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.


Anonymous said...

There are two important committees which are involved with making changes to the Texas probation system. These committees have been meeting quarterly for years but are not well known. They are the Probation Advisory Committee (PAC) and the Supervision Officer Committee (SOC).

The PAC is made up of Chief Probation Officers, Judges, a CJAD Liaison, and the SOC Chairperson. The SOC members are supervision line officers selected from CSCD's.

The SOC is involved with many important issues at the state level. One important interest is officer safety. In 2006 a Safety Committee was formed to develope standards for officer safety. The standards were presented but did not receive support from the PAC. The recommnded standards were viewed as "onerous" by the PAC and some CSCD directors. There was also little reason to believe CJAD could provide the funds needed to support a statewide safety program.

The PAC and SOC meetings are open to the public. The meetings are normally held in Austin, Texas. These metings are an opportunity for officers to learn what decissions are being made at the state level. Officers can also contact SOC members. The Chairperson, Tina Dublin, has always welcomed my attendance at these meetings and has expressed a desire for more officers to attend. Her e-mail address is tdublin@adultprobation.net and she works in Williamson County.

Douglas Tomasini

Anonymous said...

question: Who picks the supervision officers AND allows them to speak the truth, no matter what?

Anonymous said...

...These committees have been meeting quarterly for years? What have they done to fix the disaster we call CJAD? CJAD is a joke and a total waste of tax-payers money. CJAD is a puppet for the money grabbing treatment and bed services providers. Why didn't they pick up Project Spotlight in 2003? SPOTLIGHT was a sanction type of supervision, 40% more violations yet had a lower revocation rate than the average caseload. So, Do they really care or are they just swaying with the wind of those wanting easy tax-payer money? I don't think the average supervision officer can speak the truth without expecting retaliation!

Anonymous said...

I may have to hate you forever...you have compelled me to defend CJAD and that is a crime unforgivable...
First off CJAD works for TDCJ. When speaking to the Legislature about ideas the field has or funding issues, the conversation always, and I mean ALWAYS, turns to..."have you talked to CJAD about this?" However, it should be more to the tune of "have you talked to TDCJ about this?" Secondly, you seem to have a little information about the funding of CSCDs, but you are also under the misconception that CJAD has total control over the $. Not true. Basic Supervision and Community Corrections funding are formula driven. The offender population and census information in individual counties drive that funding. It is true that CJAD has discretion in funding Diversion Programs, and there is significant money tied up in these funds but if you truly look at the legislation over the years you will realize that much of that money is specific to a certain type of program, Mental Health, Substance Abuse treatment, etc.

I actually agree with your statement about changing CJAD’s role, however, I think it better serves the state and CSCDs if we work to remove CJAD from underneath TDCJ.
Let’s be honest, TDCJ has 39,000 (+) employees, the majority of which are in the institutional division (prisons), of course that is going to be their biggest priority, who can really, honestly blame them? So take the probation oversight away from them, let probation have a true advocate. However, for this to happen I think probation would have to suffer some serious disaster much like TYC is still going through.

You claim in your second paragraph that there is a correlation between substance abuse treatment administrators and the flow of illegal drugs. That is ludicrous.
Now I hesitate to insult you, for I really am curious as to where you got your information, but, Are you serious? How many Program Administrators for treatment do you know? I would bet money that I know many more than you and none of them made a ton of money. In fact, CJAD advised the field to stop contracting with at least one provider that had some serious fiscal improprieties. You would have to put some hard data down to convince me. Also the treatment bed issue, while I think the Legislature has stressed this issue way to much while ignoring basic supervision elements, you need to realize that research is driving their funding of treatment beds. Actual research. I know you heard it, I don’t believe anyone can hide from the message of Evidence Based Practices for 13 years.

I am overwhelmed at your opinion, information and assumptions on progressive sanctions. I hold no hope that a mere paragraph or two from me will open your eyes to both the purpose and desired outcomes of an effective progressive intervention program. I will just tell you that you missed the boat, and sadly many probation officers do. I think our managers should take note of this and work harder to teach us. Progressive interventions are not about giving extra chances; it is about increasing the likelihood of success with a probationer. It should be based upon proven methods.

Let’s briefly go over your list;
1 and 2. I personally agree with what you say about a better choice for an oversight agency. It does not hold with your other requests. You say you want competent oversight and yet you ask for unlimited law enforcement powers while asking for less discretion. Frankly, you seem confused as to what you want.
3 and 4. Here we go, take away some of my discretion as an officer. I can see it already, violent offender’s car breaks down on the freeway and they miss their appointment. They don’t call because they have no cell phone and there they go…off to prison. Before you start yelling that this is not what you meant, realize that when you ask for something, what you meant isn’t what you get. Of course if you were nodding and thinking that it was good that the probationer goes to prison, quit now, go do something else.

5. Okay, kind of already been done with HB 1678, but okay.

6. Well, if you did your job correctly, then you would probably only let people expire still owing monies that really could not afford to pay. I am not sure what you are trying to get at here.

7. Okay

8,9,10 and 12. Whoa, can you say power trip? Maybe you should look at some Supreme Court Cases, eh? U.S. vs Knight is a good start. Under your requests we can darn near dispose of local law enforcement. I am all for protecting officers, I am not sure arming them is consistent with that goal. Weren’t officers armed in Bexar County before? Didn’t they lose their firearms due to some poor judgment? I was not there so I may be wrong here. I can only conclude you have some desire to be law enforcement, I encourage you to switch fields. No, it isn’t the same thing.

11, 13,14 and 15. Okay but you seem to forget that all this costs money. Look at it like this, how are you going to convince the state to spend more money when there is no cost benefit or worse yet a negative impact? All this is well and good but your bio says a realistic view. That’s fantasy not reality.

As for the rest of them and your summary. I think it is hard to argue that Texas isn’t serious about crime. I think we need to be serious about reducing crime, your suggestions appear to gravitate towards just catching them at it. I hope the days of ‘Trail ‘em, nail ‘em and jail ‘em” are gone. Again, I think maybe you should go back to Law Enforcement., but that is just my opinion. It all seems a bit self serving to me.

Bryan Shreve said...

Dear Anonymous,

I sincerely hope you do not hate me forever. You seem to be a kind person and wish the best for you. I do understand the concept of CJAD and TDCJ along with funding. I do understand administrators do not want to change the “fortress supervision” many are used to and fear going into the community to do the job. The many risks are endless. I understand the more aggressive officers are in the community, the more violations or motion to revokes will happen, which will eventually lead to reduction of local budgets based on revocations, and we don’t want this. I understand the “funding of CSCDs,” and the need for administrators to keep as many offenders out of jail and reporting to the probation office. I understand the “formula” driven system and how local authorities blame Austin for no support of officers and those in Austin blame local authorities. I understand the big picture of treatment and funding for treatment will lead some to not re-use. I do not understand why no surveys or statistics on treatment recidivism rates or failure rates per offender are measured. I believe there is a need to follow defendants through the maze of programs and count how many times we need to go through before accountability starts. I have researched many sources, locally and nationally, and I can’t seem to place my hands on any of the real costs of an offender going through the entire system multiple times (crime, probation, treatment, probation, violation, treatment, probation, violation) and whether successful or not. Treatment is a big business, and I have worked with treatment providers in the business and learned about contracts and providers competing for those contracts. If providers are not making a positive cash flow, then the business could no longer exist. There is nothing wrong with treatment, I have a problem with offenders receiving treatment program after treatment program at the cost to taxpayers.

In the comments about evidence based practices, you missed the picture, and this is my fault. I don’t have a problem with what has worked and applying theories that do work. I have an issue with accepting evidenced based practices that seem to offer a panacea to all administrators forgetting about our role in the communities. If a first-time offender needs treatment, great, I will sign him or her up. If the offender makes a technical mistake or needs motivation, great we can handle it. I don’t believe all should go to jail. I enjoy talking to those who report in and hope I can influence his or her life in a positive way. I take issue to those who victimize the innocent. The sex offenders, drug dealers, and repeat offenders who prey on our children and society as a whole need to have strong supervision. These individuals do need constant surveillance and sanctions when necessary to protect the public. If you knocked on the door past 6 p.m., as I have for years, and supervised felony offenders alone without backup or law enforcement support, you may be typing similar blog spots as this one. The news to some may be that we supervise known felons. If you had stumbled onto weapons, drugs, or pornography in a house, and you are by yourself, can you confidently say, Houston we don’t have a problem? Doing field work is risky business, but being in the community is doing the job. Officers take an oath to protect the community, and I know you don’t want to hear this, but if you are strictly a counselor type, you should have turned in your badge and went into treatment where all our tax money goes. The pendulum swinging in either far direction is not right. I am a proponent of keeping the pendulum of justice in the middle allowing those who wish to comply and become rehabilitated a chance to do so, and those who do not a chance to go to jail. Officers must supervise both in the office and out of the office. If not, who is to know what really goes on in their lives. We as officers need reformation of Texas probation to resolve the plight of being overlooked by administrators, politicians, and the courts. Victims need to have us out there monitoring offenders and assuring justice is on their side. So far, it has been all about the defendant and very little about the victim. Let’s bring sanity back in our system. If this means we will have arrest, search, and other law enforcement authority, *so be it. It has passed the constitutional muster, and arrest powers are part of a probation officer’s job whether you agree or not, it is very legal and very constitutional proven by other states. It is a tool to protect officers from being shot in the field and protect others from being victimized. Florida probation officers are required to do their jobs and conduct random searches and arrest if needed in order to prevent another Jessica Lunsford victim. My question to you is what are you willing to do as an officer to protect a child? What tools do you need to effectively supervise a sex offender in the community? Do you want to know what is on his or her computer and if he is stalking or preying on other victims? How are we to know without search authority? Do you want to go into a house with a known gang banger and possible weapons hidden in a drawer? If you conducted a probation search, you may save a child’s life in a possible drive by. Do you not go into the house when you supervise? What are your choices? Do you walk away and say let law enforcement handle it? The first thing LEO will question is why didn’t you seize the pornography before it was destroyed or seized the guy prior to the drive by? LEOs do not supervise and know the offenders as we should, and LEO don’t have jurisdiction like probation officers do. These are real situations in real times by real officers. Sitting behind a desk, you and I will never have to make these choices. Can you be confident to say you know what is going on in your probationer’s life when he or she leaves the office? If you are an officer, I hope you rethink our role in the community. I hope to serve the public and do all I can to prevent a victim from being molested or a student being swayed by a drug dealer down the street or in his neighborhood. By the way, we have a ton of drug dealers on probation. How else are we going to know these offenders unless we take a chance ourselves and become part of their lives in the neighborhoods they live in? In order to do this we must, as a profession, protect our own, and give officers the tools to effectively supervise known felons. Progressive sanctions, restorative justice, and evidenced based practices should be part of our vocabulary, but doing our jobs should be the first thing on our minds. The need for a uniform probation department will create a powerful resource for our community and eventually bring accountability back to Texas.

Anonymous said...

"Department of Probation", what a great idea. A new state agency that would have absolutely no politcs, what a great idea. A new agency that eliminates treatment, what a great idea. A new agency that allows Tom, Dick, and Jane to carry a gun, wow, what a great idea. I wonder often who is really using drugs in our society, maybe the bloggers. These ideas would fit well in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is looking for these types of inovation.

TCPCD said...

Dear Anonymous 10:05.

Thank you for your tongue and cheek comment. I did get a laugh out of your perception and comments of eliminating treatment and “officers” being allowed to carry a firearms.

As to be expected, some including yourself probably are groomed in local politics, staying in your office, collecting fees, and marching to the drum beat of keeping inflated caseloads to keep a bulging probation budget and administrators salaries high.

What is somewhat immature is the reference of Hugo Chavez. Based on your witticism, I believe it will be a long road ahead trying to convince social work types about the real hazards and costs of effective supervision. Your fear is obvious in losing local control and changing probation as you know it.

My fear is keeping probation in Texas as you know it and possibly fail to be proactive supervision in the community by being in the community resulting in the death or rape of a child or another shooting at a high school. Blaming the other “guy” is a lazy way of saying it is not my job.

Most of the public assume we are out there. Most of us are not. We don’t know if the offender (not client) who is on for selling cocaine or methamphetamines is still selling because we don’t go to his or her house look around and find illegal drugs and guns.

Other states mandate probation officers to search offenders person, vehicles, and houses for contraband. By the way, it has passed constitutional muster and doesn’t interfere with civil rights of felons. He or she could be selling drugs or weapons to your daughter or son or unemployed brother-in-law while on probation. What is your solution? If he or she happens to get caught again (by no effort on our part), send the dealer to treatment because he or she has a drug problem? I don’t want to get started on all the sex offenders and risks they pose in our community!

If by chance officers find their caseloads low enough to go into the field and make visits, what neighborhoods do they go into? Do you believe the gang banger carrying a 9mm cares who Hugo Chavez is or whether treatment is a good thing? How about thinking of protecting officers from harm. Defensive purpose is what I am talking about. No glamour or cowboys riding into the sunset. States around the country value their officers and mandate officers carry. Some officers choose not to based on type of caseload and training. Train officers effectively by officers who have real experience in the neighborhoods, you will see a big change in officers wanting to go out and make unannounced home visits.

Some of us have not been out of the office after 6 p.m. I find it comforting to know I can go to work, sit at my desk, counsel those offenders for 5-15 minutes per month and be confident no crime or illegal activity will happen from this offender because he or she is on probation and would not dare risk more probation for violations. At this point I am laughing at myself.

Someone needs to tell Dorothy she needs to click three times to get out of Oz. I digress and apologize for the frustration of lack of concern of our families living in these crime-infested neighborhoods. We owe it to our sons, daughters, and school children to do our job.

You carry a badge and call yourself an officer? If so, then let’s start acting like it and not let your heart be troubled about doing the job. To do it right as expected, send those who need treatment to treatment (as you obviously missed the big point in the original “blog“), those who prey on victims, let’s watch, those who sell drugs, let’s search them, those on sex offenses, let’s watch closer.

Surveillance is in our vocabulary and most of our standard operating procedures. Being an officer is part of what you and I should be doing. Why in the world would you be called an officer if you did not act like an officer? Help our kids feel safe in their neighborhoods and homes and join us in using both treatment and accountability as guidelines to real supervision. Mandate a state wide probation department will rid ourselves of local politics and inconsistent policies which result in poor officer safety or watered down supervision.

As of this moment, if you reflect on your career, can you be confident our society is safer because you made a difference? We need two major changes for our profession.

1. Officers given the responsibility to actively supervise offenders by giving them the tools to keep themselves safe in the community.

2. Develop an agency or department to be accountable to the governor and not hundreds of judges with different agendas or philosophies. Probation officers will become better trained, salaries should improve (officers are ridiculously underpaid with no help on a local level) and clear and concise policies can be adhered to in order to protect our citizens and properly supervise offenders.

Again, I do appreciate your comments and concerns Anonymous 10:05. I hope you are somber, as I am, when I reflect back on my own oath to protect the citizens of our great State of Texas and realize supervision is not just about smoke and mirrors and reactive policies.

Take care