Monday, April 20, 2015

Bill to reduce recidivism, increase state-jail felon program participation would save state $227.7 million

The Texas House last week approved a nice little bill by Rep. Alma Allen, HB 1546, which would save the state $227.7 million over the next five years by reducing incarceration for state jail felons by a few months if they participate in programming, according the Legislative Budget Board. The savings in the first biennium would be $81 million. The proposed tweak to the law would have the state corrections agency apply "diligent participation credits" toward reduction of inmates' state jail felony sentences - up to 20 percent of the sentence - which are otherwise served day for day without possibility of parole or early release. (My colleague Sarah Pahl at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has been working hard on this bill.)

The bill passed 141-0 (with a couple of members recording opposition in the journal after the fact) and no opposition in committee. Its companion legislation, SB 589 by Rodriguez/Hinojosa, has already passed out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is on the Intent Calendar. So the Senate could finally approve this bill pretty quickly if the votes are there.

Presently, it's possible but unlikely for state jail inmates to receive sentence reductions based on participation in educational or treatment programs. TDCJ sends judges information about program participation months after the case is over when the defendant's sentence is almost complete, creating a cumbersome and time consuming extra process for the courts for this class of low-level, mostly non-violent offenders. "The court then has to receive and process the request, make a decision about awarding credit to the inmate, and return the report to TDCJ," explained the House Research Organization analysis. Presently, judges do not reply to TDCJ in more than half of cases and in others the decision comes too late to result in a meaningful reduction in the sentence. In other words, the process now is basically dysfunctional.

State jail felons have a higher recidivism rate than other inmates leaving TDCJ and also are not under supervision when they leave, having served a day-for-day sentence. So anything which can be done to reduce recidivism for this category of offenders would be welcome; presently the state has few tools to influence their behavior beyond locking them up for a short time. A few months reduction in state jail felony sentences - already measured in months, not years - is a significant incentive for inmates to participate in programming which reduces recidivism.

These folks will soon be released regardless after spending 6-24 months (max) incarcerated in a Texas state jail felony facility. So the question isn't whether we should "keep them locked up." They'll be released soon enough, either way. The question is whether they'll have done anything productive with their time while they're inside, which this bill incentivizes and prioritizes.

The Senate this year has been all about spending caps but we've heard barely a peep from them about budget cuts. Here's a chance to save nearly a quarter billion dollars over the next five years while reducing both incarceration and recidivism among nonviolent offenders. What's not to like?


sunray's wench said...

"Presently, judges do not reply to TDCJ in more than half of cases and in others the decision comes to late to result in a meaningful reduction in the sentence. In other words, the process now is basically dysfunctional."

Those judges should be named and shamed - this is part of their job and they are getting paid to do it, so they need to get off the golf course and at the very least reply to the state agency.

BB said...

May also help to control the chaos with this challenging population during their incarceration where you have few behavioral incentives.

The real question however is why at present are we still paying to process and confine at the state level offenders who should be managed in our local communities?



Anonymous said...

Here's a name for you....Judge Bosworth in Johnson County, but that's the least of his daily crimes against humanity. He'd wear any "shaming" like a badge of honor, as he's incapable of both

Anonymous said...

This is only about saving money, not changing behavior. The 4th degree felony hasn't been what it was meant to be since its inception.

Good luck finding qualified people to staff these recidivism inducing programs you speak of.

This is the TCJC going too far with their influence while not knowing what the realities are in courtrooms.

This new approach will be just as dysfunctional. These persons who complete these programs will recidivate at the same rate as they do now.

Their will be no aftercare. Their will be no supervision. It's basically IPTC at a smaller level. TDCJ corrections officers won't be supportive. They never have been. They're not trained to be supportive.

Those that are incarcerated will cooperate to lessen their sentence, but without aftercare and supervision, it's futile at best.

And, those that could use the help the most are going to become Class A Misdemeanors with plea bargains of 30 days jail, credit for time served, just like they are presently 6 months state jail, credit for time served.

Get away from the Capital and go hang out at a courthouse, watch plea bargains, and find out how things really happen.

Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys all over Texas don't care what TDCJ is doing. They never will. They have different interests.

It's a bad bill that had been sold with inaccurate and anecdotal information.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Their will be no aftercare. Their will be no supervision. "

So basically, identical to the status quo? So what's your complaint?

Your argument isn't against this bill, 4/23 11:27, it's against the day-for-day state jail felony concept overall. This bill doesn't change that, but neither is it responsible for the problem. The concern of this legislation is what inmates spend their time doing WHILE they're incarcerated. We're talking about a difference of at most a few months, they'll be released sooner than later either way.

Anonymous said...

Thie judge in Hood County court is a tyrant not a judge! He appears to be in bed with the prosecutor and I guarantee you he will never even consider my husband for early release. He doesn't allow a fair trial let alone anything else! Just ridiculous!!!!! I also Sony know how that prosecutor can sleep at night

Eliseo Weinstein said...

Programs reducing recidivism benefit society as a whole. Beyond saving taxpayer dollars, these programs give inmates opportunities for productive lives outside the system. Furthermore, families of inmates thrive when their loved ones can be home contributing emotionally and financially to the family’s success. This success further reduces the risk of recidivism. Healthy families create healthy societies.