Correctional Officers? Inmates arent allowed pressed clothes, Wardens wear Free World clothing, why all this expence for officers?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, that's partially true, and as you know this blog has spent a lot of space suggesting ways the Lege could reduce the prison population.

But TDCJ's budget proposals run 180 degrees counter to the goal of reduced spending, suggesting cuts that seem intentionally designed to drive up the prison population (read: incarceration costs) in the short term.

For example, they could have proposed cutting units and using substantial portions of the savings to beef up diversion programs, intermediate sanctions, etc., i.e., identifying ways to reduce the prison population using the means at their disposal (leaving aside stuff like sentence reductions that only the Lege can do). Instead, because TDCJ only values prisons and essentially disdains community supervision, they only ever suggest cuts on the probation side.

Finally, you have to understand how budgets are made. Legislators don't write them from scratch but agencies and LBB lay out an array of suggestions from which legislators choose. If the agency refuses even to put certain options on the table, then it requires extraordinary efforts by legislators to gain consensus for enacting solutions beyond the options staff present to them. There's plenty of blame to go around, but this post is complaining about gamesmanship by the agency.

You may be right about what ordinary citizens want. I haven't seen Texas polling, but I suspect it wouldn't look much different than this poll from California, which:

"asked voters which major areas should be hit with cuts, just 24 percent named K-12 education, 35 percent said higher education, 37 percent suggested health and welfare programs, and 70 percent singled out prisons. The results were similar when voters were asked what they were willing to underwrite with higher taxes.

"Interestingly, the disdain for prison spending was virtually identical among all subcategories of voters – Democrats and Republicans, liberal San Franciscans and conservative Central Valley residents, rich, poor and middle class.

"The sentiments are not new. PPIC and other polling organizations have reported similar findings for years. Yet prison spending has been one of the fastest growing pieces of the budget."

Anonymous said...

Married to Probation

While TDCJ is contemplating what to cut at prison units this spring and fall in order to give money back to the state that doesn't have any; probation offices all over the state are attempting to figure out how to send back basically 5 percent to CJAD, to give to the state that doesn't have any money. This happened last spring as well. Probation departments are already furloughing officers, looking at paycuts in order to get through the year as CJAD keeps taking money away. The state starting bleeding probation in the third quarter of the first year of the last budget cycle. And this doesn't even take into consideration the next bloody budget. The Lege seems to wander about in a intoxicating fog of confusion when it comes to CJ spending. Say a department that now has one of the lowest revocation rates in the state suffers the proposed budget cuts and sees a projected increase in revocations of approx. 260 offenders. This will cost the state 3 million dollars a year more than the 1 million dollar cut to the county. I suck at math and I get these numbers.

Anonymous said...

Charles in Tulia:

My phone conversation with a staffer at Rep. Warren Chisum's office yesterday concerning new crimes, enhancements, etc. in a time of budget crunch gives me some faint hopes that the Lege may be much smarter than TDCJ or some of the legislators proposing new crimes. The staffer said Rep. Chisum would agree with me that this is no time to be creating new crimes and new criminals. Rep. Chisum (my rep.) is one of the most conservative of our representatives. He and I would not agree on much. I hope his staffer was giving me an accurate reading of where he stands on this.

Anonymous said...

PS from Charles in Tulia:

I doubt Rep. Chisum and I would agree on this, but the lege is getting ready to create a nightmare with layoffs and cuts not only in TDCJ but in education and elsewhere. Where are these people going to find employment? What is going to replace the reduction in sales tax as a result of these reductions? Isn't it time to look at least partly to new revenue, maybe (gasp!) an income tax rather than looking solely to reductions in expenditures?

Don said...

Chas: You are right. Of course, an income tax is still a taboo subject and won't be considered for some time to come. But it is asinine to propose balancing this budget with cuts alone; no new revenue, no touching the "rainy day" fund. You know, I know, and "they" know, ain't gonna happen. Taxes will go up. They may shift the burden to local entities, and they may change the lexicon, ("fees" instead of "taxes"). And when reality sets in in May, (at least it will for some), at least part of the rainy day fund will be used. The revenue estimate should look a little rosier in May, as well. The cuts as proposed by HB 1 and the Senate proposal are untenable, and everybody knows that. But, the values guiding those budgets won't change. The budget will still be balanced on the backs of education, mental health and substance abuse programs, medicaid, etc. As sickening as this scenario is, it's the way Texas operates. I am following Grits' hope that somehow the lege will grow some balls and tell, not ask, TDCJ how things need to be, regarding reducing prison populations, and closing prisons. And that will have to be done by increasing, not cutting, diversion and supervision programs. If they continue to leave the details up to TDCJ leadership, we all know what will happen. And it will be a disaster.

Don said...

BTW, Chas. I just watched the Great Texas Sodomy exchange of 1993, starring your representative. He may agree with that now is not the time to be enhancing penalties regarding crimes such as, say, murder, burglary, speeding, theft, embezzlement, etc, etc. But when it comes to backing off social engineering via "penal" code, I trust him about as far as I could throw you if you were tethered to the Tulia water tower. :)

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that the first things to go to cut the budget are the probation/ parole officers, drug treatment centers, and food for the prisoners. Like it or not, the first two are projects that help with the cost reduction of prisons. The food thing is something totally different. So now we cut food served so we can get our prisons more in line with Dachau?

Cut half the office machine that the state has generated, keep the guards, and parole and probation officers. Real cost savings is keeping people out of prison to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Scott, all the legislature has to do is amend 508.283(c) of the Tex.Govt.Cd.to permit all parolees to receive credit for time they have served in the custody of the parole division (see 508.143). Current law, as amended in 2003, only permits credit to those offenders who have served more than have the time they had left on parole when they were released, and only for those offenders who have never been convicted of any offenses listed in 508.149(a). All of those offenders listed under 508.149(a) do not receive credit for any parole time, even if they serve 19 years and 360 days of 20 years remaining while on parole. When they are revoked, they will serve an additional 19 years and 360 days, either in prison or as an additional period of parole. No other state in the nation requires offenders to reserve periods of their sentence that they already served in compliance with their parole prior to a violation!!!

According to the Legislative Budget Board, in the last six years,TDCJ has averaged 1695 revocations for technical violations only (no new offense). The only good news is that the number has steadily been declining from 2238 in 2006, to 1062 in 2010.

Of those revoked for technical violations only the last six years, the average length of time spent on parole prior to revocation (such time they will have to re-serve) is just over 3 years. Thus, at a minimum, the cost of 508.283(c) is $3.95 a day on parole times the average number of years the offenders are required to reserve (3), times the number of technical violators this occurs to each year the last six years (1695). The cost of enforcing 508.283(c) on technical violators only is at a minimum $7 million -- and that isn't even counting the additional costs of the period of incarceration immediately following the revocation, nor does it consider the cost of approximately 5000 non-technical violators with new sentences each year, who will have to re-serve portions of their original sentences.

Unfortunately, the Courts have misunderstood Texas parole law for the last thirty years, determining that Texas law requiring revoked parolees to re-serve portions of sentences that he or she already served as calendar time (see 508.142) does not violate double jeopardy or due process. See, e.g. Morrison v. Johnson, 106 F.3d.127 (1997).

There is no justification for extending the length or cost of a criminal sentence beyond what the courts have determined. To retain a person serving a 20-year for a property offense on paper for, say, 28 years, has no purpose. It is an unnecessary cost and the legislature needs to join the rest of the country in changing this costly and meaningless statute.

sunray's wench said...

I'm confused. I'm also dyscalculic, so figures are not easy for me to understand, but theory is.

I thought the idea was to not spend as much money as is being spent now?

Is Texas really so full of bad people that the majority of them need to be locked up and overseen by a very small minority?

I absolutely agree with doing away with pressing machines for Officer's uniforms. That seems a bit excessive.

If there was a little spare money, then I would suggest building replacement new prisons. Ones that take fewer staff to man because they have better electronic security systems, cost less to heat or keep cool, are easier to maintain etc

It would be interesting to see how much money is being made by selling produce raised in TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

Mr Perry, Tear Down These Prisons!

Anonymous said...

Charles again:

Don, if I were standing by the Tulia water tower today, I'd need to be tethered to it, else I would be in Lubbock in about an hour.

Anon 12:29: right on!

DeathBrreath said...

"Asleep At The Wheel Whitmire" has nothing to gain from prison cuts does he? No, he has no ties to private prison contracts.

It sickens me to know there are self-serving politicians who jeopardize the lives of officers & staff by spending cuts. Senator Whitmire, you are punishing an agency for your national embarrassment.

Reducing prisons staff will ultimately get someone hurt or killed. Most, if not all prison escapes have centered around staffing shortages.

Some offenders watch prison staff for any signs of weakness. But, what would you know, Senator Whitmire? You've never stayed inside a prison for any significant length of time, have you? Yet, you are willing to dictate prison conditions from your Ivory Tower?

You and all of the "True Conservative Christians" who run the Texas legislature make me want to puke.

Anonymous said...

How much influence, in your opinion, do Whitmire and Madden have over this nonsense?

When Whitmire says, "DOA", does he mean there is no way while on his watch will there be a cut in diversion funding?

DEWEY said...

"heat or keep cool"
Things must have since I was in TDC. It was cold during the winter, and hot during the summer. Strip searches (outside)after coming in from the fields during the winter were, uh, "fun", if you enjoyed havinf your "intimate parts"almost freeze off.

Anonymous said...

The strip searches down in Gatesville conducted by the guards down there everyday is entertainment to them. They do this at visitation to make this miserable for eveyone so you can not even enjoy that either. There is no rehabilitation down there just degrading torture.

Anonymous said...

How come we do not release the non-violent offenders?

Anonymous said...

This is big business and the elected officials must be getting kick backs from these draconian laws and enhancements.

Anonymous said...

If you cut the non-security jobs you get into the inbred issues. Friend and families that sit around and do nothing will lose their jobs. Close prisons and those evil towns like Gatesville would disappear. This would be great for humanity and Texas. I can not believe this stae has that many bad people. My experience leads me to believe the people working in the prisons are the actually bad people.

Anonymous said...

They feed nothing now to the women in prison. That food is taking home by certain people.

Anonymous said...

Stripe searches, sexual assualts and torture is a skill passed down from generation to generation in Gatesville. The FEDS need to go down there and clean house.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 9.51: nothing? As in no food whatsoever to any inmate at all?

If you are going to make claims, at least make them plausible.

As for strip-searches, those are necessary for security. They happen to the male inmates as well.

I wonder if the person who keeps mentioning Gatesville is the same Anon all the time. Maybe you could come up with a suitable alias, like AntiGatesville?

Anonymous said...

A lot of the women will avoid the dining halls or what ever you want to call them (slop halls) in Gatesville because the guards stand around an intimidats the women who try to eat in there with verbal and non-verbal threats. So many just avoid this and go hungry.

Anonymous said...

You can not cut the food budget any lower than it is now. Third world countries are better than we are today. In Gatesville they get 2 apples and 2 oranges a year. We do our POWS captured in war better than this. Our elected leaders should be ashame of this alone. Are they? War criminals treat their prisoners like this so why do we.

Anonymous said...

The stripe searches at both Plane State and Gatesville are considered crimes if a citizen did it. It is called sexual assault. They do this to women 6 to 10 times a day just for fun to degrade, embarrass and degrade them. Some do it for just the mere fun of it because they have to push some one around and abuse someone.

Anonymous said...

To Sun rays wench is shining a flash light up into their body cavities part of security or non-madical personal doing body cavities searches physically I might add just because you personally do not like them. Have you ever been to Gatesville? Since you know so much did you sense the evil. If you could comprehend what you were reading you could tell both men and women have commented on that horrible place with the unmarked graves. Why don't you go visit then yourself and see and sense the evil all around you. Are you even a citizen of the United States? I looked up wench in the dictionary and just as I thought. Hmm???? And know I did not write those other comments here today but thought as an "AMERICAN CITIZEN" I would throw in my two cents because I pay taxes in this country and vote!!!

Anonymous said...

You know I would have to agree there is a diffence in stripe searches and what has been describe by many people here. This does sound like sexual assaults to me.

Anonymous said...

There is also a big difference in doing it when it is necessary versus just walking into the dorm and making some one do it for fun to degrade them.

sunray's wench said...

So where are the law suits against the Gatesville staff? If this happens so often, why are inmates or ex-inmates not bringing criminal charges against the individuals - who they could no doubt name - for carrying out this behaviour?

I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'm simply saying that if it does, then why is no one taking any action to stop it?

What does it matter whether I'm an American citizen? My husband is American and he is in TDCJ and will be for some time - and no, I'm not a love sick penpal, we knew each other before his incarceration.

If you have a problem such as the one you claim happens at Gatesville, it will serve your purpose better to have as many people as possible talking about it, regardless of where they come from.

Anonymous said...

Alot of women like myself are specking out!! It takes money to file law suits for one and go down as an ex-offender as I am called now no one believes you. Some even think you deserved this to happen to you. Women locked up here in Texas have no chance in the courts and especially behind those walls. Who are you to judeg anyone here. I know what happened to me no matter what you may think. Maybe males are harder to abuse inside TDCJ

Anonymous said...

Yep looks like the word is finally getting out about the many abuse against our kids and women in theses prisons.

Anonymous said...

Our elected leaders do not care about what is happening in Gatesville. Those women do not stand a chance down there.