Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sweeping Changes needed for Texas: New Department of Probation


If the mission statement was practiced, this would be an honorable guide to put anyone's name on it. However, this turns out to be one of the biggest boondoggle concepts in Texas criminal justice mission statement history. This policy coming out of Austin continues to promote reduction in inmate population, community supervision population, violations to the court, and county incentives for early terminations of probation. Sounds good, so what is wrong with this? Read on, and you may realize as I do in following the money trail, the lack of protection the state affords it's citizens.

Those who are proponents of decriminalization and minimizing laws have enjoyed the legislative actions and policies of CJAD. The message has been clear for many years, our cities remain war zones because of this philosophy. Funding for substance abuse beds has become a big business. More importantly it has become a major contributor to the way we do business and how funding of community supervision departments has become less community based and more treatment bed based. As long as the profits continue to flow for substance abuse program administrators, private attorneys, and contractors, the sale of illegal drugs will continue to flow. Treatment verses incarceration seems to be the only concern of the legislators and courts.

Meanwhile, supervision officers are left holding inflated caseloads with little incentive to report violators and little recourse during hearings. Meanwhile other crimes are being committed throughout our neighborhoods. Sex, burglaries, thefts, and violent crimes continue to plague the courts. Law enforcement departments are doing their part in many jurisdictions. Offenders do get caught. What happens after the charges continues to be viewed in a apathetic manner towards serious justice. The courts and CJAD appear to play a dangerous game to promote less supervision of those on community supervision, less punishment for those who commit repeated crimes, and less incentives to abide by our moral code.CJAD's answers are reduction in inmate population, lower terms for probationers, and early terminations for probations along with reduction of technical violations. If departments fail to march to the drum beat of this Austin crowd, then funding is pulled from the departments and given back to the general revenue.

Therefore, departments are feeling the pressure to create policy to be less likely to report technical violations in fear of budget reduction of an already under budget and under-funded departments.What does this mean for the victims? Those violators will not have an incentive to comply with the court sanctions and laws of the state. Punishment continues to be a last choice, and accountability is set aside for rehabilitation at the costs of the taxpayer and victims. Some offenders will not commit crimes that warrant a state prison sentence, and this is why there will always be a need of supervision officers in our communities. Non-violent offenders and drug users should be given the opportunity to prove to the courts and public, with the proper referrals and supervision, they can live a law-abiding life.

One of the bigger issues is the relaxed policy of drug dealers and violent criminals being placed on probation, and the lack of will to swiftly punish for violations. Jail overcrowding seems to be the constant cry from those on the far left running our legislature losing sight of a balanced criminal justice system. The CJAD formula ignored key elements in properly supervising offenders and protection of the public. Most everyone deserves a second chance. What he or she does with this second chance should be looked at more serious by our legislators. Progressive sanctions should not be a watered down policy to thwart the purpose of accountability. Victims should be able to receive restitution, expect clear and purposeful supervision, and assured punishment for non-compliance. Sentencing guidelines must be adopted to mandate the courts to assure fairness and equal punishment of all offenders and not those who can pay for litigation. Courts must be also given a mandate to address continued violations and viewed not to be the fault of the supervision officer in an excuse to sanction probation budgets.

The principle of law demands the criminal take ownership of his or her crime. The supervision officer should be given the tools to supervise in an effective way with the strong support of the legislative body and the courts.Supervision officers throughout Texas have proven education and experience to effect change in criminal behavior and report those who are a risk to the community. The legislators have ignored and minimized the importance of the officer and failed to invest in funding for professional pay and give the necessary tools to supervise felons and misdemeanants. The need for overhaul of a broken system is more critical today than ever. The failed policies of watered down progressive sanctions, repeat treatment program failures, and the power of the private attorneys to manipulate the courts are among the many problems plagued by the incompetent policies of today's legislators.

Treatment is necessary. Treatment without supervision is reckless. Failure to adequately compensate these professional officers at a pay scale commensurate with their education and experience is unjust. Texas has found a way to compensate attorneys, judges, administrators, and politicians with a salary equal to their responsibility. Who is more responsible than the supervision officer, who day in and day out monitors the behavior, and could one day be in harms way in order to effectively supervise these hundreds of offenders. The call to reform this mislead system is upon us.

The most important decision our legislators can make in the upcoming session is to strongly look at their failed policies. A call to remove the CJAD's role in the process is critical to overhaul and return justice back to the State of Texas. The need to separate probation as a fully sanctioned state recognized department responsible to the governor is more critical than ever before. The judicial branch should be held accountable for their sentences by adopting a consistent and fair sentencing guidelines for punishment that accounts for the offender's prior record, supervision record, and extent of the crime. Counties need to remove themselves from the abuse of internal politics and continued fighting for bigger budgets. Monies should not be used as a caveat to bait the local community corrections departments to continue to look the other way and recommend continued supervision or treatment on those career felons who continue illegal behavior. These actions along with bringing credibility to the caseload officer will be the most effective way to protect the community and not just use it as a feel good mission statement as per the CJAD political machine.

The below listed proposals will bring credibility to Texas and provide meaningful guidance to protect citizens:

1. Remove CJAD from probation policy and funding matters:
Allow a more qualified organization to oversee and report to the governor and legislators on probation matters.

2. Implementation of the Texas Department of Probation:
Supervise felons and misdemeanants shifting the responsibility and oversight of community supervision departments from county responsibility to the state. This will remove county politics, maximize funding sources, and allow probation officers to be managed by probation staff instead of courts that do not have the resources to effectively oversee a department.

3. Implementation of sentencing guidelines:
Increased enhancements for violent, sex, probation violations, and bond release violations increasing fairness in sentencing.

4. Zero tolerance for drug dealers and violent offenders
Mandatory prison sentences for probationers who violate their supervision.

5. Shorter probation sentences for non-violent, drug use, or theft crimes.

6. Civil liens for any outstanding monies owed at the time of termination:
Court costs, restitution, and administration fees will eventually be collected by the majority of offenders giving the State and general revenue a on-going source of funds to pay for probation costs.

7. Caseload caps:
Supervision officers need to conduct field visits and make contact with offenders at their residence, employment, and family members to assure compliance.

8. Law enforcement powers to all certified caseload officers:
Allow the officer to protect himself or herself in the gang infested neighborhoods and possibly protect others in the performance of his or her duties.

9. Warrant less arrest powers:
Offenders with active warrants, possession of drugs/weapons or pornography (sex offenders) pose a risk to society. The response time and local policies of law enforcement officials may be delayed or non-existent in some areas. The need to arrest is critical in the overall mission to protect the public.

10. Warrant less search powers:
Searching an offender's person, property, and vehicle will not only assure compliance, but searches will also ensure safety of the officer and possibly remove weapons, illegal drugs, and pornography from those who are being supervised.

11. Fund training:
Establishment of a probation training fee to fund officer training.

12. Mandate supervision officers to carry firearms.
Protect officers

13. Create a house arrest program
Serious violent, habitual, or sex offenders Reduce jail population.

14. Mandate GPS
Reduce jail populationSex offenders, gang members, and violent offenders need to be placed on GPS upon the recommendation of the presentence investigation officer and approved by the court.

15. Mandate the courts to sentence felony criminals to state facilities.
Reduce local jail overcrowding

16. Fingerprinting and DNA testing on all felony offenders

17. Provide fingerprint readers/database for all probation offices and schools:
Identify felons on supervision and prevent sex offenders from entering school property.

18. Create a felony database on the supervised population:
Photos will aid the public, law enforcement, and probationand parole staff with accurate photo, address, employment, and criminal history. The database is a tool to enhance public safety.

These sweeping changes can bring credibility to our antiquated justice system. This will send a clear message to the public that Texas is serious about crime, and protection of our citizens is paramount above all else. Texas can lead the rest of the country assuring accountability and justice in a responsible probation system. Funding a department can be done with offender fees going directly to the state. Salaries and costs of supervision can be pulled from this resource. Civil liens can be used to ensure a great majority of offenders pay for their crimes. The prison and jail populations can be reduced and taxpayers will not be burdened by the inmate bed space and repeat substance abuser bed space. Offenders will be more accountable and pay for their drug abuse. Texas can join the top states in offender accountability and efficiency with a strong probation department active in the communities protecting the citizens of Texas.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

CJAD, a critical review of current trends in Texas

Community Supervision and Corrections Departments (CSCDs) are mandated in Texas to supervise all adult probation offenders who is on for misdemeanor or felony offenses. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) oversees all of the adult probation departments throughout Texas. Out of the 121 departments throughout the State, CJAD provides two-thirds of their operational funds. The remaining one-third funds come from fees such as court-ordered supervision and program fees. According to CJAD, each county is responsible for probation office space, equipment, and costs of utilities.

According to the CJAD website, CJAD is responsible for:

  • Developing standards and procedures for CSCDs, including best-practice treatment standards.
  • Distribution of formula and grant funding provided by the state legislature.
  • Reviewing and approving each CSCD’s community justice plan and budget.
  • Conducting program and fiscal audits of CSCD operations and programs.
  • Developing an automated tracking system capable of receiving data from CSCDs’ caseload management and accounting system.
  • Providing community supervision officer and residential officer certification, in-service training, educational training, and technical assistance to CSCDs.
  • Administration of state benefits for CSCD employees.
  • CJAD does not work directly with offenders but supports and assists local CSCDs, which have this responsibility.
  • CSCDs provide offender services in accordance with their local community justice plans.

Their responsibilities include:

  • Supervision and rehabilitation of offenders sentenced to community supervision.
  • Monitoring compliance with court-ordered conditions.
  • Offering a continuum of sanctions.
  • Offering regular reporting and specialized caseloads.
  • Providing residential confinement programs.
  • Providing both residential and non-residential treatment/correctional programs.
Recognizing CJAD’s role in the Texas probation system is critical in understanding why caseload supervision officers suffer through a long-standing philosophy of minimizing sanctions or technical and non-compliance violations in order to reduce jail and prison overcrowding. This type of philosophy has perpetuated a chronic problem in Texas. Funding treatment beds outweigh the need to address important issues to caseload officers. Texas has been at the bottom when it comes to equitable professional salary of probation officers and given tools to effectively provide real supervision to offenders. There is no real or implied authority to effectively supervise a criminal population in Texas. A Texas Code guideline seems to be one of the weakest in the country in regards to protecting the population from convicted felons and others who continue down a path of criminal behavior.

Caseload officers do not have the support by of the state legislators. In other words, Texas Legislators through their infinite wisdom sanctioned a non-probation agency (CJAD) to make the rules, dictate funding, and provide training for probation officers. One would need to look outside the Texas boarders to see effective supervision of offenders. Texas focus is mainly on treatment policies. This seems to be self-serving and perpetuates their own treatment organization and does little to enhance the role of the caseload officer in supervision of offenders. One can conclude business will go on as it always does until the legislative body realizes CJAD direction does very little to protect the citizens of Texas. What CJAD will do is sanction treatment, provide funding for these treatment facilities and promote non-compliance of conditions through a reward program to lower technical violations. This seems to be the cornerstone to all questions about recidivism and reduction in the criminal population for this Austin bureaucracy.

Funding for treatment has taken precedence over protecting our neighborhoods. Budgets are passed with treatment being top of the agenda. Millions of dollars of tax revenue go to “Big Treatment, and it is Big Business.” What do we get for the buck? One can find statistics about revocations and terminations based on technical or new law violations of offenders. One statistic that is not readily available to the general public is whether treatment works. What does it cost for bed space per offender and how many times offender went through treatment programs and at what cost? What is the recidivism rate of those offenders sent to treatment? Will the offender re-use, get back in the system, and victimize someone else supporting the drug culture? Have there been any studies by CJAD to address long-term success rates of these specific state-funded programs after offenders leave the facilities. How many times an offender goes through treatment programs while on community supervision? Is this revolving door policy audited?
These questions and many more are important to analyze whether or not the on-going policies of CJAD work. We all know crime is on a national downward trend. However, in the inner cities and rural areas with methamphetamine labs and crack houses set up like local convenience stores continue to draw in more criminals and perpetuate collateral crime creating new victims as each day passes. This underground criminal society accepts violence, continues the degradation of communities, and continues to play into a blind Texas system.

Recognizing these problems and understanding the need for a policy overhaul will be one of the first steps to make responsible criminal justice policy for Texas. The need to attract and keep line officers will be a critical first step. The education and training requirement for all caseload officers throughout the country continues to be a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in the criminal justice or related field. These individuals are a value in the balanced approach of counseling and evaluating the risk and needs of offenders. Why is Texas not funding these officers? Experience of these officers is a valuable tool to effect change in behavior. The officers need to be out in the community providing guidance, monitoring, and give a valuable presence in the communities.

The officers need to have the tools to arrest, transport, and have the support of the courts to process offenders who do continue to ignore the sanctions and laws of Texas. The officers need to protect themselves and possibly others who may fall prey to these violent criminals. The mission should be to protect Texas citizens and not reduce jail populations. Many offenders get it and comply. For those offenders who do not get it, there must be swift and sure punishment. CJAD falls criminally short of serving the public, and officers are left to continue the task of monitoring high caseloads and wonder what is CJAD doing to promote a stronger criminal justice system. According to the Census Data, April 2000, Texas is the second largest state in the country with a population of 20,851,820 reportable persons. Texas should take a leadership role in addressing the needs of caseload officers and set precedence for other states to mimic. I believe Texas fails to understand that a balanced approach is needed in the supervision of offenders. We should never forget what happened in Florida with the Jessica Lunsford case, and how a weak justice system with weak courts and probation policy transformed into one of the strongest in the country. Protect the public is obviously the mission in Florida. We need to make it our mission in Texas.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Justice Center Scenarios on Treatment Programs

Justice Center, The Council of State Governments

65.1 million dollars savings between 2008-2012, lowering the prison population and increasing the bed spaces at treatment facilities.

Quoted below is the plan as presented by The Council on State Governments:
Texas Justice
“Under the leadership of three key lawmakers,
policymakers in Texas are reviewing policies in
the state to find ways to increase public safety
and to manage corrections spending and growth
in the prison population. In 2006, Senator John
Whitmire (D, Chair, Criminal Justice Committee),
Representative Jerry Madden (R, Chair, Corrections
Committee), and Senator Kim Brimer (R, Chair,
Sunset Advisory Commission) each convened
hearings and commissioned reviews to improve
their understanding of why the prison population
continues to grow and what is contributing to
high rates of failure among people released from
prison to the community and people sentenced to
This policy brief, prepared at the direction of
Senator Whitmire and Representative Madden,
reviews aspects of two possible justice reinvestment
scenarios in which policymakers enact policies
to address the projected shortfall of over 17,000
prison beds in Texas by 2012.1 In the first scenario,
policymakers increase tools available to the Parole
Board to enhance the use of parole guidelines in
the state. In the second scenario, policymakers
increase the capacity of treatment-oriented facilities
and the availability of substance abuse and mental
health services. Although the scenarios each
include distinct strategies, there is also some
overlap between the two, so the scenarios cannot be
combined simply to double the impact on prison
beds or on corrections spending.
The fiscal impact projected for each scenario is
based upon assumptions regarding cost, timing,
and diversion that have been used in prior research.
Both these assumptions and the projections
described in this brief were developed with the
help and approval of Legislative Budget Board staff.
Savings were calculated by comparing the cost of
each scenario with the status quo (i.e., the budget
presented by TDCJ in the General Appropriations
Bill, As Introduced, Eightieth Legislative Regular
Session, 2007.)2
The Justice Center is providing intensive technical assistance to Texas and a limited number of other states that demonstrate a
bipartisan interest in justice reinvestment—a data-driven strategy for policymakers to reduce spending on corrections, increase
public safety, and improve conditions in the neighborhoods to which most people released from prison return.
Collaborative Approaches Projected Fiscal Impact to Public Safety
$65.1 million
net savings for the five-year period of 2008 –2012
explanation: For the 2008–2009 fiscal year, the LBB projects
no savings in General Revenue because of the $78.9 million cost
associated with increasing the number of treatment-oriented
beds and services. For the three-year period of 2010–2012,
however, the total projected savings is of $144.1 million as the
prison population is reduced from the projected baseline level.
This results in a five-year net savings of $65.1 million. This
does not include avoided construction cost of $377.7 for the
construction of new prisons as was proposed by TDCJ as an
“exceptional item” to the state appropriations bill.
1. Projections by the Legislative Budget Board, January 2007 as
discussed in the Council of State Governments Justice Center bulletin
entitled “Recent and Projected Growth of the Texas Prison Population,”
January 2007.
2. Memorandum from John O’Brian, Director of the LBB to Senator John
Whitmire, January 23, 2006.
3. The Sunset Advisory Commission is a 12-member body of legislators
and public members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and
the Speaker of the House of Representatives to provide the legislature
with assessments of an agency’s programs. The Commission convened a
review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 2006. In October
2006, the Commission published its staff report entitled “Sunset
Advisory Commission: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Board of
Pardons and Paroles, Correctional Managed Health Care Committee Staff
4. Sunset Advisory Commission: Texas Department of Criminal Justice,
Board of Pardons and Paroles, Correctional Managed Health Care Committee
Staff Report, October 2006, page 13.
5. For a complete analysis, see The Council of State Governments Justice
Center, “ Policy Options to Increase Public Safety and to Manage the
Growth of the Texas Prison Population,” January 2007.
6. Ibid, Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report, page 11.
7. Ibid, page 13.”
8. Council of State Governments Justice Center, “Policy Options to
Increase Public Safety and to Manage the Growth of the Texas Prison
Population,” January 2007.
figure 4: General Revenue Related Funds, Five-Year
Fiscal Impact of Scenario Two (“Increase Availability
of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment-
Oriented Facilities and Services”)
Probable Net Positive/(Negative)
Impact to General Revenue Funds
2008 ($58,899,220)
2009 ($20,074,299)
Subtotal 2008–09 ($78,973,519)
2010 $19,672,192
2011 $46,755,795
2012 $77,679,739
Subtotal 2010–12 $144,107,726
Total Net
Savings 2008–12
Justice Center
Council of State Governments
100 Wall Street, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10005
project contact:
LaToya McBean
(646) 383-5721
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national
nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local,
state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The
Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus driven
strategies, informed by available evidence, to increase
public safety and strengthen communities. The board of directors
for the center includes, as its vice chairperson, the Honorable
Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals. Representative Jerry Madden, Chair of the Texas House
Corrections Committee, also serves on this board. Dr. Tony
Fabelo, working with designated agency and legislative staff in
Texas, coordinates the project in Texas for the Justice Center.
Research and analysis described in this report
has been funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance,
a division of the U.S. Department of
Justice and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Through
its Public Safety Performance Project, which assists
select states that want better results from
their sentencing and corrections systems, Pew’s
project provides nonpartisan research, analysis
and expertise to help states identify data-driven,
fiscally responsible options for protecting public
safety, holding offenders accountable, and controlling
corrections costs.
4 Texas Justice Reinvestment Scenarios

This writer believes these scenarios should provoke a great deal of interest for probation. Funding treatment programs seem to move with ease when the alternative is paying for new prison beds. High costs of manning prisons and building additional prisons have become more unpopular today among the legislative bodies around the country. Addressing the root of the problem of criminal behavior and the on-going drug/alcohol addiction among many offenders is vital to keep our communities safe. Sending these offenders to treatment seems to be the panacea to reduce prison populations. It would be an interesting read to review the recidivist rates of those who successfully completed treatment verses those who completed time incarcerated in the state penitentiary. A study is needed to do a cost comparison of offenders who complete the treatment programs, relapse, and end up back in the system and more treatment and/or incarceration. Could the multiple trips to treatment facilities outweigh the cost of a prison bed? I would be naive to say treatment works the first time for all who are referred to the programs. At first glance savings of $65.1 million dollars seems like someone stumbled on the missing Dead Sea Scrolls, but after applying reality to the statistically challenging scenario, it seems somewhat misleading without addressing recidivism. At some point, we are going to have to look at building prisons or filling beds because treatment does not work all the time for all people. It is a good tool for those who wish to remove themselves from this underground drug culture. For those who play the treatment card, we need to be ready to raise the stakes with the real cost analysis or we can fold and continue to address treatment as a revolving door solution. I wonder how can a treatment bed is cheaper than a minimum stay prison bed and why treatment providers are not used more often in a prison setting?
My experience remembers visiting many prisons and noticing AA/NA meetings, drug abuse classes, and other programs for those who wish to participate and take full advantage of free treatment. Criminal behavior should be looked at more carefully and not rewarded with a get of jail treatment card. Being mindful of the full scope of criminal behavior with drug/alcohol addiction brings me to conclude we should be selective as to how our tax revenues are spent on treatment. I believe in a one-time treatment program sanctioned by the State. If you are referred to treatment, you will get one opportunity to succeed at no expense to you. If you fail or relapse, as many do, then you will need to pay for the treatment or face the consequences of non-compliance. This accountable system will never be popular among the legislators. Drug and alcohol abusers should not be allowed to frequent as many treatment facilities as deemed necessary to avoid jail time. AA/NA meetings are available nearly everywhere in the country. The 12 steps, if worked diligently by the abuser, can change his or her life. Once the tools are given to the offender, it is time to see if he or she can build on their sobriety. Lets make the offender accountable and not the taxpayer.