Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reduce technical revocations to cut prison admissions, costs

Let's delve further into the Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report prepared biennially by the Legislative Budget Board, in particular on the topic of "Estimated net costs of technical revocations from community supervision and parole" (on pp. 389-393 of the pdf).

Technical revocations are when people's probation or parole is revoked for rules violations or failing to fulfill conditions of release, not commission of a new crime.

In an era when prisons are over-bloated and budget-cutters are looking to cut costs, the number of technical revocations to prison seem ripe for reduction. According to the GEER report, "In fiscal year 2015, 50.0 percent of offenders entering Texas prisons entered as a result of ... revocation."

With half of offenders entering prison coming from this source, reducing revocations is a big potential cost saver for TDCJ. But it's not a priority for local probation departments and so far Grits hasn't seen legislation filed this session aimed at reducing revocations for technicals (someone please correct me if I've missed something).

These days, technical revocations are mainly a probation problem. "Since the implementation of diversion initiatives in Texas, revocations in the parole population decreased dramatically." But, "In contrast to the significant decreases in parole revocations, revocations from community supervision have remained largely consistent." In 2015, 5,608 parolees were revoked en toto, with 910 of them for technical violations. On the probation side, 24,062 felons were revoked, with technical violations making up 51.4 percent of that number (12,362). So it's probation driving the revocation numbers.

A 2007 study, the report noted, found that 94.3 percent of probation revocations led to incarceration in a state jail (52.4 percent) or prison (41.9 percent).

When you examine the issue department by department, revocation rates are all over the map. From this document (p. 15 of pdf) we get the number of revocations  per agency for the ten biggest probation departments. From those data, Grits calculated these rates:

2016 Revocations as Percentage of 
Supervised Felons - Probation

Dallas: 8.3%
Harris: 11.9%
Bexar: 10.0%
Tarrant: 12.5%
Hidalgo: 6.4%
El Paso: 4.3%
Travis: 7.8%
Cameron: 6.6%
Collin: 9.5%
Nueces: 8.8%

Just reducing outliers like Tarrant, Harris and Bexar to average levels (8.6%) would ratchet down the number of annual prison entrants significantly.

Ironically, all these revocations are occurring while recidivism is relatively low. "For the fiscal year 2007 release cohort, the five-year recidivism rate for offenders supervised on parole is 37.0 percent, and the rate for the fiscal year 2010 cohort of offenders on community supervision is 28.1 percent. Moreover, people on probation are "substantially more likely to recidivate based on misdemeanors." 

What should we take from this?
  • The 2007 treatment reforms succeeded in reducing technical violations on the parole side, but probation departments and local judges stubbornly persist in revoking probationers for technicals at high rates.
  • The extent of the problem varies department to department, with a handful of probation agencies revoking disproportionately more people.
  • New policies and incentives must be created to reduce technical probation violations since existing structures from the 2007 reforms aren't doing the trick. Funding the SB 1055 program passed by the Lege in 2011 would be a good start, incentivizing departments to punish low-risk offenders in the community.


Anonymous said...

I hate to tell you this, Grits, but offenders don't get revoked for technical violations--at least not the first time. It's not uncommon for probationers to get two, three, four or five bites at the apple before most judges will get fed up with their failure to report, positive UA's, etc.. While the data may report the revocation as being based on a technical violation, what you're not seeing is how many times that offender has been back to court on successive motions to revoke or adjudicate before they finally ran out of chances. The fact of the matter is that some people just don't want to do probation and would rather just go do their time.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"offenders don't get revoked for technical violations" ... which I suppose is why half of probation revocations are for technicals, according to data reported by probation departments. Right? Or do you think they just made that up for shits and grins?

According to testimony on the topic in past hearings, lot of it is people who can't comply with rules then abscond for fear of revocation. There are better ways to handle that type of noncompliance (including short-term jail stays or a trip to an ISF) than full revocation. And the fact that some jurisdictions revoke at MUCH lower levels shows that maxxing out revocations like in Harris and Tarrant isn't inevitable, it's a policy choice.

Anonymous said...

The problem most counties have is funding for their probation departments. What we see a lot are PO's revoking in order to lighten their caseloads. If you could find data showing the percentage of PO's to probationers you would be able to see the correlation. And this won't change simply because it is more cost effective to revoke and let the state pick up the tab for an inmate than it is to hire more PO's.

Of course the legislature could force change by requiring counties to be responsible for a percentage of the costs to house an inmate. This may come up soon as a way to help the state off-set the costs for air conditioning the prisons. We'll see..

Anonymous said...

I hate to tell you this 05:27, but you are completely clueless. What reality are you living in?

Bill Habern said...

I am interested in knowing the particular jurisdiction(s) where commenter identified as 5.27 resides. Our firm has watched post conviction records of individual prison clients in TDCJ for over 40 years, and seldom do offenders get more than a couple of bites at the technical violations before they get revoked. In some counties not mentioned in the article I suggest that probation revocations may have a tighter revocation policy than in the larger ones mentioned.

One thing not mentioned is the nature of the crime for which community service is imposed, and revoked. For example some of the conditions of probation (and parole)for sex offenders are outrageous and guarantee revocation. I also find little consistency in the policies POs follow when enforcing conditions of sex offenders, yet, based on my reading, with the exception of murder, sex offenders are the least likely to commit another sex offense. (The last national statistics I saw on this was 11% recidivist for sex offenders with an overall 28% recidivist rate for all other crimes). Why more of these sex conditions leading to revocation are not tested in the appeal courts has always concerned me as have my concerns for some of the factual reasons we see for sex offender revocations.

I recall that in the minority opinion by Justice Douglas in the Morrissey v Brewer case (the primary USSC decision on Constitutional Rights and revocations) he opted that the only basis for revocation should be based only on the commission of a new crime.

Bill Habern
The Habern Law FIrm
Houston, Texas

Anonymous said...

The probation departments have responsibility before the case gets to the point that it must go before a judge--and in some courts the judge wants to see ALL violations, which takes lower level sanctions out of the hands of probation. But what about plea bargains in this state? More than 95% of our cases are plea bargains, which means that a deal is struck by prosecutors and the defense before the case even goes to court. Most courts almost always accept the plea because of dockets. And since these plea deals are for probation revocations too, Texas won't see probation revocations go down until all players are on-board.

George said...

Thank you Mr. Habern for your comments on this issue. This is one of the first times that I've seen a respected member of the judicial community tell it like it is concerning the plight of citizens convicted of sex crimes on forums such as this.

What you say is 100% correct although I believe that the actual recidivism rate for new sex offenses is more like 5% for all registered citizens and much lower for those on parole --- don't have Texas numbers but California Department of Corrections states that less than 1% of paroled sex offenders are revoked for a new sex offense.

The longer a registered citizen is released and out in the community, the less of a risk that person is to public safety. One study states that after 17 years the likelihood of a new offense is no more than the average citizen. Most new sex offenders committed by registered citizens are done so within 3 years of release, regardless of the risk level assigned to them.

A sensible approach would be to individually assess each person placed on parole or probation instead of treating everyone as an imminent threat and placing draconian reporting requirements that basically accomplish little other than meting out additional punishment.

The courts around the country are starting to address these issues and providing much needed relief and sanity concerning the treatment of the citizens of our nation that are required to register. Our elected officials should be doing this but this sub-class of people are much too valuable to their reelection campaigns since they can proclaim, "Just look how tough I've been on these sex offenders!"

Thank you too, Grits, for offering a platform for all who search for truth and discernment to have open discussions that hopefully will open some eyes and promote action to help.

Anonymous said...

Smith County has now implemented progressive sanctions which reduces the number of revocations for technical violations. Additional counseling, weekend in jail, extension of probation are modifications that are done in an attempt to give the defendant a chance to complete their probation.

Bro. Bill said...

Revocations from Parole are way down from 10 years ago. I use to get phone calls on our toll-free number that they were running late or missed their bus. I would have to make a three-way call to the Parole Officer letting them know the individual was running late. Back then Parole would revoke an individual for being 15 minutes late to their Parole appointment. I do not have the cases handy, but there are three Texas Supreme Court Cases ruling that an individual cannot be revoked for a bad UA or other common revocations. Basically the Supreme Court ruled that an individual has to commit a new offense. That is why TDCJ set up Intermediate Sanction Facilities (IFS).

TDCJ confronts the individual with the violation and gets them to sign a document saying that they do not want a hearing. Then TDCJ sends them to the IFS Facility. If the individual does not sign the waiver there is good chance they will not be revoked.

Anonymous said...

5:27 here... No, I don't believe that the technical revocations are being reported for "shits and grins" as you put it, Grits. What you're not addressing, however,--and what the data doesn't show--is how many times the probationer has already been before the judge for "technical violations" before they are finally revoked. They could have had their probation modified any number of times--to include extra counseling, electronic monitoring, weekend jail time, time in an intermediate sanction facility, and/or SAFPF--before they are finally revoked for yet another "technical violation." In that case, the revocation will still be reported as being based on a technical violation (and apparently subject to criticism by you and the like minded) but the data will not show the lengths to which probation departments and the courts went to keep the offender on probation before they finally ran out of options. As an aside, it's almost becoming comical how you and the "smart of crime" crowd want to emphasize "deincarceration" and community based corrections as a punishment alternative, but then you evidently don't give a damn if these people who are allowed to remain in they community (in lieu of going to prison) actually follow the rules imposed upon them by the courts. It kind of begs the question: Do you care if criminals are held accountable for their crimes at all?

Anonymous said...

"5:27" knows what they are talking about and Grits you should do some extensive research before just jumping on the bandwagon that is all probations fault. I guarantee you most technical revocations are not for the first time. Like it was stated earlier, many offenders appear before judges many times before it gets to the point that nothing works. It is a collective matter of the probation department, prosecutors and judges. Probation departments do not revoke they only report the violations. And who are we talking about here people who do not have a history of following the law. These are not usually first time offenders but ones that have a history of not following the rules. There is no better deal than probation on saving the state money. It costs taxpayers a whole lot more to incarcerate than community supervision. There is not one thing that works but as a whole it is a far better deal to give people a chance on community supervision than to just lock them up. Progressive sanctions is used in most departments and it is a long process before a "technical revocation" happens. I suggest grits you provide some useful solutions besides just saying probation departments want to revoke. Do some research!

Steve said...

Two things that haven't been mentioned are 1) the incentive for probationers to accept revocation for state jail felonies, and 2) the abject failure of ISFs.

State jail felonies are the ONLY category of offense in which you serve LESS time in prison than you serve on probation. Therefore, when a drug addicted state jail felon has positive UAs and is given the option of 9 - 12 months of treatment and aftercare as part of their three years on probation vs. just "doing my time" for less than two years, they choose to get revoked. That's just the way addicts think.

As for the use of ISFs instead of revocation, PLEASE look at the Legislative Budget Board's latest publication on recidivism and revocation rates (http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/Documents/Publications/Policy_Report/3138_Stwide_Crim_Just_Recid_Revoc.pdf). On page 2, you'll see that the three year REARREST rate for people coming out of ISFs is 59.2%. The same statistic for people coming out of prison is 46.4%. Parole doesn't revoke as many people because they send them to ISFs. Presumably they send the worst offenders to prison, and the no-so-high-risk offenders to an ISF, but the ISFs demonstrably make the offenders worse! The primary purpose of the criminal justice system is not see how little time we can make an offender serve (although in many cases that can be a desirable goal). The primary purpose is to keep the public safe, and ISFs (and State Jails) are abject failures at doing that.

Anonymous said...

I remember a couple months ago I commented on a topic similar to this on another post on this blog. There are many things probation departments and local judges can do better, BUT one thing they cannot do is make the offender make the right choices. In my past I have dealt with many offenders who have a positive UA and are offered treatment or education or some sort of sanction. They then have a second UA and may get a weekend or two in jail. Then they have a third or subsequent positive UA and are recommended for residential treatment and they choose to refuse the treatment being offered. The case then gets referred to court and a MTA/MTR gets filed and the offender makes their own choice to do jail or prison time in lieu of treatment because, as 10:36 pointed out, they know they will do less time by getting revoked than if they get sent to a treatment facility. Probation departments, DA's, and the Judges are all offering them alternative to revocation, but the offender chooses to get revoked so they can "be done" with supervision. This is not a circumstance of probation failing, this is the offender making their own choice to be revoked. But it is listed as a technical revocation and lumped into all the other technical stats.
Since this post is referencing the LBB report on revocations, why not also look at the House Criminal Justice Committee Interim Report. It points out that probation and parole revocations should not be compared because there are so many different factors between the two. Grits, if you are going to reference reports, don't cherry pick which parts to reference. You mentioned the interim report in a prior post. If you accept the report then you should acknowledge also that the report says to stop comparing the two revocation rates.

Anonymous said...

11:27 here. Forgive me. I called it the House Criminal Justice when it is the House Corrections Committee.
Here is the link on this blog where Grits mentions it.

DLW said...

Instead of calling some of these "technical violations", maybe we should call them what they really are. People are being revoked for having an addiction. Of course, they have probation rules about not drinking or using drugs.I get that. I also get that some continually fail UA's. I get that probation officers, DA's and Judges get frustrated by that.

But probation officers, Judges, cops, Lawyers, preachers, school teachers, scientists and retired grandmothers have mounds of evidence that smoking is a killer but they have an addiction and they are unsuccessful in breaking it. It's not as easy as just saying to a Probationer that if we continue to catch you drinking, we will send you to prison so you better stop.

If the higher probability of death from an addiction isn't enough to cause the person to quit, do you really believe threatening to warehouse an addict is enough?

I'm not in charge of anything but if I was the final decider, I would not revoke a felony probation unless a new crime was committed. I would find a local penalty but would not shift the burden of housing an addict to the entire state because I couldn't threaten the person into defeating his addiction.

I'll double down on my opinion for the cases where the person is on probation for an offense that doesn't involve the use of alcohol as a beverage. It defies reason to have a no alcohol condition on a hot check writer or an embezzler, just because that is the way we have always done it.

Anonymous said...


You are a smart guy; check the math.

Anonymous said...

It would be really great to see the results of a comprehensive study of the criminal justice process and it players pertaining to revocations. Who knows, maybe it would accurately capture causation for "high" technical revocation rates. That's pretty damn bold to ASSume that you have a smoking gun... probation departments are responsible for the technical revocation rates. Do try to keep in mind that probation departments are responsible for reporting the outcomes of revocation hearings, whether they have a say or not in what the outcome of the hearings will be. AND the very limited scope of the data that is being touted does not look at anything except how probation reports the outcomes of the revocation hearings.
It would be effective and efficient to see problems/decisions/solutions based on comprehensive studies instead of the traditional 2-beers-and-6-cigarettes-syndrome.

Atticus said...

Gosh,we've visited this subject so many times. Yes, there are revocations for technical violations alone; they usually occur in the more rural jurisdictions where all (and the few available) options other than hard time have been exhausted. Rarely do they occur for a first violation. And a pure revocation for "only" technicals is more rare than you might think.

The problem lies in looking at the paperwork in connection with revocations. Quite often, the probationer has new cases, either already indicted or pending Grand Jury, for which they are guilty and have no defense. When all the parties know this, a plea bargain to be revoked on the original probated case for a lesser sentence is chosen rather than all the additional paper work that would be involved in taking a guilty plea after they are presented to a GJ or even trying the new case(s). The pending cases are then either dismissed or never presented to a Grand Jury. NONE of this shows on the face of a revocation that lists technical violations only. Without delving deeper into each case, it's impossible to calculate how many involve such a scenario rather than "just" technical violations alone. Experienced Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation officers will verify these facts.

Anonymous said...

Judges want to get elected. District Attorneys want to get elected. Probation department employees aren't politicians.

Parole and probation juvenile probation and MHDD and CPS aren't the same thing but they all share a lot of clients.

the plea bargain drives the ship, nothing more, nothing less. If a probationer ends up on a docket, the likelihood of revocation skyrockets simply because the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney could care less what probation has to say once the case is on the docket.

adult probation's idea about how to prevent future crime differs from a prosecutor's view or a judge's view or a defense attorney's view. It also differs from the view of the general public, the constituency. The constituency is who the judges and district attorneys answer to. And the general public has no idea what a progressive sanction model is nor do they care. Not to mention risk based funding, which is right around the corner.

People don't go to prison for a positive UA or failure to pay or failure to report. They go to prison because they entered a plea of true to those allegations and the other allegations (like the non-indicted new offense) were abandoned by the district attorney as part of an agreement before the bench. The new offense never gets indicted or a complaint/information is never filed because the defendant is in prison, it no longer matter, the paperwork is too much, etc.

If a parolee is sent to a ISF because of a technical violation to finish their sentence, is that really a successful discharge from parole? Adult Probation doesn't have that option. Adult probation can use state-contracted ISFs and ISFs operated by CSCDs but the sentence is never finished while the probationer is in such a facility. They are released back into their community and many of them decide to get high (just like the ex-parolee), the difference is the ex-parolee has satisfied their sentence but the probationer hasn't. If there is a violation of probation, the CSCD is required to notify the court.

comparing apples to oranges gets old. adult probation is underfunded. Insurance continues to increase and if nothing is done about that ... by 2021, the cost for CSCDs to insure their employees will either exceed or begin to equate to the amount of entitlement funding received by CSCDs. That is the issue, funds. All this talk about what is probation going to do about technical violations is going to become moot once everyone realizes probation has been put in a place where they can no longer function.

Some probation departments have less than 10 employees and some have over 200. Some are in rural areas. Some are in urban areas. Some have a board of judges totaling one judge, some have a board of judges totaling 20 judges. Again, apples to oranges.

1,000s of people make decisions concerning the fate of a probationer. Less than 50 people are involved with making decisions concerning the fate of a parolee. Parole is centralized. Probation isn't. Apples to oranges.

No one wants to go to prison. Only about 3% of the entire population really deserves to be there. More than 95% of those persons who do get incarcerated are eventually released.

Some of those parolees who are simultaneously successfully discharged from a ISF and parole, they end up on probation for some bullshit misdemeanor. Lots of time, they are successful with that supervision, but no one ever takes that "violation" of the law into consideration because no one cares. No one is asking for that information. They already have their positive stat showing how successful it is to allow a parole violator to finish their time in a structured environment.

Looking at technical violations and how they are reported now only scratches the surface when discussing community corrections.

Anonymous said...

There is a very easy solution to technical revocations, which according to the post is to blame for prison costs... Just go to the legislature and get laws passed abolishing technical violation revocation to prison.
If that can't be done I would assume the constituency, courts, etc. are still pretty much in favor of having technical violation revocation available to the courts.

Anonymous said...

Smith county is nothing more than a cesspool.
Why does grits refuse to use Smith county in his examples?
Why not include Smith county records of technical revocations? Show the records of Smith county.

Anonymous said...

We can say the recidivism rate is low if we only count the violations in which the crime was reported, the crime was investigated and the perp was caught. That's what, 5 to 10 percent of these cases? When I've been a victim, the cases were never solved--or even seriously investigated.

Anonymous said...

Is it true that guards prefer banging the heads of inmates off concrete floors and walls since hair is excellent concealment for bruises and swelling? Are bathrooms and showers the favored places for this unconventional therapy to avoid potential witnesses? Over time is the end result achieved with small danger of being found out?