Friday, September 13, 2013

Probation revocations down, but not by much; re-arrest rates among DWI probationers plummets

More evidence that Texas' 2007 probation reforms perhaps contributed less than has been previously estimated to recent prison population declines. The main strategy of the 2007 reforms was to reduce probation and parole revocations to prison by incentivizing diversion and progressive sanctions programs. That's worked better on the parole side than for probation (aka "community supervision"). From the Dec. 2012 "Report to the Governor and Legislative Budget Board on the Monitoring of Community Supervision Diversion Funds" (pdf):
Felony revocations to TDCJ in FY2012 represent a 2.8% decrease from FY2005 (677 fewer felony revocations) and a 1.8% decrease from FY2011 (432 fewer felony revocations). However, the percentage of revocations to TDCJ for a technical violation of community supervision conditions increased from 48.5% in FY2011 to 49.0% in FY2012.
Those are essentially insignificant reductions given the scope of the decline in state prison populations witnessed over the last half decade.* Felony technical revocations among probationers declined 10.9% from 2005 to 2012, TDCJ reported, but they're still awfully high and that small decline was far out-paced by two factors on the parole side: Dramatically reduced parole revocations and marginally increased approval rates by the parole board. Both may be viewed as an expression of legislative policy. Reduced parole revocations stem from greater use of intermediate sanctions facilities (ISFs) and other diversion programs created after 2007. And higher approval rates, particularly for low-risk offenders, resulted in large part from the board finally edging closer to targets under non-binding release guidelines that the Lege mandated they create.

County-level probation revocation trends
By contrast, reducing probation revocations has been a tougher nut to crack, in part because of decentralized local control over the process among various counties and judges. Here are the relative increases and decreases for probation revocations among Texas' largest departments since just before Texas' much-vaunted probation reforms took effect:

Change in Felony Revocations to 
TDCJ among largest counties, 2005-2012

CSCD Percent change in revocations
Dallas -22.8%
Harris -17.8%
Bexar 94.0%
Tarrant -4.3%
Hidalgo -5.3%
El Paso -39.6%
Travis 32.1%
Cameron 22.4%
Nueces 1.8%
**See note below on Collin Co.
Travis County's increase in revocations surprised me given their department's reputation for reliance on progressive sanctions, etc.. Cameron County attributes their increase to "more aggressive absconder apprehension and increased monitoring of compliance with community supervision conditions." Otherwise, Bexar County is the most prominent, chronic outlier among large counties, as has been the case since these reports began coming out.

2012 probation revocations compared
to supervised population, large counties

CSCD % 2012 statewide probation pop % 2012 statewide felony revocations
Dallas 13.6% 10.5%
Harris 11.5% 12.4%
Bexar 6.7% 6.8%
Tarrant 4.9% 7.1%
Hidalgo 4.0% 2.8%
El Paso 3.7% 1.5%
Travis 3.4% 3.0%
Cameron 2.3% 1.9%
Nueces 1.7% 2.2%
Collin 1.7% 1.9%

This chart perhaps provides a better sense of relative county practices than the previous one. It compares probation populations and revocations among large counties as a proportion of their statewide total. (See this data for all counties in Appendix C to the report.) Counties in which the right-side number is significantly greater than the left-hand column may be considered more aggressive at revoking probationers than their peers. That differential is especially significant in massive Harris County because of the sheer volume they process. Tarrant's numbers here are especially striking, putting their paltry 4.3% decline from the earlier chart in context. Meanwhile, Travis, Hidalgo, and even Bexar don't appear nearly as problematic on this chart as they did in the first table.

Recidivism among probationers declining, especially DWI
According to the Dec. 2012 report, 71.7% of felony probationers revoked back to prison in FY2012 were convicted of nonviolent crimes - drug offenses (32.2%), property offenses (30.4%), and DWI (9.1%), with the rest coming from violent (17.9%) and other (10.4%) felony offenses.

Remarkably, and for the most part unheralded, recidivism rates for felony probationers have been declining. "The overall two-year re-arrest rate for the FY2005 sample was 34.4% (8,914 offenders). The overall two-year re-arrest rate for the FY2010 sample was 31.8% (8,811 offenders), which was a decrease from the FY2005 sample."

The drop in re-arrest rates for DWI offenders in those two studies was especially striking: 16.9% of the 2005 cohort was re-arrested compared to 11.5% of the 2010 cohort - a 32% drop! That's a success story nobody tells much. Re-arrest rates for probationers convicted of drug offenses declined 13% over this period; 10.6% for property offenders. But DWI stands out. Perhaps new treatment resources aimed at that group are helping.

* When and by how much Texas' prison population began declining depends on whose count one chooses to use. Counting only those in prisons and state jails TDCJ has reported steady annual decreases for several years that allowed the state to close three prison units. But the USDOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics, whose count includes thousands of probationers in treatment as well as prisoners in county jails awaiting transfer to TDCJ, parole hearings, etc., did not report declines in Texas' state prisoner population until last year. See here for a more detailed discussion of the differences between DOJ's and TDCJ's numbers. 

** Collin County shows an increase in revocations of 84% in this same report. However, their probation director has persuasively argued that since-rectified data-gathering deficiencies - for many years they didn't even gather revocation data (!) - artificially deflated their initial count to make the increase look larger than it really was. Having dug into it a bit over the years, I agree that's probably true, so I didn't include them in this table.


Anonymous said...

Looks like tough on crime prosecutors are flipping off the legislature.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

How so? Elaborate.

Anonymous said...

If revocation is solely prosecutor discretion and probation officers are required to forward every violation, please tell me how probation is responsible for filling up prisons with technical violators?
Better yet, can you cite a source that counts how many times prosecutors went against probation officers recommendations for treatment? Can you tell me how many times probation officers recommended treatment and the technical violator said F... it, taking my credit for time served going to jail, state jail, prison?

Steve said...

How many parole violators are sent to a parole ISF and serve the rest of their sentence? I don't have proof, but I've been told that there are quite a few. They don't get "revoked" but the effect is the same. More important what is the recidivism rate for those parolees? Before anyone draws any conclusions about how well parole is doing on revocations, they need to look into those questions.

Anonymous said...

GFB I really believe that you are genuinely concerned with over incarceration of technical violators. However, please be careful not to jump to conclusions before establishing sound causation. Publishing misleading innuendos like this will only serve to replace good criminal justice policy with horse shit. It is too damned convenient to knee jerk blame probation because there is no political threat for doing so. If you are for good criminal justice policy, and I believe you are, you are going to have use better discernment on the data points thrown out here.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What "misleading innuendo" are you talking about, 4:01? Be more specific. I truly don't take your reference.

1:52, revocation is not solely at the prosecutors' discretion. A judge must do it.

Steve, my understanding is parolees can't stay in ISF more than 6 months. I haven't heard of the scenario you describe - doesn't mean it hasn't happened, just that it would be news to me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:01 to GFB:
1. Predominantly most cases are pled out.(through plea bargaining between prosecutor and court appointed attorneys) Prosecutors have the discretion to follow probation officer recommendations or to throw them out and pursue revoking to prison/jail. There is no data tracking of this decision-making process. (both prosecutor decision and probation recommendation)
2. It would be interesting to note how many Prosecutors refuse to approve or oppose ANY early release requests. Whether on an individual basis or through the "early release report" provided to judges by probation departments. There is no tracking of this decision-making point either.
Keeping people on probation too long who are low risk only increases the propensity for technical violation/revocation.

The inuendo - Parole is knocking it out of the park and probation isn't regarding filling up the prisons and jails. Don't know whether parole is or isn't but they do have a little more autonomous decision-making process than probation. Probation on the other hand, is much more subjected to the decision-making of other elected officials in the criminal justice process. As such the entire process needs to be examined for causation rather than knee-jerk blaming of the probation department.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:01/8:35, I'll see what I can discover about early release request data. I believe the Office of Court Administration or TDCJ-CJAD, maybe both, are tracking it. Knowledgeable readers, email me at shenson[at] if you know details.

Otherwise, 4:01/8:35, that's not "innuendo" at all, it's a perfectly fair reading of the data. Viewed from a statewide perspective since the 2007 reforms, parole has reduced technical revocations more significantly than has probation, in part through more aggressive use of ISFs and other diversion programs. (Keep in mind, those were also part of the '07 reforms.)

My point was that reductions in technical revocations of probation DO NOT explain the much-larger reduction in state-jail and prison inmates over the past several years. It was one factor, but arguably not the decisive one.

The upward curve on new TDCJ "receives" didn't level off for just one reason. Probation reforms were one of them. But changes in parole practices - both increased approvals and reduced revocations - along with the overall, long-term reduction in the crime rate, were also major reasons Texas was able to close three prisons over the last two sessions.

FWIW, increased parole approval rates were also a response to legislative demands. The Lege required the parole board to create non-binding release guidelines then, once they were adopted, has been pressing them to meet the goals on the lowest-risk category prisoners (Levels 6 and 7). As they have slowly done so, overall approval rates crept up. But both that and the increased diversions of parolees from revocation are manifestations of legislative will, as expressed through the application of public resources, not just the random vicissitudes of fate.

Anonymous said...

Clearly there is a typo in Travis County Adult Probation's revocations. They experienced a decline of 32.1% comparing fy 2005 to fy 2012. Therefore, the figure should be -32.1%. Check the figure on pg 15 of the document ( Next time, if it doesn't look correct, double-check the figure before you pontificate about it.

Anonymous said...

Grits, Judges rubber stamp agreements made between defense counsel and prosecutors.

Judges don't know what a progressive continuum of sanction model is and they approve them.

Prosecutors don't care if defendants go to prison.

Probation isn't to blame for technical violations. The way the system is set up is to blame.

Legislators don't know how things operate in Courtrooms across Texas. Legislators base their decisions on information provided to them by CJAD. No one that works for CJAD is going to Court. CJAD has been "friendly" to Adult Probation, much more now than they have in the past, but what is really going on in Court and what everyone theorizes about are two different things.

Probation is not to blame for revocations. Undeveloped relationships of all the parties is what is to blame.

Judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and adult probation all need to talk to one another about what is expected legislatively and understand that expectation. That will never happen though because Judges have too much power over Probation Departments, Judges are elected, and so are District Attorneys. The pieces and parts of a smart legislation won't fit on a billboard or a t-shirt or a facebook post from someone running for office.

Parole and Probation should never be compared. They aren't the same thing. But, because the LBB is who recommends funding and CJAD and Parole are under TDCJ, the legislature sees probation as part of TDCJ, which simply isn't the case. Parole may be part of TDCJ, but probation just isn't. CJAD and CSCD aren't synonymous terms.

Parole services are so much different from probation services.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:34
Very True!
Until everyone in the system can understand what is expected, all parties stop disseminating skewed or misinterpreted data to push "axe grinding" agendas.