Monday, June 24, 2019

Why revocations from probation and parole make up nearly half of Texas prison admissions and what to do about it

Two recent reports on supervising people in the community post-conviction deserve Grits readers' attention:

From the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Marc Levin has a 10-point agenda on parole that's more aggressive than any decarceration proposal that conservative group has promoted before.

Meanwhile, the Council of State Governments issued an analysis of the proportion of prison admissions related to revoked probation and parole terms.

Let's look at the CSG report first, since it provides the lay of the land. They have state-specific pages for each jurisdiction; here's the one for Texas.

By their calculations, 47 percent of people entering Texas prisons in 2017 were revoked either from probation or parole - 36 percent from probation, 11 percent from parole.

My first thought was to double-check their math, so here's my calculations using verifiable, public sourcing.

In Texas, according to an annual TDCJ report to the legislature, probation revocations to prison in FY 2017 totaled 23,101; of that, 11,522 were for technical violations.

In FY 2017, according to the Board of Pardons and Paroles' Annual Statistical Report, 6,555 parolees were revoked; of those, 1,043 were for technical violations.

Combined, that's 29,656 people revoked from probation and parole combined in 2017; 12,565 of those were for technical violations only.

TDCJ admitted 65,278 total people that year, according to the TDCJ Annual Statistical Report.

So, by my math, that's 45% of TDCJ admissions from probation and parole revocations, not 47%, with 19% coming from technical violations alone. (According to their methodology appendix, they had trouble coming up with data on technical probation violations, which may account for some of the disparity.)

But that's nitpicking. The authors' point was to demonstrate that nearly half of prison admissions arise from supervision revocations, not new convictions. That is certainly true, which brings us to Marc Levin's TPPF policy brief on parole.

Whereas CSG aimed to identify the scope of the problem, Levin proposes reforms to reduce unnecessary supervision and revocations.

In Mr. Levin's ideal world, prisons would begin planning for reentry soon after a person is incarcerated and make sure all necessary treatment and programming has been completed by the time they're first eligible for parole. Moreover, he would have the parole board mainly assess risk to the public going forward, emphasizing behavior while in prison and participation in programming. By contrast, in Texas, one of the most common reasons for denial of parole is "nature of the offense," which cannot ever change.

He touts a Michigan statute, in particular, which limits the reasons parole can be denied to 11, mostly public-safety oriented items. (The references in this document are a treasure trove.)

Levin wants to ensure parole conditions are manageable and adjusted based on risk level, with lower-risk people receiving less supervision. He wants prisoners to get credit for "earned time," which in Texas is optional for the parole board to recognize (this provides scant incentive for program participation, cooperation on work details, etc.). He would reduce barriers to employment for parolees and stop the use of regressive zoning practices to restrict where parolees can live. (January Advisors just did a major analysis on this topic focused on Houston.)

Levin wants to alter how parole officers are evaluated, focusing on recidivism reduction. And finally, he wants some reentry duties currently performed by the justice system to be performed by nonprofits and other entities, which incidentally is what happened recently in Colorado with its community reinvestment program.

I'm glad to see people thinking more deeply both about how to measure the community-supervision elements of mass incarceration as well as how to better utilize those tools for reducing prison populations and preventing recidivism. Taken together, these two documents reaffirm many of the findings in an analysis published last year from the Columbia University Justice Lab titled, "Too Big to Succeed" (which also has informative footnotes), that gave recommendations for cutting the size of community corrections systems in half.


SOFAQ said...

Outstanding Grits! Another winner from Grits. I am posting it here:

"Outstanding, Red Team, outstanding! Getcha a case of beer for that one."
See here:

Anonymous said...

There's probably not a more bastardized phrase used to skew polling and statistical data than the nebulous "technical violation." As far as I can tell policy wonks like Grits never explain that not reporting to the probation or parole officer for a year or two qualifies as a "technical violation," as does an umpteenth positive drug test for meth after a litany of treatment options have already been offered. On a related note, are Dunn, Levin and TPPF even remotely relevant anymore after this last session? Apparently the speaker doesn't think so. Hallelujah!

drewwilley said...

If anonymous wants to nit pick what is technical, we can talk about people not being able to afford fees and costs, or wrongful polygraph requirements, or the facade of "therapy" conditions, with therapists and POs working together to steal money from the supervised families without real medically justified treatment, but I didn't want to comment on any of those...

These numbers don't even account for a couple additional injustices. For one, "Jail therapy," where judges demolish due process and send people to jail for any amount of time they want for mere allegations of someone not "acting right" aka, the PO might have to actually work lovingly and caring for those they oversee. No motion is filed, no hearing is held, no opportunity to defend themselves is afforded the supervised. That's only adding to county jail incarceration, which makes it much harder to track, but is certainly having an impact on incarceration in Texas. Plus, parole's default when they can't or shouldn't revoke is to send someone to ISF - prison by another name. Because they claim ISF is treatment and not prison, those sent to ISF are not included in those numbers and the supervised cannot challenge wrongful allegations of violations when that happens, because again, parole claims they're not being revoked. Despite the individual wallowing in a county cage until a bed opens (months) and then spends a minimum of 6 months at ISF, again driving up incarceration which isn't even included in those numbers. Point being, I'm glad for this progress and there's depths still to explore to understand the broader ways this system is perpetuating mass incarceration. Thanks for your work!

Anonymous said...

These "technical violation" statistics never really show the whole truth. As a probation officer I see people who get placed on probation and say "FU" and then abscond. Years later, they are arrested and the judge revokes them. Please note I said the judge revokes them, not the probation officer or the CSCD. Or, we have had people use drugs and we respond with interventions like out patient or in patient treatment. They continue to use and several have said "FU, I am not quitting". Sometimes it is for weed, and others for harder drugs like meth or heroin. Because of their refusal, the ADA and Judge do not take that lightly and the judge revokes them. Yes, these are technical violations. I know that some judges in the past from other counties that have revoked for money, which is horrible (not not my county). People also forget that if a person has the ability and says "FU, I am not paying" (Which I have seen) that is more criminal-thinking than a "technical violation", but it is a technical, technically. Those things are just not fair to be lumped in with "technical violations".

I do not know of a way to fix this issue other than to re-work the stat definitions of technicals and have a category for absconders, and for refusal to pay when proof of ability to pay was provided, or when the offender refused treatment. YES...I am sure there are CSCDs/Parole dept who do not offer treatment or help, or who are "out to get the offender" and do not want to help them change and they should be punished. Absolutely. Probation as well as parole is to intervene and help this person correct those things. Mentor them. It sickens me when I work my butt off, care for these people, see successes in my CSCD and then statistics are given which really don't tell the whole story. Bad parole departments or CSCDs give the good ones a bad name and we as a whole are attacked. Not that Grits is attacking, dont get me wrong. The legislature is ignorant of the whole truth. Stats can be made to say anything.

I agree with @drewwilley that there are bad things going on at parole when instead of revoking people, they send them to an ISF for all but 1 week of their parole and then release them. That counts as a successful parole completion. Complete horse shit if you ask me. Yes, stats can be made to say anything. Jail/prison as a sentence many times is the easy way out. Warehouse them where they have no treatment, no mentors, no help, are surrounded by more criminals, are treated rudely and talked down to by CO's and then we expect them to come out "better". No. I disagree. That does not work. Everyone knows parole has a horrible success rate, but no one investigates why that really is. Poor leadership and policies written or unwritten.

The courts are the ones who actually decide if a person is revoked as they are elected officials (judges and DA) and many times they stand on a platform of "tough on crime". So, when the offenders are revoked, who is to blame for revocation numbers? Probation and parole. This is not right!! My county is great. The judges and DA listen to us. They try to actually help. But, there are many counties where this is not true and they stand on the platform of "I will revoke you if I see you again. Just give me the opportunity." Why? Because that is what the voters ignorantly want.

Bad CSCDs and parole departments should be punished individually. I just don't think it fair that all of us are dumped into one statistic. We need to weed the bad ones out and get back to the true purpose of supervision.

Anonymous said...

To date there hasn't been a comprehensive study of prosecutorial practice regarding violations of probation. Since more than 90% of motion to revoke outcomes are plea deals, it would seem necessary to perform an in depth study of the direct relationship between plea bargain practice and technical violation outcomes.

I don't think the customary practice of calling/emailing/talking to your favorite prosecutor(s)to determine if they press for prison time instead of alternatives for technical revocations will provide enough insight to drive research based policies.

Anonymous said...

At least a Pareto Chart!

Anonymous said...

@8:32am and drewwilley, thanks for your comments. Could add a few more tidbits, but you two have spelled it out quite well.

Anonymous said...

In Texas, they need to fill the privatized prisons for money... This means revoking paroles and false convictions are becoming the norm in Texas to fill the Texas prison system.. Unfortunately, it is not covered by the media or talked about. It is sad.. I would not say Judges and DAs try to help in many cases. I've seen cases where they know the falsely accused are innocent and they do not allow evidence to be brought to the Jury...

Mark Hogberg said...

Ahhh, Here's a novel idea, instead of pointing the finger of blame in every direction why not just change the sentencing guidelines?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

For those interested in the causes of technical probation violations (which have been discussed many times in the 9k+ posts on this blog, btw), we don't have to take the word of anonymous blog commenters. We have good, relatively recent research focused on Texas probation departments to inform that conversation, see here and here.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

Anonymous said...

All these comments have a point of concern. With Public Officials guiltier then the people/inmates they persecute - the rules, regulations and codes need to be looked at and investigated.

For example: A young man, innocent of the crime accused was sent to prison with no evidence or investigation done. The parole board saw fit to release him early but he refused because of the strings attached to Parole. He served the full term that the DA's Jury put on him and was released. The DA was not satisfied and the Court decided to punish him more with probation, fines and be put on a list.

This corrupt court system has had a Judge charged with sexual assault, Public Officials with no Oath of Office and incompetent Sheriff. A sexual assault is very difficult to get out of, even if it was made up by a unfaithful partner. This DA became Judge, the attorney became DA and ect., ect. Once time is served, probation should not be required - if in extreme cases no more then one year.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately you will always have anon opinions as some of us can get fired, harassed or discriminated against for speaking against our county or the system.

Mark Hogberg said...

House Bill 788 and the attached HRO, check out page three, first paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, that paragraph is talking about those who are being considered for parole, not the ones who are released and then violate and are sent to ISF for extended periods and then called "successful completion". I do find it sad that just because a person commits a new crime the author thinks it necessary to revoke their parole. Not necessarily so. Maybe some intervention can be made to get them back on track. But, if murder is second arrest...yes, revoke.

These people take the plea bargain, go to prison for years and hang around with bad people and then are expected to be better citizens when they get out. The parole officer many times doesnt even have a say if they they remain out or go back. It is sent to unit supervisor and then to parole violation hearing officer if I am correct.

Unknown said...

The TPPF link goes to a Keri Blakinger article about staff turnover. Valuable, but I think not what you intended.

BarkGrowlBite said...

"I do find it sad that just because a person commits a new crime the author thinks it necessary to revoke their parole. Not necessarily so." Are you out of your mind?

People on parole were not sent to prison for singing off-key in the church choir.

Wat I find sad is that Texas parole is a joke. There is little, and sometimes no actual supervision of parolees. Parole officers rely mostly on office visits and ankle monitors in supervising parolees and neither reveals their behavior, either good or bad. If there are no reports of any anti-social behavior, the parole officer submits a report saying the parolee is doing well. In the profession it's called 'paper parole.'

"Levin wants to alter how parole officers are evaluated, focusing on recidivism reduction." That will encourage parole officers to look the other way.

Don't get me wrong. I do not want a parolee violated for getting drunk or some other public nuisance charge, but when he commits a new crime against a person or property, refuses to participate in addiction treatment and continuously violates his parole conditions, his happy ass should be shipped back to prison pronto.

Due to prison overcrowding, parole officers are encouraged to overlook non-serious parole violations

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fixed the TPPF link, sorry about that!

Anonymous said...

Present yourself for office visit, pay, and piss, don't commit a new offense and see you again in 90 days for next appointment.

Anonymous said...

If the TDCJ mission statemen were accomplished, those released from prison would be prepared for life outside, and would not need supervision. As it is, the mission statement is not being implemented and thus is a taxpayer funded joke......and a harmful one.

BarkGrowlBite said...

"Present yourself for office visit, pay, and piss, don't commit a new offense and see you again in 90 days for next appointment."

That about sums it up. Your comment amounts to a perfect description of parole supervision in Texas.

I could not have said it any better.