Tuesday, June 05, 2012

TDCJ Sunset highlights

The Sunset Commission today heard testimony regarding the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. See a press release and recommendations from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition to the commission. TCJC also conducted a survey  of corrections officers in conjunction with AFSCME, as well as a survey of incarcerated individuals and family members.

See initial coverage of the hearing here and here. I got to sit in on bits and pieces of it, veering back and forth from the Sunset hearing to a seminar on forensic science held by the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal Justice Integrity Unit and the Forensic Science Commission.

There was some effective public testimony from an inmate family group I hadn't heard of before called "All Of Us Or None," which I'm told is active in California but relatively new to Texas. Several family members gave quite compelling testimony, while some former inmates showed up to advocate for vocational training at the Windham School District.

One of the more bizarre moments in the hearing came when city of Houston victim advocate Andy Kahan testified in favor of long-term "set offs" for violet offenders up for parole, allowing the parole board to push back their release by up to 15 years, modeling his suggestion on what he claimed (I haven't checked it) is a common practice in California. Normally, said Kahan, he wouldn't suggest following California's lead, but he had to give credit where it's due.

Grits wanted to stand up and holler from the back of the room, "Do you know what else they have in California? A federal court order to reduce their inmate population by 37,500!" But nobody from the dais called him on it. For the record: Moving to 15 year set offs for even a fraction of violent offenders would be a total budget buster.

Here are a few data from the parole board Grits found interesting: Hearing examiners for the BPP held around 20,000 revocation hearings last year, with another 8,000 or so parolees waiving their right to a hearing. Of those 28,000, there were around 6,400 revocations to prison. The agency is on track to revoke slightly fewer this year, the committee was told. Matt Simpson at the ACLU of Texas testified that parole-eligible TDCJ inmates number around 58,000 and cost the state a whopping $2.7 million per day, or nearly a billion dollars per year.

Sen. John Whitmire made some strong points while parole board chair Rissie Owens was testifying, complaining that TDCJ failed to provide treatment for prisoners until the parole board ordered it as a condition of release. Why shouldn't addiction or other problems be treated from the time they enter, he wondered? There was no good answer and the question was treated as rhetorical, but it deserves a response.


Anonymous said...

Check this out regarding TDCJ and TYC looking at TDCJ to house TYC inmates...



Anonymous said...

I have often wondered the same thing- why do prisoners wait for parole approval - then wait another 6, 9, 12 , 18 months to get into a program before they can be released? My son was approved for parole in October with a FI-9 which means he has to complete a 9 month program. He has not entered the program yet ( no room) and MIGHT be able to get in by September or October this year , complete the 9 month program MAYBE be out by next summer. This is a cost to the taxpayers and is depriving him of the privilege of working , supporting his family and contributing to society. I wish someone had spoken up at he hearing and not treated the remark as "rhetorical" . Thanks for covering this Grits!

Cara1947 said...

Thanks for souring my morning coffee! I frantically tried to download the software to view the hearing live online, but failed. I appreciate your highlights.

A couple of comments from one the dying breed of "bleeding heart human rights advocates" in Texas . . . it doesn't compute (punishment or financially) why paroles are delayed and additional year to three waiting for programs that could have been scheduled from day one of intake.

Secondly, the wonderful (sarcasm mine, I'm sure)comment about set-offs makes me choke up . . . Texas executes innocent inmates, nationwide more than 2000 have been exonerated in the last 20 years or so (after the Innocence Project decided to keep track . . . who knows how many weren't counted?) . . . hasn't any one begun to wonder . . . ??? So, we now should ADD to the $2.7 million per DAY cost . . . ???

In Texas the DA is the judged/jury/god . . . all s/he wants to to check the box "convicted" . . . so the plea deal to take 10 or gamble when in jury trial and "feed" a bunch of skewed facts by the DA FREQUENTLY results in innocent people pleading out to charges (many violent and sexual in nature) for which they are innocent.

Let me see if I understand . . . we have a sex offender registry that adds approximately 100 names per week and costs MILLIONS each year to protect no one . . . and we have parole indelible inmates who are not being released and costing $2.7 million a DAY . . . can you spell bankruptcy?

Anonymous said...

Cara 1947 said "In Texas the DA is the judged/jury/god . . . all s/he wants to to check the box "convicted" . . . so the plea deal to take 10 or gamble when in jury trial and "feed" a bunch of skewed facts by the DA FREQUENTLY results in innocent people pleading out to charges (many violent and sexual in nature) for which they are innocent."


sunray's wench said...

Why has it taken Senator Whitmire so long to even start asking those kinds of questions?

Did anyone even mention the fact that not all TDCJ inmates who wanted to respond to the Sunset questionnaire were able to because the papers went "missing"?

Anonymous said...

Re: Sex Offender Rehab courses. Those four month & 18 month courses could be shortened if the classes were taught 6 or 8 hours daily instead of the one hour a day. Information by a reputable source that the Federal Government gives money to TDCJ or the State for these classes. Anyone know about that? Someone I know had his parole approved over a year ago, but he's been waiting to attend one of these courses so he can actually be paroled. How much is this costing the taxpayers to house inmates that are waiting? And how much is it costing the taxpayers to house these inmates for four months at one hour class a day? And....how many of those too pleas after being scared and intimidating into confessing? And why hasn't Rissi Owens followed the instructions of the Supreme Court? Why is she immune? As they say, "follow the money".

memedriver said...

I was there yesterday and it was very interesting. During the first part of the hearing I was in the hall because I couldn't control my action with some of the BS I was hearing from the agencies. I hope I was one of the compelling family members who testified, I was scared poopless. Since my husband is up for parole right now I hope they don't reliate against him since I tesitified yesterday... We'll just have to wait and see. I missed the All of us or None, when did they testify????

Anonymous said...

Anonymous LSOTP
An even more egregious example of delayed treatment and prolonged taxpayer expense is the Sex Offender Civil Commitment program. That's were guys getting ready to discharge their full sentence are evaluated to see if some judge can declare them too dangerous to release. If committed, the guy wears an electronic monitor, is housed at a halfway house, and is ordered to treatment several times a week for the rest of his life. If sex offender treatment is as effective as it is cracked up to be, why not do the evaluation at the beginning of the prison sentence and treat them in prison so they will be rehabilitated and ready for release when the court of record said they should be released. If treatment is not effective enough to save the State money and integrity that way, we should drop the pretense of claiming that commitment is for treatment. It is a too-clever-by-half maneuver to engage in preventive detention. If we want to use prior restraint, we should do it honestly by amending the Constitution. Perhaps we could get Fidel Castro to advise us on the details. In the meantime, we could save all kinds of money by identifying these people and providing treatment in the 15 to 20 years that they are already captive patients before time for their release. It would be a twofer: honest dealing and money in the bank.

Anonymous said...

andy kahan always has been and always will be a schill for the lynch em all crowd/ what a tool

Anonymous said...

I had a Lt at Allred Unit tell me something that probably is in indictive of TDCJ in a nut shell. I asked him why prioners that were approved for parole not leaving the unit. He summed it as " Because TDCJ can keep them," or as he put "We can"! Apparently TDCJ thinks they can do any thing they want to.With an attiude like that it is no wonder TDCJ has problems retaining staff.

Anonymous said...

As an observer of the hearing, it is obvious that you have taken what Mr. Kahan said out of context and your statements are misleading. At no time did he suggest we adopt California's 15 year set-off policy. He simply pointed out the difference between the states on the set-off for VIOLENT offenders. Texas should follow their lead and stop wasting time, resources and money on short set-offs for VIOLENT offenders and focus on those offenders worthly of being paroled - this would be NON-VIOLENT offenders. You should be supporting this if you are all for early release and rehabilitation to those who truely deserve it and again, are non-violent offenders. As far as the issue of the time it takes for notification I would think you would support what Mr. Kahan is proposing - shorter time period between review and notification of decision. Wouldn't it make you happy if the inmates and their family had a quicker decision??? Imagine how a victims family feels. Instead all you want to do is take shots at Andy.

Also, let your readers know that the committee thought so highly of Mr. Kahan's comments that they ordered the Sunset Commission to review his suggestions and meet with Mr. Kahan to discuss improvements!! Of course to let your readers know this would defeat your one-sided approach; you have once again shown us your true colors.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:05, you declare that "At no time did he suggest we adopt California's 15 year set-off policy."

That is false. It's exactly what he suggested. He said other things too, as did many others giving testimony that I did not fully adumbrate. And for the record, I don't disagree with reducing the notification times about parole decisions, and this post didn't address the issue. (I actually don't understand why the decisions aren't released the same day or soon thereafter.)

But Kahan absolutely advocated California's 15-year set offs, and to claim otherwise is simply a lie which is easily contradicted by the video record. That's the kind of thing folks only say when posting under "Anonymous."

john said...

One problem might be those who have been in power still think the old way---which is whatever they want will have to be coughed up: thus, raise whatever taxes, fees, fines or more arrests, etc.
The more they start thinking economically the more they might not make unnecessary jailings, etc.
Certainly they need to check whether or not they're relying on federal non-general welfare & handouts---and should try to avoid that. What a concept, a State not nannied by the rotten feds.
But yup, I more fear the violent offenders. But not as much as the liars and hypocrites in power.
OH, Crapped-cha, it's CAPTCHA!!
CRapno--guess again! They should just have a picture of the people designing these things, then a picture of another ass.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 5.05 ~ Stop using the crime to define the individual. There are plenty of inmates serving sentences for non-violent crimes who are very violent while in prison and are a complete menace to society and have no intention of changing their ways upon (early) release. There are also plenty of inmates serving sentences for violent crimes, who only had that single violent episode, and have done all they can in spite of TDCJs obstruction and ignorance, to do their time without harming anyone else and when released, make good productive citizens.

Parole Officers should look at the inmate's whole behaviour and attitutde over the entire time of incarceration, rather than the last 5 minutes before the BPP review their case.

And before you throw in the "what about the victims" card again, remember that many victims are actually family members of the inmate, and they don't want the inmate languishing in prison for 15 more years, they want them home, contributing to the family and society again.

It serves absolutely no sensible purpose to keep otherwise productive citizens locked up for longer, just so a few individuals can pat themselves on their collective backs for being "tuff on crime" at the expense of every other public service that needs funding.

memedriver said...

51% of offenders currently incarcerated in Texas are violent offender and the majority of them will one day be released. The Parole board currently says they take the circumstances of the crime into consideration such as the violent offense was a crime or passion or you're a mass murder, which they don’t. I can see someone with a life sentence like Charles Manson getting a 15 year set off but not someone who murdered someone in self-defense or a single crime of passion. And include what the offenders done since they’ve been locked up. If they stayed out of trouble for 20 years why give them a 15 year set off just because they’re a 3G offender?????? I will happen.
The BPP should review the offender’s entire history, including what they’ve done during their incarceration, not just what they did prior to being locked up.
Inmates are NOT a throwaway society; all of us have made mistakes. In the right circumstances just about anyone could be capable of a violent offense do you want to 15 year set off for a one time violent action? Say someone hurts your child; you go off the deep end an accidently kill the person who hurt your baby. You get 30 years for murder, it happens. You go to prison and get a couple minor cases for little things like having too many stamps, or having a free world pen, it happens. You get a 15 years set off because you can’t behave, it will happen. In general we judge everyone in prison the same but they are not good people make bad mistakes and bad people do bad things. Prison is NOT a nice place; nothing is fair or just about prison. Most people who work in the prison think inmates are pieces of thrash and deserve what they get. They have no idea what circumstance bought the offender to prison they just know you’re locked up you’re a piece of SH*t. I know there are pieces of poop in prison I worked there, but there are also people who made mistakes and just want to do their time and come home to be productive citizens.

memedriver said...

AMEN Sunray's wench!!!

carol k. said...

record keeping, ex. the courses required, and are taken, ALLWAYS get lost. my son has sent me his cirtificates, ect. and repiediately is having to get copies to PROVE he has had the course. why are they not added to his file? all the other , ninor stuff is there, he is one of non violet people refused parole after parole.done 12 0f 15 sen. so far. mom carol k

Anonymous said...

Hi this is my first time logging into this website. I wanted to know where do I go to find out about what's the system is going to do about this heat this summer, i kinda heard that they were suppose to be getting fans? is this true.

Anonymous said...

Hi does anybody know what the prisons are doing about this heat ths summer. I heard they were suppose to be getting fans?