Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Harris probation director clarifies case highlighted in Grits post

Last week, Grits posted an item about the Harris County probation department that included a critique of a Tweet touting a client who could now pay for a new child seat for her infant because she was rid of her probation fees. Theresa May, the director of the Harris County probation department, sent me an email clarifying some facts around that case. Although she expressly did not request a correction, I wanted to pass along her note for additional context:
Hello Scott! 
I hope all is well! I read your commentary on our post regarding one of our clients who was released early. 
As written, it was fair criticism and not something we would want to post as a pat on our back. Unfortunately, the summary of what happened with this client, as written, did not provide a clear picture of what actually occurred. Too many relevant facts and the context were not included. 
For what it’s worth, I did follow-up to look into the case as I had the same concerns you did when I read the post. In reviewing the case, the officer advocated for the DA’s office to release this client five months early (from a one year pre-trial diversion contract for a felony case) which would require agreement to waive all of the fees and community service hours for the entire pre-trial diversion and supervision of the case, not just the portion that would be granted automatically with early release. The client had not paid any fees to date for the pre-trial diversion case and had accrued a balance. It appears the officer felt the ADA would be more amenable to early release if the client completed one requirement, the Effective Decision Making Class and paid the class fee only. Reading the officer’s chrono entries, it appears the client’s parents helped her pay for the class and the client completed the class. It appears, the client’s parents were very supportive but the client struggled to be self-sufficient financially and struggled with her choices as well. The officer submitted the request for early release, noting the client completed the class and had made positive progress in making better choices. In turn, the ADA agreed to early release the client from the contract which discharged the entire balance the client had accrued. 
When the officer conveyed the message to the client that her case would be early released and that all fees accrued for the Pre-Trial case to date would be waived, the client told the officer she planned to use the money she no longer owed for the Pre-Trial case to purchase a better, more suitable car seat for her infant. During the course of her Pre-Trial Supervision, the officer worked with the client to make better choices, focusing on supporting and caring for her infant as opposed to going out with friends and using drugs. In reading the chronos, the officer clearly invested a lot of time working with this client one on one to help her learn to make healthier choices. The officer used EPICs skills (cognitive restructuring and reinforcement) and it appeared to pay off. The client made significant progress in making a deliberate choice to focus on caring for her infant rather than going out with friends and using drugs. This was a significant shift in this client’s lifestyle and choices that benefited both the client and her infant. Clearly, the officer was very happy to hear the client’s first thought was to purchase a better car seat for her infant as opposed to what may have occurred in the past. The officer requested early release for this client to reinforce the significant progress she made in her lifestyle by making better choices to the benefit of her and the infant.

The officers commonly advocate for early release for our clients if at all possible, so that is not the highlight of this story. This story was submitted by the officer’s supervisor because of the work the officer invested with this client and the progress the client made. Unfortunately, that point was completely lost in this post. 
Scott, I greatly appreciate the work you do in fighting for criminal justice reform and find your blog to always be fair. You were fighting before it became a major focus. We deserved the criticism in your blog based on what was written. I wanted to share this information with you out of great respect for all you do. There is no need to make any changes to the blog, please. We did not communicate clearly and earned the criticism. We are far from perfect and have a lot of work yet to do. I hope the day will come where we can change the way probation departments are funded to one that does not include reliance on fees. 
On a side note, I appreciate your insight as to how improvement in one aspect of the system has a positive impact on the rest…. That is an important take away from the Pre-Trial Diversion program and the RIC docket. 
Best wishes, 
Teresa May Ph.D.
Harris County CSCD


Steven Michael Seys said...

That's how law enforcement is advertised and how it ought to work. Kudos to the officer who made such an impact on four lives by working on the flaws in one of them.

Anonymous said...

Grits just got pimp-slapped.
And this is why you investigate stories before posting, even if submitted to you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@8:01, what are you talking about? HCCSCD was the source of the commentary I mentioned. Should I have checked with them to make sure they didn't misstate their own tweet? That would be odd. Dr. May acknowledged that my reaction was justified based on what they'd put out there and did not request a correction. I put it out there anyway, in the interest of full disclosure, but I don't think that means I need to investigate public statements by government agencies before commenting on them. Perhaps Harris CSCD should investigate their statements bf they MAKE them.

Anonymous said...

I think that this shows that Grits is taken seriously by all sides. And the additional info is very telling that people on both sides of the issues can and should try to understand each other so that further improvement can be achieved.

Anonymous said...

Investigating stories is literally how Grits earns his awesome shirt money. You must be a mathematician though because reading is not your strong suit.