Thursday, March 24, 2011

308 bills push tuffer penalties; cuts to DWI, domestic violence probation look like political suicide

Over at the Texas District and County Attorney's Association, Shannon Edmonds tallies the damage now that bill filing deadline and the midway point of the session have passed. Legislators have filed 106 bills enhancing (read: increasing) existing penalties, 88 bills creating new felonies, and 114 creating new Class A/B misdemeanors, for a total of 308 bills proposing new crimes or penalty increases. Because just not enough stuff is illegal.

Also notable was Shannon's grim analysis of "the (sorry) state of the proposed state budget with respect to probation":
Here are the low-lights of the House and Senate versions of the original budget bills, as we discussed earlier this session:
  • State funding of misdemeanor probation (about one-third of the total cost) is eliminated
  • Felony probation funding is also reduced
  • Support of treatment/diversion programs is rolled back to 2007 levels
  • Supervision officers and direct care staff salaries are rolled back to 2009 levels
  • BIPP funding is eliminated
  • TAIP funding is cut (90% cut in the House, 51% in the Senate)
  • Mental health services are slashed
The Senate version is currently more favorable in several areas, but that was based on using some of the Rainy Day Fund. Now that the Governor has made that a non-starter for the next budget (see our Quotes section below), the House's more drastic reductions in probation funding appear to be closer to the eventual product. Furthermore, several new bills—including HB 3664 by Otto, HB 3649 by Otto, and SB 1583 by Ogden—would permanently remove TDCJ's obligation or ability to fund any part of misdemeanor probation in the future (perhaps under the theory that misdemeanors are a local issue, not a state problem). The impact of those bills and that final budget will vary by location, so talk to your local CSCD for the details on your local situation. However, it is probably safe to say that several residential treatment facilities will close and specialized caseloads will be reduced or eliminated, while CSCDs will be forced to spread around what little felony probation funding they still get to help with other unfunded obligations. How that will all shake out is still to be determined, but it won't be pretty.
Wow ... making the deletion of state misdemeanor probation funding permanent is really going to rankle some feathers at the county level. Misdemeanors are stuff like, you know, DWIs!! Are they really going to go home to run for reelection having eliminated funding for DWI supervision? I worked professionally as an opposition researcher for a dozen years, so I know how this works: Whether or not there's a direct correlation, the first child to die from a drunk driver on probation after the cuts go into effect will have a bill reinstating the funds named after them heading into the next session, and the issue will become hard-hitting fodder against incumbents in both primary and general elections. Who wants to be the guy (or gal) who voted to cut money for ignition interlocks, specialized DWI caseloads, residential treatment, etc., and then have that hung around their neck as DWI horror stories rack up? Ditto for domestic violence misdemeanors. Even incidents that would have happened anyway will get blamed on those voting for the cuts, given the shrill, ruthless nature of modern political campaigning.

So here's an idea: Why not avoid such unpleasantness? How 'bout the Legislature STOP jacking up criminal penalties, kill those 308 bills, pass Rep. Harold Dutton's legislation reducing low-level drug penalties, and use the savings to re-fund misdemeanor probation, maybe even pay for more specialized caseloads and electronic monitoring instead of putting more population pressure on county jails? That's gotta be better than eliminating misdemeanor probation funding, which strikes me as potential political suicide given the public tenor of the day on DWI issues.


Anonymous said...

Unless something is done to restore the misdemeanor funding, adult probation will consist of two types of felony caseloads: those sized realistically for sex offenders, aggravated assault offenders, and felony DWI offenders, because they are the greatest risk to public safety; and the regular caseloads which will have 200 or more (maybe way more)offenders, some of whom may be seen only every 90 days. The misdemeanor caseloads will be even larger, of course, because the loss of misdemeanor funding will mean that there will be fewer officers around to supervise the cases. Is it madness? Yes. The old saying applies: you get what you pay for, and in the case of adult probation, you may be getting a lot less than you are getting now.

Don Dickson said...

And let me guess: not one fiscal note.

Meanwhile, I couldn't help but snicker about one tough-on-crime bill which proposes to revoke permanently the driving privileges of anyone receiving their fifth DWI conviction.

Thomas Hobbes said...

Gee, Anon 4:17, you might want to make that three types of caseloads. For whatever reason (although it's probably linked to the fact that pretrial services in Harris County no longer supervises defendants out on a financial bond, Sen. John Whitmire decided to file a bill (SB 880) that would authorize local probation departments, among other things, to supervise bailed defendants, regardless of the type of bond on which they were released.

Anonymous said...

I stand corrected, Mr. Hobbes.

Anonymous said...

DWI is a social problem/crime needing probation supervision more than any other crime. Ignition interlocks, treatment, and supervision of these irresponsible citizens who contribute to society but have alcohol issues is what is needed. Not more laws. As a police officer I can tell you right now we are overloaded with laws and policies. Making more of this nonsence is not what is needed.

We in law enforcement have one of the highest turn over rates of all professions. This includes police officers, troopers, deputies, correctional officers, and probation officers This is due to the work load, low pay, cuts in benefits, and cuts in our departments operating budgets all the while saddeling us with more laws while cutting social programs for probation, parole, mental and substance abuse treatment.

just my .02cents in case any lawmakers are reading this informative blog.

Anonymous said...

Anon: Come work in Tyler where the pay is high and the police have so little to do that they spend all their time writing twice as many speeding tickets as any other Texas town our side. The lege can write whatever they want. Our guys worry about that stuff? Heck no!

Anonymous said...

None of this is even close to making sense. How can Texas be spoken of as a State to be emulated as Texas has shown that up-front funding makes a difference in how many people end up in prison; and then behave like this? So very confusing.

If things occur as predicted by the TDCAA, then the supervision of the probationer will be nil at best. Docket sizes will be ridiculous at the Felony and Misdemeanor level.

Having local counties get involved with assisting probation departments with funding for misdemeanors. Give me a break, it wont' happen. County Court at Law Judges have clout but not that much clout. CSCDs will have to co-mingle funds with the County, what a nightmare.

Diversion Programs have come too far for Texas to screw this up. If the legislature does make such a huge mistake, probation departments will begin seeking assistance for specialty programs such as Drug Courts. Not such a bad idea, but then the adult probation departments will begin answering to the Federal Government instead of the local authority. Why aren't Judges raising hell about all this nonsense?

CJAD needs to get involved, much more involved with this process. Standards for CSCDs will have to be re-written. Misdemeanors will not be supervised. Misdemeanors will pay fees and that will be it. Maybe they will fill out a form every now and again.

Public Safety is not the focus of the legislature, obviously they aren't paying attention to empirical research as it relates to evidence based practices.

Anonymous said...

Proposed Senate Bill 880 does not require probation departments to supervise people on Pre Trial Release. The ability to place people on pre trial release has existed for many years, but most departments/counties just don't do it. It states a department MAY supervise them.
If you compare the proposed bill to the current Government Code Sections 76.001 and 76.015 the major change is the amount a department may charge for supervising the defendant. The charge is increased from a maximum of $40.00 to $60.00.

Anonymous said...

Are the anti-death-penalty campaign and the "criminals are innocent" campaigns fueled by infatuation?

Why are women drawn to men behind bars?

Ian Huntley, the man charged with the Soham murders, gets bundles of fan mail every day. Meanwhile, more than 100 British women are engaged or married to men on death row in the US. Denise Mina investigates the appeal.

Denise Mina
The Guardian, Monday 13 January 2003

Three years ago a German waitress called Dagmar Polzin fell in love with a murderer while waiting at a Hamburg bus stop. She saw his photo on a Benetton anti-death-penalty poster. Bobby Lee Harris, a North Carolina man with an IQ of 75, was on death row for stabbing his boss to death during a robbery on a shrimp boat. Polzin was overwhelmed by the picture,

"It was something in his eyes," she later said. "There was this remorse, sadness. I was attracted. I knew he was the one."

Within the year Polzin and Harris were engaged and she had moved to America to live with his family. This story seems a little surprising, but if you see the picture that Dagmar fell in love with it is, frankly, astonishing. He may have many charming accomplishments to recommend him as a husband, but Harris is not a bonny boy.

Polzin's romance is not an isolated incident: no matter how extreme or appalling the crime with which they are associated, it seems there is always a woman keen to stand by the man. It was recently reported that Ian Huntley, the Soham man charged with the murders of schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, receives bundles of fan mail from women every week - many containing photographs of themselves.

Prison romances seem in no danger of dying out. But the cliche of the prison bride as wig-wearing trailer-trash is misguided: the women come from all sectors of society. Carlos the Jackal become engaged to his lawyer last year. The famous Glasgow hard man Jimmy Boyle married a psychiatrist he met in prison. The most common form of contact, certainly for many of the 100 or so British women currently engaged or married to American men on death row, is through anti-death-penalty campaign internet sites.

austex1151 said...

Sorry, 11:28, but you do anti-death penalty advocates a huge disservice with this flippant piece. That there are- and always have been- folks who are attracted to/obsessed by imprisoned men is neither new nor relevant. Those of us who work against the death penalty do it from the most sincere of impulses: a religious abhorrence of judicial killing with its consequent effects on society, the families of those executed, and those who actually do the killing; a deep belief that they "justice" system, already known to be so deeply flawed in every other area, is even more broken in death penalty cases; the sincere and, I believe, well founded belief that we have already executed innocent people. We are truly "pro-life". The death penalty is a throw back to a more blood thirsty era and appeals to the very worst emotions of the masses. That some deluded women fall in "love" with killers is hardly relevant.

Anonymous said...

If they reduce the low level drug penalties they will become midemeanors, then get put on probation, but have noone to report to....So then they will be wandering around aimlessly in pursuit of a Probation Officer, get even more confused and frustrated, smoke some more weed to calm down and then get arrested again.

I guess the only answer to this problem is to hope that they will have such an addiction at this point and more than a misdemeanor amount of drugs on them the next time.

Anonymous said...

So is it State Representative Mallory-Caraway pushing for enhancement to the domestic violence law? LOL

Angee said...

We have been sold out in Criminal Justice. Cost saving alternatives have been tossed out the window. Full prisons can't be closed so there is a mad dash backwards to the way we were.

Thomas Hobbes said...

Okay, Anon 8:54, school me . . .

You and I clearly do not agree on what constitutes "major change" in SB 880. How do you rationalize the necessity of taking a four-sentence section of the law that addresses pretrial intervention services provided by CSCDs (GC 76.011) and restyling it to explicitly authorize pretrial supervision of bailed defendants by CSCDs as well as anyone else the court orders the CSCD to supervise? Oh, and please tell me where the CSCD will get the money to do this (without naively suggesting that the supervision fees will cover the expenses).

Please school me!

Tedbyrd said...

IMHO, this is a circuitous route to benefit those who always make out on tough on crime legislation- the private prison industry.I laughingly joke w/ the Probation officers in New Braunfels about how their head felony prosecutor wants to put them out of business by putting eveyone in prison- they smile, but nervously, because they know I'm right. I have believed- for years- that having a full time legislature is bad public policy, especially when it is populated by Bradley supporters and their minions. Real reform -like increased funding for pre trial diversion and treatment- is a ludicrous proposition, since the elites surrounding Perry and his cretins do not make out on such reasonable suggestions

Anonymous said...

"I laughingly joke w/ the Probation officers in New Braunfels about how their head felony prosecutor wants to put them out of business by putting everyone in prison- they smile, but nervously, because they know I'm right." That is simply "funny stuff", except only you think you are funny. Probation officers don't think you are "right." They probably think you are full of ridiculous opinions that are meaningless. Probation officers don't have a lead felony prosecutor. Probation officers aren't part of the DA's office. New Braunfels doesn't have a lead felony prosecutor. Comal County has a lead felony prosecutor. The majority of the population of Comal County isn't in New Braunfels, it is the surrouding communities. My guess is the lead felony prosecutor doesn't even live in Comal County.

Lead felony prosecutors in any county don't have the power to put a CSCD out of business. In New Braunfels, there are plea agreements just like anywhere else and those plea agreements often, most often, are for probation. When it comes time for motion to revokes, well then the prosecutor may "get his way" with prison sentences, but they are always puny prison sentences where the offenders is released from prison after serving very little time just to be back on the street with the same behavior and the offender often is back on the docket with a brand new crime. So, the prosecutor gets to know the offenders real well. He hasn't put anyone out of business, only has perpetuated the same behavior on every level.

He gets to see the same names on the docket over and over again. If the prosecutor wanted to put probation out of business, he would live within a continuum of sanctions and allow the CSCD to utilize community corrections approaches to supervise offenders instead of making agreements to place technical violators in prison for minor amounts of time.

The prosecutor isn't the fact finder. A Judge or Jury determines that, so if it is Judges and Juries who place offenders on probation, then how could a prosecutor ever put a probation department out of business.