Wednesday, November 14, 2012

TDCJ exceptional items on probation budget welcome, but too timid

Looking further at "exceptional items" requested in TDCJ's budget - restoring the prison health budget was the biggest among them - it's worth pointing out two small but significant line items related to local adult probation departments - health insurance and diversion programming.

CSCDs are local adult probation departments, and their funding sources are two-fold: formula-driven allocations from the state and fees from probationers, which are limited by state law. That means local budgets aren't necessarily set according to need and there's no reliable funding source (besides state general revenue) to make up any gaps. So as health insurance costs for probation officers have risen, CSCD budgets can't keep up. I've probably heard complaints about this from 8-10 probation directors over the past year. According to the TDCJ Legislative Appropriations Request summary (pdf), CSCDs must reduce the statewide total of probation officers by 130 to cover health insurance costs if the state does not foot the bill. We're not talking about that much money - $16.2 million over the biennium - but it's an area that has put local CSCDs in quite an immediate financial bind.

In addition, TDCJ has asked for $30 million over the biennium - $15 million each year - in added funding for community corrections and diversion programs operated by local probation departments. That $30 million bump, according to the LAR, is only enough to "maintain" services at current levels, but mere "maintenance" won't let the state close more prison units. For my part, I'd like to see this exceptional item bumped up even higher. Certainly every dollar spent on diversion programming and strengthening probation saves the state substantially in back-end incarceration costs. To that extent, this LAR struck me as rather timid on this score, proposing half solutions and failing to give the Legislature options for more aggressively using the community supervision system.

Combined, TDCJ asked for just more than $45 million in exceptional items for local probation departments. By contrast, they asked for $80 million in just one exceptional item - the largest behind their ask for prison healthcare - to upgrade infrastructure at TDCJ facilities, with another $15 million requested just for improving laundry and food services facilities.

Brick and mortar prisons are incredibly expensive. There's just a lot more bang for the buck from spending on expanded community supervision: More, in this writer's view, than TDCJ's budget writers accounted for in their ask to the Legislature. Regrettably, just as happened last session, TDCJ's budget request sets up a false choice for the Legislature. I understand that this go-round there may be legislation that would allow the Legislature to shift funding for prisons to probation departments which successfully divert offenders from state lockups. Let's hope so, because TDCJ's suggestions largely fail to embrace possible budget savings through expanded community supervision and prison closures. Clearly if that's going to happen, just as with the closure of the Central Unit in 2011, the Lege must direct them to do so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the refund rider that CJAD has to come up with 13 million of our own money to fund us! No other agency does this. So if we are short our budgets get CUT again.

Yes, health insurance is eating our lunch and since we fall under the great TDCJ--they should be paying for it!

Also CSCD's are having to supervise more and more Pre-trial Diversion Cases (mostly DWI's) that CJAD will not pay us a penny for and we are not allowed to transfer these cases to other counties. Same goes for bond cases! No money for them!

CSCD's have been getting screwed for years. Last session a bill was introduced that would not allow us to supervise misdemeanor cases. Thank God that didn't pass.

I am sure we are going to get screwed this year too!