Thursday, September 12, 2013

TDCJ audit of Dallas probation began this week

Updating a recent post: The Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that, on "Monday, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will begin an examination of the probation department’s policies and sample some of its 50,000 cases. Auditors will propose fixes if they find paperwork holes that could leave criminals free rather than behind bars for violating probation." CorrectionsOne posted the full article.

Just to say it, and surely TDCJ's auditors must know this, but not every probation violation merits ending up "behind bars" and it's disingenuous to tell the press otherwise. That's also the problem with the judges' complaints as publicly quoted. There may have been one felony DWI that was egregiously mishandled, at least in part due to large caseloads and understaffing. But that doesn't mean POs should file revocation papers every time they get a dirty UA on probationers of any stripe. You could fill up the jails and the prisons pretty quickly that way with little public safety bang for the buck.

Humorously (to me, anyway), in a moment of self-reflection, a lengthy DMN editorial published yesterday framed the issue in terms of media criticism:
Tempting though it may be, don’t think you know everything there is to know about our local criminal justice system from what you see on TV or read in Dallas Morning News crime stories.

Oh, you get a lot, no question. This newspaper, especially, does an exceptional job of informing you about the whats and whys of high-profile slayings, high-dollar frauds and other crimes of urgent community interest, like serial rapes.

Yet these crimes, however newsworthy, are only the very tiptop of the crime iceberg in North Texas. Beneath the surface is the bulk of all other offenses, many of which are certainly against the law but not serious enough to keep the perpetrator in jail very long. Simply, the system would collapse under its own weight if we tried to keep every miscreant locked up, key thrown away, no matter how deserving the lawbreaker might seem.

Which leads us to the probation system. In Dallas County, it falls under the Community Supervision and Corrections Department. On a given day, its 450 probation officers are responsible for 53,000 to 55,000 people under obligation to the state but free on the streets. Simple math tells you that each officer, on average, has far more than 100 active files.

Some probationers are otherwise law-abiding folks who made a mistake; they are far less trouble to supervise. Others are varying degrees of addicts or criminal hard cases, who, by design or happenstance, make everyone’s lives more difficult, in jail or out.

Expending a greater percentage of resources on the latter group is among the many transitional changes underway at the probation department. Recent news accounts exposed significant anecdotal problems in the management of some probationers, especially those with drug or alcohol problems. Felony court judges, led by state District Judge Tracy Holmes, were alarmed and said so.

Michael Noyes, who heads the county probation department, does not disagree. In fact, he says he welcomes an ongoing state audit of his department, hoping it will point to areas of systemic improvement achieved or needed. One reason he has been remarkably nondefensive is because he started implementing changes long before bad news hit the newspaper.

Many of the problems, he notes, are not new. One employee was fired, others were reprimanded. Some issues demand heightened training, which has begun. Other problems will benefit from smarter allocation of resources.
Good to see that Noyes appears so sanguine. We'll see what the audit says. Grits hopes they suggest progressive-sanctions approaches Dallas CSCD and the judges could take as opposed to automatic arrest or revocation.


Anonymous said...

Even after several years of the Noyes-Williams administration, technical violations have still made up more than 50% of the revocations in Dallas(see TDCJ's Report to the Governor for FY 2012). It's very difficult to change an organizational culture, especially in a huge department like Dallas. It's tempting to manage by memo and email, but that won't work. A director MUST get out to the satellite offices and talk to officers one-on-one or in small groups to convince them of the benefits of progressive sanctions and evidence-based practices. Many officers in Dallas have complained that even though they've been there for 20-25 years, administrators don't know who they are.

John C. Key MD said...

Probation Departments need a lot of help. Those of us who wish to promote "Community Corrections" need to support probation department expansion and funding in every way. That being said, in many counties (including my home), the default position of the probation officers seems to be "violate and revoke". They dress like swat-team-lite, don't return calls to probationers, and are generally just about as uncooperative as they can be in every way.

Perhaps it's naive of me to think that more money would improve this--maybe they are all genetically frustated cops.

Anonymous said...

TDCJ Auditors or CJAD Auditors?

Anonymous said...

FM, almost hit the nail on the head. Allow me to be more blunt about it.

When a position's title contains the word 'Officer' the side effects often include: bouts of constapation with a dab of Power Trip.

Grits has hit it squarely and hopefully woke up a few folks. Just because one person was allowed to fall in to the cracks doesn't mean that evey probationer and every Probation Officer is also guilty.

Judge Holmes was embarrassed and wanted the public to think that she was not part of the problem by directing everyone's attention to the Probation Department as a whole.

Anonymous said...

One employee fired out of Hundreds...WOW that takes some real aggressive management, not. Doesn't sound like the Director sees it as systemic. Of course the "wrong doers" are lower line supervisors and then mid management who should be overseeing and implementing and supervising the goals and mission of the department. They seem to be taking their roles lightly therefore it should go to the next level of managers which would probably be the branch managers. They appear to be ignoring their hands on supervision duties therefore the problem should be owned by higher deputy directors and as they are not doing their job the responsibility goes to to the man making the BIG bucks, THE DIRECTOR. Now the responsibility lies again with the courts who make the appointment. It's all one be circle j... of playing the blame game. The problem of officers ignoring violations is not about "lack of funding" but lies with the lack of honor and integrity at all levels within the department. If you call yourself an officer then act like one, if you are a supervisor then supervise, if you are a manager, manage and oversee, if you are the Big Man be a man and be knowledgeable about affairs under you at all levels. For once all levels should take their share of the blame game.

underthebus said...

Does anyone know who is doing the audit? CJAD or TDCJ
If the department is following directives of TDCJ-CJAD and this resulted in "not revoking" to prison or jail, TDCJ-CJAD will be dancing a delicate dance with the Judiciary. It will be interesting to see who is going to get thrown under the train?

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Anonymous said...

Amazing how every one thinks this is all the the Officers fault. Well I am a P.O in Dallas and have been for over 16 years. I will be honest with you guys about who really is at blame.

This all began when Dallas County took money to implement programs to make recidivism lower. To do this management told Officers in the field to not communicate with the officers in the Court and use progressive response and supervisor approval to sanction clients in the field. This kept a ton of files out of court. On paper this showed the rate cut in half and management got a pat on the back for a job well done. But what really happened was a bunch of people used drugs and broke the law and officer where stuck with the client doing progressive response that do not work for every segment of clients. I.E some clients have nothing to lose they have no home or jobs and do not care about going to jail they only took probation to get out of jail or the judge made them take it. Any way sanctions should be handled by courts as they are the only body that can sanction a person with a real sanction like 3 days in jail for drug use. Out of counties courts do it this way and it works and it worked when we did it back in the day. DO NOT BLAME the officers when we are told to not send a file to court and instead told to use progressive response that may work less than half of the time. I do not care what numbers say I deal with these clients and I know them better than numbers they do not care one bit about reporting more often they will do it for a while to stay out of jail then they will stop reporting period. Also when it finally does go to court a lot of times nothing happens and it comes back to us no sanction done nothing and I am speaking of a case out of JUDGE HOLMES court I got back in the past when she DID NOTHING. Now to distance her self she is putting it in drive and running Probation down to save her own tail coward. Courts need to get on the same page and make a set of rules across the board misdemeanor and felony and stick to the rules no exceptions. People say officer do not need better pay it will not change anything they say. We deal with the people YOU are scared of, cops see them one time we see them for 10 yrs sometimes. We deal with their ups and downs and we keep them out of your window at night we we can sanction them the proper way. We are also the lowest paid county in TEXAS and have the most people on probation 47,000+ so that means over worked and under paid so yeah I should be happy that I just have a job huh come do it for a day and lets see how you feel at the end of a 10 hr day and you have seen 20-30 clients with problems and you got 20-30 narratives to enter plus all the other crap they want the field to do....yeah lest she how long you will stay,