Steven Kreytak writes an excellent piece in today’s Statesman highlighting a major flaw in the Travis County probation system. I’m sure there are similar issues all over the state, but I am personally familiar with the situation based on representing defendants arrested for possession of controlled substances in Austin. From Kreytak’s article:
Statistics show that hundreds of newly sentenced probationers in Travis County are waiting to get into court-ordered substance abuse treatment.
Judges send some offenders to county jails to wait for a treatment slot to open up, exacerbating the county’s ongoing jail crowding problem. Others are released into the community to fight their addiction on their own.
The wait for treatment is usually several months, department officials said.
The waiting lists in Travis County are among the longest in the state and could hinder the probation department’s ambitious overhaul of its practices.
Naturally, when a defendant is sentenced to probation for a drug offense, “treatment and counseling as recommended” is a condition of their supervision. This is so common in Austin that prosecutors simply write the acronym “TCAR” on their files as a part of their plea bargain recommendations.
However, for felony charges, this often means that the defendant must “wait in jail until a bed opens up” in whatever treatment facility is “recommended”. The practical effect of this is to add long periods of incarceration to a defendant’s sentence, because not enough counseling options are available.
It’s a problem that only adequate funding can address, because, as the article points out, offenders released from jail immediately into community supervision (probation) often do not have their treatment needs met immediately, and re-offend prior to receiving counseling. This leads to an immediate filing of a Motion to Revoke Probation, with the defendant back in court.
The defense lawyer is then left to argue to the judge that the original sentence of prison should not be imposed, because the client is still in need of treatment. Of course, at this point, the judge is even more likely to leave the defendant in jail waiting treatment, which compounds our local jail overcrowding problems.