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.

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