Thursday, May 21, 2020

Texas leaders' budget direction for prison agency makes no sense

Texas state agencies have been asked to prepare budgets that include 5% cuts in light of reduced tax revenues thanks to the coronavirus and plunging oil prices, the Texas Tribune's Jolie McCullough reported on Twitter. The TDCJ Correctional Security division and UTMB Managed Correctional Healthcare are exempt from cuts, but "Other parts of TDCJ's budget though — like parole, education/training programs, drug treatment, executives — seemingly will have to be in proposed 5% cut."

This is exactly backwards from a wise management response. Most of Texas' prison costs stem from incarceration. In reality, slightly boosting parole and drug treatment funding could easily reduce incarceration in a big way, allowing the state to close more prison units and reduce spending on the agency's largest line item.

In particular, there are presently about 15,000 people locked up in TDCJ who have already been granted parole but haven't been afforded access to treatment services which they're required to complete before they're released. By spending money to let these folks complete treatment services before they're up for parole, the state could eliminate incarceration costs for them and close a half-dozen large units or more.

Moreover, treatment best practices dictate that they should receive services earlier, anyway - closer to the time when they were struggling with addiction in the free world. Making them wait till the end of their sentence is something that happens because TDCJ doesn't provide services at sufficient levels, not because it's the right thing to do.

Another option would be to let folks complete treatment services once they're out on parole. Thanks to the COVID lockdowns, many of these courses already are being taken via correspondence packets the prisoners complete in their cells. There's not much difference between that approach and letting them complete them in the free world and hand them in to their parole officers.

State leaders are basically saying to TDCJ: "You operate an inefficient system. So double down on the most inefficient part and cut spending on the parts that would save money for the state overall."

Honestly, at times like these, Grits can't help but wonder if state leaders actually want people locked up in prison longer than necessary, or if they just don't have a clue what they're doing. I suppose those two things are not mutually exclusive.


Anonymous said...

I agree it makes no sense, they are acting foolish. Inmates deserve a chance to make parole, but the Board of Pardons and Parole are very lax in their duties, it seems they just want to make another paycheck. They always deny parole based on "the nature of the offense", which will never change. You cannot go back in time and change your offense, that is only in the movies.The Governer of Texas is so stuck up into Trumps behind, he cannot see the light shinning bright. I know a inmate that has been a inmate for over 27 years, who has taken all the classes avaliable, been working for the past 25 years, caught no case, and been reviewed for parole 8 times, and always denied parole because of the "nature of the offense". He is well mannered, stays to himself, all the guards respect him, has a lot of family support, and now has high blood pressure. He should have made parole over 15 years ago. Just look at the states ran by Democrats, they treat inmates kike they are human, Texas do not, they just looking for free labor.

Anonymous said...

Even less sense is having private-for-profit prisons run any facility in the State of Texas. The cost of State Jails and the farce of Civil Commitment (a treatment center?) is sucking the State dry while those who are supposedly in charge are now better off than they were ten years ago. An even bigger waste is the money paid to expert (prostitutes for the State) witnesses to twist the facts and call it foretelling the future. Our governor must be proud of the number of psychics the State employ, who know how all inmates will behave in one, five, ten, or more years down the road. With these experts why waste money on trials, just incarcerate anyone charged with a crime because the experts say that person will re-offend.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Just look at the states ran by Democrats, they treat inmates kike they are human"

Hmmmm ... tell that to prisoners in California. I agree with much of your sentiment, but not that. Ann Richards was responsible for tripling the size of Texas' prison system. IMO, the problems with prisons have little to do with political party - to me, it's an American problem, not a partisan one.

Teresa Stroud said...

Grits, I agree with you, this is an American problem and mass incarceration is the most costly thing any American taxpayer is supporting with their tax dollars. Those 15,000 inmates you mention already approved for parole and waiting for treatment that should have already come should have someone fighting for the violation of their civil rights. That one single idea, increase treatment dollars to reduce your expensive incarceration population by 15,000. I cannot believe this hasn't been a headline for poor budget management. And I don't believe there is a member of the legislature who truly understands this situation or sincerely cares about it.

Anonymous said...

Or try looking at NY. Democrats, unless they are progressive and committed to criminal justice reform, are not better. They use incarceration to look tough on crime.

I wish ALL state legislators of both parties could spend one day in a state prison just to experience what it's like. Ideally, in TX, a really hot day to see what incarceration without any AC is like.

Anonymous said...

I must say I am GLAD to see that "executives" of TDCJ are not to be exempt! The good ol boys and girls (CID Director Lorie Davis) have a history of plotting to rehire their croneys, after the croneys retire.
Six months, almost to the day. Recent 6 high salary rehired retirees include
former Pack warden David Sweetin;
former region 6 director Melodye Nelson; former deputy director Leonard Echessa;and many more.
All rehired into some made up management position.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Teresa wrote: "I don't believe there is a member of the legislature who truly understands this situation or sincerely cares about it."

There are definitely a handful who truly understand the situation. I've been in the room over the years when it was explained to them in detail. But if you did a Venn diagram with those who might "sincerely care about it," it would be two circles that don't connect.

@7:13, keep coming with your examples, good stuff!

Anonymous said...

The agency could easily automate departments and systems saving millions. There is no reason they don't automate count rooms and a centralized mail rooms. Using tablets would greatly reduce the volume of mail. They could also get rid of law libraries and replace them with automated systems accessible through tablets. Less contraband would flow into the prisons if they used automated mail services or even scanned correspondence in at a centralized location.

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