Wednesday, November 23, 2011

No fluff to cut: Policy changes needed to reduce next TDCJ budget

State Rep. Susan King held a town hall meeting in Abilene recently and got an earful from a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) employee unhappy about budget cuts at the agency, according to the Abilene Reporter-News:
King said that because there was no increase in revenue, the state was left in a "structural deficit" with no way to pay for existing programs.

"If we don't increase revenue, something will have to be catastrophically cut," she said.

The most lively exchange came between King and a Texas Department of Criminal Justice employee from the French Robertson Unit who complained about excessive cuts to the criminal justice system.

"Where would you cut?" King asked the man. "What agencies do you think have too much fluff?"

"I can't answer that," he acknowledged.

After the meeting, King said that although she appreciated the man's fervor, it typified the problem that arises when it comes to making cuts.

"Nobody can tell you where to make cuts in their department," she said. "It's other places where cuts can be made."

Earlier in the meeting, she remarked that she had heard the admonition not to "balance the budget on the backs of the schoolchildren."

"People say the exact same thing about the elderly and the exact same thing about the infrastructure," she said.
Bingo! She's exactly right. Indeed, next session's budget gap will likely be even larger than the state faced this time, when the Lege cut TDCJ's budget but did virtually nothing  to reduce the number of people in prison.

The real problem isn't that the agency's budget was cut - Grits believes it could be reduced substantially more - but that the Legislature failed to enact policy changes to make that reduction tenable. (E.g., they underfunded prison healthcare by more than $100 million while doing nothing to reduce the number of prisoners covered.) At this point, to further reduce corrections spending safely, the state must shift spending emphasis at TDCJ from prisons to community supervision - i.e, probation and parole. If the Lege would change policies to incarcerate fewer low-risk offenders, cutting TDCJ's budget would appear not only possible but wise.

I'm pleased to see King's comments because too often Texas pols, just like in Washington, pretend they can be all things to all people, claiming they can cut "waste" without reducing services while lowering taxes despite yawning budget shortfalls. But there's no more fat to cut at TDCJ: Either the Lege must enact policies that let TDCJ reduce inmate numbers and close more prisons, or else live with a ever-increasing incarceration bill paid for with higher taxes.

Perhaps Rep. King is prepared to begin believing impossible things.


Prison Doc said...

I don't like to think that I am becoming a libertarian, but I don't see incarceration decreasing until the people of the state realize that the answer to substance abuse does not lie within the criminal justice system. Locking thousands up for "possession with intent to distribute" isn't going to solve the problem.

Anonymous said...

I have refrained from commenting on TDCJ cuts because I have a close family member who is emplyed in the health care division of the system and fear possible reprisals, but I can refrain no longer. Health care budget in TDCJ has been drastically cut, and workers are expected to do the same work with substantially fewer resources with which to do it. They are being asked, using the biblical analogy, to make more bricks and gather their own straw. One small prison has lost its local hospital contractor because of the reduced budget; so now prisoners who need medical care not available on site have to be sent to a larger prison out of town. A guard (Corrections Officer is the pc term I think) must accompany them, leaving the prison with a reduced CO staff. Leaving the facility at increased risk of riots etc. It's a counter productive strategy with disaster lurking in the wings.

Signed anonymous to lessen the risk of reprisal.

A Texas PO said...

Anon 10:41- Every part of TDCJ is expected "to make more bricks and gather their own straw." Grits is right that refocusing TDCJ's efforts and resources towards community supervision would significantly decrease TDCJ's incarceration costs because there will be fewer inmates in fewer facilities. Those small prisons need to go away precisely because they can't and don't provide the services their populations need, and their would be fewer mouths to feed if parole and probation were seen as vital parts of the system, rather than cancerous appendages.


The cuts at TDCJ should be made at the highest administrative levels. An exhaustive review needs to be made of the administrative positions and their bloated salaries. A consolidation of some of the departments, especially the General counsel's office's of both the BPP and TDCJ, would be a great first step.

rodsmith said...

yes but the big problem is the agencies won't call the govt on what they are doing!

if EVERYONE one of them announced tomorrow that

By order of the legislature our budget has been reduced 10%

that last year using X dollars we covered X number of people. We now have no choice but to cut 10% of that number who were covered last year based on the new amount of funds we have! Plus we will NOT accept any new individuals since the FUNDS ARE JUST NOT THERE to cover them!

IF you have a problem with that. SEE YOUR LEGISLATOR!

that would put the heat BACK on the politicians!

If that means the state prisons STOP accepting any new inmates or the Prison Medical System says SORRY we have no more funds for TREATMENT.

so be it!

jimbobob8 said...

Noting the story in grits, not too long ago about the furniture makers, that are only available to the congress, there are a host of locked up talent behind those bars. Song writers, David Allen Coe, for one example. Novelist, wood carvers, artist, potters, clothing designers. The list goes on.
They could allow an outlet that not only would allow the talent to be sold but would allow a percent to be put in the inmates account to pay for some of their healthcare. Give them a income to pay retribution, and even give them some entitlements.
The prison could keep the lion share for general fund, say 75%. With 10% going to general welfare, of all inmates, leaving a 15%, for their own personal use.
I mean this is a capitalist society, why don't we act like it.

sunray's wench said...

@ jimbobob8 ~ because being gainfully occupied in something that is not religion-based and worthless outside of TDCJ is seen as a benefit or perk to the inmates which must be discouraged at every opportunity. Texans don't want inmates to actually enjoy creating something worthwile, even if it does include a profit opportunity for the state. It could mean that the inmate doesn't return to TDCJ upon release, and obviously that would play havoc with the state's economy.


Anonymous said...

Jimbobob8 has a good point. But, I'd go even further. There is probably enough talent that the prision system could almost be self-sustaining. But that would eliminate some sweet government contracts and then there'd be less money to lobby and schmooze legislators with. I have no doubt there is some "fluff" that oculd be cut but it would either require cutting things that either those leading the agency, or the politicians don't want cut (such as contracts that go to politcal donors or buddies). There seems to be a total lack of creative thinking in the system. I'm sure there are lots of ways that money could be saved but that might require doing something different and no one seems to want to do that.

Here's a specific example of what I'm talking about (this idea wouldn't necessarily save any money but I bet there are others that would). I know someone who is serving a life sentence who was a teacher and is certified to teach reading. How many prisoners do you think could benefit from some literacy training. Yet, because of the person's offenes, the only job she is allowed to hold, until she has been in for 10 years, is working in the kitchen. I can't help but wonder how many others have talents, skills, and education that is going to waste. If they were to look, I bet they could find prisioners capable of performing just about any task or service needed in the prison system (except for guards, of course).

I worked for several years for another large state agency. There were times when we experienced budget cuts. But, they always seemed to have anough money to increase state office staff. I don't have a lot of direct knowledge about TDCJ but if its anything like the agency I worked for there are probably plenty of "administrative" type positions in Austin that could be cut and nobody would probably notice.

Ted said...

I think Prison Doc, and others, got it exactly right- if you want to jail multi ton smugglers, be my guest-but drug users and street level dealers selling to support a habit? please!!!what has it gotten us? the article about budget cuts is a microcosm of the larger national dialogue- everyone wants budget cuts, but they have amnesia about one salient fact: budget cuts equal pepole losing jobs!!!whoever said crime doesn't pay? it pays bigtime- just not the pepole you expect-what about Anonymous? the medical situation is truly scandalous- how smart is it to lock up dope fiends for years and years- and get stuck with all the medical bills?