Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Smarter probation, risk assessments reduce recidivism, incarceration costs

The Midland Reporter Telegram offered up a rare feature (Feb. 23) on the local probation department. The article opened with this generalized assessment:
Texas’ prison reforms beginning in 2007 revolutionized the state's long-standing “lock-em-up” philosophy. Over the years, the reforms have been lauded for abating the pressures of overcrowded prisons and efficiently using taxpayer dollars. But how these reforms translate from county to county can vary.

One facet of these reforms was an outgrowth of research and studies that showed how strong probation programs can reduce the number of offenders who are sent to prison, released and then are sent back to prison.
Strong probation, or in Texas’ parlance, “community supervision” programs, can have a large impact on the rising cost of the correctional system in the state budget.

"If you can take low-risk offenders and send them to an outpatient program, if you can get them through there … it’s much better than them being (sent) to a prison," said Jed Davenport, director of Midland County's Community Supervision and Corrections Department, which administers court-ordered probation.

"If you take someone who's low-risk and you put them in a program with high-risk offenders, you just increased the likelihood (by 63 percent) of them reoffending," Davenport said.
And here's a more specific discussion of what strong probation means on the ground:
The two major changes made in the CSCD boil down to the methods by which probation officers supervise offenders, according to Davenport.

"Traditional probation for years was just, what I call, straight-lined enforcement of probation," Davenport said. "What we know doesn't work -- or doesn't help the probabilities of people not reoffending -- is just coming in and just roll-calling probation. There's got to be more to it."

In previous years, Texas' criminal justice system relied on simplistic assessments for predicting future violence in offenders. These predictions were made with little or no scientific basis and too often were wrong, according to a study out of Sam Houston State University -- "Risk Assessments in the Texas Criminal Justice System" -- by Mary Conroy.

"It seems clear," the study reads, "that the potential for violence was overestimated in many cases."

The retooling of community supervision programs by the Texas Legislature in 2013 produced the Texas Risk Assessment System, which was made mandatory for all correctional departments to use as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Under the guidelines of the TRAS, probation officers are given the training and tools to take a more psychoanalytical approach to assessing risk-factors in offenders, Davenport said. These risk factors include anti-social attitudes, substance abuse habits, lack of empathy for others and impulsive behavior, he said. The assessment will classify offenders as low-risk, medium-risk or high-risk.

Rather than just rubber-stamping probationers as having violated or not violated their terms of probation, "officers are having 10- to 15-minute discussions or guidance and instruction with them saying, 'This kind of thinking leads to this kind of behavior; you gotta stop thinking this way,'" Davenport said. "Criminal thinking leads to criminal behavior."
The department is seeking funding for additional treatment and diversion programming from the 84th Texas Legislature.


Anonymous said...

And then there's this from the AP:

States predict inmates' future crimes with secretive surveys

Gritsforbreakfast said...

There's a difference between basing punishment on predictions of future crimes and using risk assessments to allocate programming resources for already-convicted-and-sentenced probationers.

Also, IMO the TRAS process has been pretty transparent.

There are smart and not-so-smart ways to use risk assessments. Texas isn't overreaching with them IMO with the LARGE exceptions of sex offenders and future-dangerousness pronouncements in capital cases - but those aren't what this story is about.

He's Innocent said...

Grits, there is ALWAYS an exception for sex offenders. SO's suffer stripping of their rights in every single direction and often for life.

There is NO way to put anything like it behind you, even if it was consensual relations with your girlfriend when you were 20. When you are 50, you are still labeled a sex offender.

SO's have been left out of every CJ reform initiative of late. In fact, every session, new SO laws are proposed, especially by the newbie lawmakers looking to make a name for themselves.

Political theater at the cost of thousands of lives. There are more than 84,000 people on the Texas registry and growing by thousands a year. One in every 200 adults is a registered sex offender.

Think about that. 1 in every 200 adults. And growing.

Anonymous said...


Comparing apples to oranges, the survey cited in ARK article is attempting to predict who will or who will not commit another crime.
Do not believe there is a tool that can "predict" who will or will not commit a future crime. And do not believe that the Texas assessment tool is used to determine who should go to prison or probation.

Anonymous said...

When I went through the 15-hour TRAS training, I wasn't convinced that this tool, like the Wisconsin and SCS before it, would amount to much. Now that I've been using it for two months, I can see some areas in the assessment that need improvement, but the assessment does give me much more insight into the thoughts and actions of the probationer and I've learned more about their home lives and future aspirations than ever before. My fellow officers and I have also found the TRAS is assessing offenders as Low Risk who previously had been considered High Risk on the Wisconsin assessment. Definitely a change in thinking on the part of the State.

What I am concerned about is TDCJ-CJAD's future plans to base CSCD funding not on the number of probationers on direct supervision, but rather on the number of High Risk offenders being supervised. I worry this will lead to layoffs in smaller CSCD's that already have officer caseloads busting at the seams (the average caseload size CJAD touts does not take into account that the average includes probation administrators and supervisors who typically don't supervise a caseload).

Anonymous said...

CERTIFIED HOE ASS SHIT...the best verbal outburst I ever heard from an offender.
And, it accurately depicts all that which we cannot surround with words.
TDCJ is not an easy place...it is physically demanding and mentally demanding.
And, no matter if you are in Gray,in white, or a staffer...everyone is "in prison".
And, no one can do anyone else's time...doing your own time is something all of us must learn.
TDCJ has every kind of person locked up from crazy to very intelligent. Some are poor and some come from very wealthy families and some from very good paying jobs.
TDCJ is not a zoo. It is not a Hollywood movie set and the actors are not actors but real people with real thoughts and real feelings.
No matter who you are in TDCJ, no one wants to be viewed as a "non-person, an animal, or anything less". Yet there are folks that have only one philosophy-"lock them up and throw away the key".
Even some view all that work there as such.
But it just in not that way...it is an industry and sometimes no matter how strong I am, I feel pity and pain for some offenders because of the crappie deal they got-on any day and at any time.
I once said there are three reasons a person goes to prison-too dumb, too slow, or too poor".
I don't think that way anymore.
When someone is locked up, their family is locked up too.
Prison is total family tragedy. And when I see the family members come weekend after weekend and those kids, I know there is a true level of tragedy present.
RAPID RELEASE PROGRAM-what is that? It is something I always wanted to see and it should be in effect. A program allowing an offender to be released sooner than projected by his or her actions and those actions can come in community help. Offenders can do lots of things with little or no contact with the public like sorting out used donated children's clothes throughout the year. Recycling used toys and so many things. But how cold is your heart today? Colder today than yesterday?
None of us live in a protective bubble.
Don't lump all offenders into one pile like so many do with Correctional Officers.
And don't think for a minute that the majority of Correctional Officers are some weird kind of cruel self-less animal...they aren't. But they do have to learn how to shake off really bad things they see or have to deal with.
Correctional Officers need a real raise. And when nothing is given, they hang their heads down and think-"damn".
It is a very painful negative feeling and everyone says-"it is what it is". "don't like it, then leave".
This should never ever enter the picture cause this job is very difficult and Veteran Officers are talking about quitting in large numbers.
I have watched over 180 years of experience walk out the door in the last three months at my present unit. So, quick slips of the tongue are not needed or wanted.
Ok...sorry to say so much but there is so much more that needs to be said.
Prisons have their own unique identity and all the players know where they are in the system.
So, take the time to show appreciation for those Correctional Officers and take the time to help an Offender's family and especially their kids...by our actions, the prison system can reflect our society in Texas...
Thank you...

Anonymous said...

Maybe the criminal can also do something to reduce their own recidivism?

DEWEY said...

To: He's Innocent: But WE are so dangerous !!!! I have been out since '89, did eleven years on parole without re-offending. (Insert sarcasm !!)

Anonymous said...

I can prove in a court of law that the after care program to keep my love one out of prison has costs me almost 100K the first year. If you don't believe me your head is in the sand. That SAFEP and IPTC is nothing but an illusion. I had to use all of my sick days and vacation days to meet their parole requirements. Then I found a letter from their parole office saying do not miss work for a parole office or home visit, so you do not lose your (parolee's) job. But it is OK for me to lose mine. Those sick and vacation days cost me 10k alone this year. The State Ledge needs to quit funding these fraud and tax-dollar waste programs. I am at a point where either I file bankruptcy or my family member goes back to prison. Walk in my shoes and deal with the rotten parole board and parole officers I have dealt with. I went to visit for 10 years at 3 prisons and I was not treated as a tax-paying citizen but like I was a piece of trash and nothing more. I will never forget how that pregnant LT. on the Henley Unit talked to my love one in front of me like she was a pile of trash and then she turned around and talked to me in the same manner (fall 2013). I will never forget that day! I have 100's of stories about the officers and their treatment of visitors (inmates much worse) on the Crain unit. I saw a male employee man handle my love one on the reception center because he was having a bad day. I remember his tough talk he directed at me too. I prayed he was going to follow me to the parking lot after my visit so I could drop kick him. I had a half way house in Fort Worth employee threaten me twice with retaliation if I told on him about the abusive treatment of the people interned there ( Volunteers of America). Stop funding these failed programs that only put kick back and bribes in these people hands! I would not wish what I have experienced with TDCJ and Parole as a family member on no one in this world. So it comes at no surprise when TDCJ makes an International Human Rights Abuse List. I do not want to hear about those poor correctional officers or parole officers. For over ten years I must have meet all the rotten ones because I have never meet a good one. TDCJ and Parole is just a criminal racket in my eyes or at least that is what I have experienced. By the way, I have never been convicted of a crime either. I do not know the solution to fix this but the State Ledge needs to cut all funding off to these programs and those rotten to the core half-way house. One person can sit on a regional parole board and being a self serving jerk. It only takes one not as many as we are paying now. The Gatesville board needs three new ethical board members and the ones that moved on to other regions from Gatesville, needs to be replace too. Parole in the North of Dallas region needs to have the Federal authorities shut them down. I will swear on my life I am pushing close to 100k in expenses in the past 10 months to meet my love ones parole aftercare program requirements met and the parole office up here thinks this is funny watching family members lose everything they own in the process. STOP FUNDING SAFP ans IPTC NOW!!!!

Dan said...

I'm from the Tall City - did an internship at the Midland County Probation Office in '77. It's interesting to see they have changed a bit since those days. I challenge them to take the big step, sign up with the Arnold Foundation and pilot the Foundation's pretrial risk assessment tool.

Anonymous said...

The Texas parole system can very easily make a few changes that will make being on parole much more humane, and save the state a lot of money. First, after a parolee has been out x-number of years without incident, instead of reporting monthly, they should be be allowed to report quarterly, and then annually. Second, when a parolee has been out x-number of years without a dirty U.A., he/she should be taken off the U.A. list. Such practices would also greatly lighten parole officers caseloads.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:27
Get a job at TDCJ, there is a TDCJ Asst. Warden who got the Gatesville parole board to release his wife (a former TDCJ employee also)the first time her packet was reviewed by the Gatesville parole board. Her crime was aggravated too but she still got a FI-1 and went straight home. No costly out of pocket after care program for the TDCJ Warden or his wife. For that to happen to anyone else is unheard of. That is corruption that is rotten to the core! So go get a job at TDCJ. No rules or laws apply to you there! Call me a liar and I will put their names on here next! Give 55k to the Governor's campaign and you will be the Chairman of the board (public records) and we all no he broke the laws also! Nothing like the criminals watching over the criminals. I now see why the parole officers have lied straight to my face! No ethical standards of conduct required for employment at TDCJ!
Go get a job at TDCJ today!

Anonymous said...

"The Arnold Foundation and the pretrial risk assessment tool", I can assure you CJAD wants nothing to do with that.

CJAD barely realizes bond supervision exists. There are no CJAD Standards for Bond Supervision. There is no funding from the State for bond supervision, other than a fee paid for by the person being supervised, if a fee is even assessed. Having said that, pre-trial bond is the wave of the future; and many Judges are much more interested in bond supervision than they are in the TRAS.

You can say the TRAS process has been transparent, but I can guarantee you most judges are unaware of the TRAS. Likewise, I am fairly certain most judges have never heard of CMIT.

CJAD will say they have held sentencing conferences where judges and prosecutors have been invited to hear about community supervision and the TRAS, but a very small minority of Judges attend those conferences.

Anonymous said...

The Wisconsin and the SCS when used appropriately amounted to plenty. Those tools were largely used inappropriately. There was nothing wrong with them.

If the Wisconsin and SCS were used appropriately, you would learn just as much about the probationer as you do with the TRAS.

The TRAS is assessing offenders at low risk because it is designed to do so. There is no longer a needs assessment. The absence of a needs assessment is plain dumb.

The change in thinking on the part of the state is exactly what was mentioned about risk based funding. Go read the thoughts of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Texas Criminal Justice Coalition regarding risk based funding. Risk based funding will be the next thing to be touted as a smart on crime approach. The TPPF and the TCJC has a lot of influence with the legislature, probably more than the Texas Probation Association. CJAD will verbally state it is not their intent to go the way of risk based funding and when it does happen, my prediction is CJAD will point blame elsewhere while funding is severely cut. Either basic supervision or community corrections funding will become a thing of the past and will be replaced with competitive diversion program funding.

What will coincide with risk based funding is legislation that will be passed related to commitment reduction plans.

Anonymous said...

Texas is just like Afghanistan in terms of government. All we lack now is the retaliation. Which will come soon .....
They have almost f%^&ked off my life