Thursday, September 12, 2013

Texas jails couldn't hold all the state's probation absconders

Looking at TDCJ's 2012 Statistical Report (p. 16 of the pdf), as of Aug. 31 of last year, one notices that about 14% (57,478) of the more than 400,000 probationers statewide were categorized as "absconders." Mercifully, they were not distributed evenly among felonies and misdemeanor: TDCJ categorized 10.3% of felony probationers as absconders (24,627) and 19.5% of the misdemeanor probation population (32,851).

A fleeting thought: The entire county jail population statewide as of last month was 67,096, with the maximum, theoretical statewide capacity at 94,936 (theoretical because jails usually must keep a few empty cells at any given time due to flux, transit, and other workaday purposes, usually around 4% of the total). So statewide, extra county jail capacity could at most hold 28,000 more people, though because the jails aren't staffed for it, the practical capacity is much lower than that. All that to say, if all of Texas' absconders surrendered tomorrow, quite literally the jails couldn't hold them.

In the comments, particularly for those with first-hand knowledge, please discuss: 1) What should realistically happen with absconders, given their vast number and high probation-officer caseloads? 2) What does happen on the ground in jurisdictions where you operate? 3) Are there specific probation requirements (e.g., high fees, in-office meetings, etc.) that promote absconding? 4) What categories of low-risk offenders could be trimmed from the rolls to focus more staffing resources on absconders and high-risk offenders? And 5) If your answer to "4" was "none," what additional  funding source would you propose to boost supervision levels for absconders and high-risk offenders? Finally, 6) given that absconders haven't been arrested yet, is there a chance some of them themselves fall into the "low-risk" category and are unlikely to recidivate? (Which of course, gets us back to the first query.) Those are the questions that pop into Grits' mind, looking at this remarkable data.


Anonymous said...

Funding? No amount of money they squeeze out of us taxpayers will overcome the contempt that absconders have for the opportunity offered them--the opportunity to make things right and avoid winding up in prison.

We look at everything else but ignore the people who are actually creating the problem.

Anonymous said...

The main reason most probationers abscond in our area is that they know they're going to flunk a drug test. Beyond that, it can be a combination of multiple things like being behind in their payments to probation and the district clerk and a fear that they're going to be put in jail. Unless they just completely blow off probation or commit a new offense, we'll work with absconders to try to get them back on track and caught up on the money they owe. Of course, sometimes they've decided that probation is just too much of a hassle and they'd rather just go ahead and do their time. If that's what their attitude is, they don't have much to lose by absconding and there's really no hope for any successful completion of probation.

Jim Stott said...

As all probation departments have, we have faced absconder issues since the beginning of time. Various reasons contribute to why someone absconds from supervision. A lack of discipline, lack of money for any of the 35 plus fees probation departments are charged to collect, a lack of transportation, or the possession of an "I don't care" attitude all come to mind. In many absconder cases, the department knows exactly where the offenders are located. It is just too costly to extradite for local jurisdictions. I believe that offenders, in many cases, have thinking errors that simply tell them if they can't comply with some of the probation conditions, they might as well do nothing. The fear that they cannot pay is a big problem. I have spoken with many over the years who consider paying the money their biggest priority. It may be because it is drilled into their minds by their officer that if they do not pay, they will go to jail. It may be because their attorney tells them that if they pay the money, they can get off early. Whatever the reason, we need to be better at delivering the message that, while the money is important, we are looking to change behavior. It should never be a reason to abscond. We can generally always try to work on a solution.

Anonymous said...

As an active committee member of the original CJAD/Field sponsored Absconder Apprehension Committee inititive...this population is very frustrating to most departments. At the time of committee inception in the 90s there were over 70,000 warrant active absconders with just 2or 3 CSCD funded apprehension officers. CJAD absolutely would not aid depts with funding cscd staff to locate offenders. After several annual conferences and the realization of real embarrassment for lack of action most depts found that most of the absconders were not repeat criminal offenders but were offenders with a variety of technical violations and chose to haul ass instead of answering up. There are as many answers to this massive problem as there are number of CSCDs. Many depts. dedicated discretionary funding to assign officers to locate these dead beats. What they do with them is as diverse as departments chose to be. This population, if left and forgotten on the sidelines is and / or will be and should be an embarrassment for CSCDs that do nothing. DO SOMETHING ON ALL LEVELS.

rodsmith said...

Or maybe it's because as Probation is currently setup it's illegal.

What they call probation now is no diff than parole.

Real probation was you finished your court ordered sentnece. You were done.

You had the ALL the same rights as any other citizen. As long as you did not comit a new crime you were done with the state. IF on the other hand you were accused of comitting a new crime they had a quickie hook to lock you up while they investigate.

You didn't report. there were no fees no nothing.

Anonymous said...

I had a former employee who was on probation. He was required to report in person to the office for an at most 5 minute meeting, and wait until they were good and ready to see him. He was also required to get and keep a job. Missing a day of work every other week meant losing the job several times and getting hassled. He started reporting in, signing in and leaving to go to work to keep the job. So they revoked him. He literally went to court and asked to be revoked, asking only for credit for the time served on probation under those circumstances.

In Waco, the state parole office is out in the country across the lake from town, far from any inexpensive housing, and not accessible on foot. No bus service and a $10.00 taxi ride each way.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line, offenders know that if you don't like probation just flee and make sure it is at least 400 miles away. Law enforcement won't come pick you up ($$) & and prosecutors are reluctant to do anything but dismiss because case is so old.

TEM said...

A little off subject, but the reason I quit being a PO? Poor women, with many kids, get a p/t job and then are filed on for a felony for failing to report the income. With fees being so important to the probation office, I had to hassle them to pay money or go to jail. Many absconders were the result of them missing an appointment/knowing they would fail a drug test and then no one at probation sending a letter or even calling them. They just quit showing up. I had plenty of others to worry about.

Anonymous said...


Defendant: I'm too poor to hire an attorney so I need a court appointed attorney.

Judge: Court appointed lawyers don't work for free and you will be required to reimburse the county for that cost.


and with that said, like Jim Stott mentioned the 35 plus fees, how does the court expect one who is indigent, does not have a job, is not going to get a job, to really pay this.

Why would someone with a court appointed attorney plead for two years state jail adjudicated for 5 years probation? I mean, the guy does three years w/o a problem, pays all of his fees then in the
4th year gets revoked and sentenced to do two years in state jail.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@10:22, that's fascinating. Can you toss us a few supporting links for the assertion that, "most of the absconders were not repeat criminal offenders but were offenders with a variety of technical violations and chose to haul ass instead of answering up"? That sort of gets us to my question 6. I'd love to see actual data on the topic, if it exists.

Anonymous said...

As long as probation departments are required to collect a "probation fee" to pay for operating costs offenders will be required to pay. But please understand, the 35+ other fees come directly from the Office of Court Administration. Until the law changes people breaking the law need to understand "you pay to play."

Anonymous said...

@10:22, "active committee member of the original CJAD/Field sponsored Absconder Apprehension Committee" damn what a title!

"Many departments used discretionary funding" care to quantify how many departments? I know of 1-2 departments that used the absconder issue as an excuse to gun up and spend large amounts of time at the gun range. But other than that produced more of the "noting" you referred in the latter portion of your post.

Stott said...

In response to question 6, I would assume many of them are not continued problems for law enforcement, or we would get a lot more calls reporting an arrest. While we continue to practice due diligence in our attempt to hold people accountable, the fact is that many of them are not heard from until they are arrested for a subsequent charge. I know our DA is unwilling (and rightfully so) to drop the case because the offender has vanished. We hang on to the case until something happens. Either the offender is arrested, dies, finds the Lord or just simply gives up. In years past, we requested unsuccessful discharges of the courts, but that is no longer practiced.

TriggerMortis said...

While I was in the Montgomery county jail a couple of years ago serving a 30-day sentence in lieu of the two-year probated sentence I was offered by the DA (actual time served was 8 days and 8 hours), I became acquainted with a felon absconder from Michigan who had been arrested on drug charges.

His home state didn't place a hold on him and he bonded out within a day or two. Many of the other inmates there were shocked that he wasn't sent back to face the music and all agreed the great state of Texas would never let go of an absconder. But I began thinking about it and concluded their policy was just plain smart.

As long as he stays out of Michigan, he saves them the expense of prison, courts, etc. and as he's afraid to return he's also not committing any more crimes there.

Being tough on crime rarely means being smart on crime...

Anonymous said...

While some are trying to provide answers to Grit's Qs’. please allow me to ask -

*When an 18 yr. old is arrested for the first time in his / her life just for being with someone with stolen items adding up to $75. And a lawyer tells his / her family that it's cheaper to pay him $500 bucks, plead guilty and get 5 years adult deferred adjudication probation. What would be the proper amount of probation to be served? (Ex: 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 5 years)

*When a probationer is arrested on a new unrelated charge, at what point does the Department learn about it? (Ex: 24 hours, one week, the 1 st day of his / her Felony Jury Trial 100 plus days later, after he / she is sentenced,...)

*Considering when a probationer is arrested on a new unrelated charge, pleads Not Guilty and takes it to a Felony jury trial, and his / her attorney advises to stop the trial on day one in order to plea bargain. Is it true that no matter what the jury's verdict is - Guilty or Not the probation is revoked & must go to prison for the original amount of years given? (Ex: Yes or No)

*When a Probation Department learns about the arrest of one of its clients / probationers on an OTW, does anyone take time to verify if the Outstanding Traffic Warrant actually exists or not? (Ex: who's responsible for contacting the Constable's Office(s) to vet the arresting officer(s) reason(s) for arrest?) Anyone assuming that a hired Defense lawyer will Investigate prior to filing Ready for Trial notices in Texas, is just as stupid as I was)

*When a probationer is arrested (he / she can't bond out) and therefore, is utilized in multiple Photo Arrays and Live Line-Ups until they are transported to another facility. As Probation Officers', would it be a good policy to be present during Live Line-Ups in order to ensure that your client(s) are represented and possibly prevent Detectives working the Line-Ups from working with crime victims to make their original descriptions fit someone? (Ex: when the original Police Incident Report has a gunman with straight black hair and he / she picks out a person with curly Brown, Blond or Red hair and is "Positive", a Detective rightfully catches it only to assist in making the colors fit, even though they don't because they currently know that no one is vetting the practice)

*When a person has alcohol and drug dependencies, he / she will choose probation over prison or jail if & when they are arrested. Does it make sense to allow them to participate in probation programs with mini-blinds vs. bars? Wouldn’t be better to decontaminate them for at least 90 days in a secure 24/7 monitored facility where they earn the privilege to participate in a 6 month program with others wishing to better themselves?

Nevertheless, absconders always go straight to a dope house, a girl / boy friend’s house, mama’s house or to relatives. They always give them up, and all it takes is a few phone calls.

*When a person is put on probation, and tries to get a job the employer will either not hire them or will take advantage of their situation and ride them hard, put ‘em up wet and repeat until they’ve had enough. Would it be better to provide probationers with actual real community service related jobs for the first year of probation, where the “Fees” are automatically withdrawn? (Ex: litter and illegal dumping crews, graffiti removal, repairing / replacement of vandalize properties, washing city, county & state transportation and work related equipment, animal control assistance duties,…) , (and any subsequent job would require auto pay from paychecks)

Anonymous said...

Damn...someone's been smoking something

Anonymous said...

Grits: I retired in 08 so I do not have data available on technical versus criminal violations..but is true. Maybe CJAD would haver records...thats if they gave a crap to keep them. I know when this program continued for several years u didnt have to "guns up" to be effective. We had the best absconder officer in the state because he developed xllent relationships with all local law enforcement and was motivated to find people. What we found is that a large number of the fugitives were still very findable by phone and usually still in the county. To reinterate...AT THE TIME CJAD WOULD NOY PAY SHIT to help counties with absconder positions.

Anonymous said...

Damn...someone's been smoking something

You always come to the same exact conclusion while jerking it everywhere you troll. Old people, you kill me with your funny sayins even when they are thrown against blog walls every week. good buggley woogly?

Anonymous said...

9-16-...You sure refer to "smoking something" often. Facts are the majority of absconders are offenders who have not reported in 90 or more days and have un-served warrants. Other facts include; CJAD refused (verbally to the field committee) to support funding to develop apprehension caseloads under CJAD Directors Cranford and later White and refused to financially assist with the development or continuation of specialized caseloads devoted to absconder apprehension. Since 2008 I have not kept up with it so I can't say. A lot of departments worked hard at developing and paying for apprehension positions with the proceeds from fee collections (like most other programs were funded within departments). No, most departments that "gunned up" did not proceed with arming officers due to absconder apprehension but to give options to those depts to take further steps to protect their staff when making field contacts without police support or to support gang supervision units. Some departments aggressively sought the apprehension and diversion of these offenders but many did nothing in the 1990s and many do nothing in the year 2013, waiting for law enforcement to stumble across them during a traffic stop Please only respond when you have something to back it up with or as you say you "must be smoking something".