It’s my pleasure (as a UT Law graduate myself) to point my readers to an excellent article in Tuesday’s Daily Texan titled “Probation may be a problem in Texas’ criminal justice system”. Kudos to Nolan Hicks and Ingrid Norton for the excellent reporting (maybe I didn’t scour the Texan enough, but honestly, I don’t remember the pieces being of this high quality back in my school days).
Scott Henson’s co-worker Ana Yáñez-Correa is quoted in the article:
"There are too many people for the officers to keep track," said Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a prison reform advocacy group. "Each probation officer has to look at 150 cases."
Texas has longer probation supervision than any other state in the country. The profits Texas receives from supervision fees provide an incentive for the state to maintain long probation periods, Yáñez-Correa said. She said there is a reluctance to let people off their probation early, even if they have complied with supervision restrictions.
"Probation profits from those on it," Yáñez-Correa said. "They don’t let people off early."
Scott himself posted about this topic earlier this week. Quoting his post from the Sunset review earlier this week:
Probation fees make up about half of local probation departments’ funding, said Bill Fitzgerald, director of the Bexar County Probation Department.
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire asked whether that economic incentive caused departments to keep people on probation longer than necessary because they needed their fees.
"Definitely," replied Fitzgerald. He said his local judges agreed that was a factor and the need for probationers’ fees made them reticent to use early release mechanisms for successful probationers.
Back to the Daily Texan article:
Tony Fabelo, a prison analyst who used to head Texas’ Criminal Justice Policy Council, said the whole probation system must be rearranged to give priority to supervising violent offenders, rehabilitating drug users and making sure the rest comply with probation rules. He said right now there are too many (probationers) for officers to prioritize.
"We have a probation system that in general is badly organized," Fabelo said. "It’s a big paperwork processing machine. They’re not supervising these people."
Fabelo noted that Texas’ supervision terms of up to 10 years are the longest of any state, contributing to high caseloads. The result is that not enough attention goes to new probates. With such long supervision periods, (probationers) also have more chances to mess up, he said.
Longer probations, even for first time possession of controlled substance offenses, than any other state, so that Texas can collect more in fees. And then, not enough caseworkers and time spent for supervising serious offenders.
Isn’t it time we moved past the knee-jerk "do the crime, do the time" reactions we see when folks suggest reforming probation?