Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 10:38 AM CDT
In 2007, when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was last under review by Texas' Sunset Advisory Commission, sunset staff outlined the following stark dilemma: The state could expect the prison population to exceed capacity by more than 11,000 beds in five years, and the Legislature would either need to build new prisons, or expand rehabilitation and diversion programs with the hope that it would reduce incarceration. The State's criminal justice system was at a crossroads.
The Legislature chose alternatives to incarceration, and today the number of people going back to prison for violating probation and parole is down, the Parole Board's release rate is up, State jail and prison reincarceration rates have declined, and, for the first time in history, Texas closed a prison. So, while we still have a big problem with overincarceration (Fun Fact: we imprison more of our citizenry than the People's Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran), the Sunset Advisory Commission met under very different circumstances to discuss criminal justice agencies on June 5th of this year than it did in 2007.
On the agenda at the public hearing was the the sunset staff report on TDCJ, Correctional Managed Health Care, Windham School District, and the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The full list of sunset staff recommendations is below the fold.
Among staff's recommendations, I found those related to reentry most interesting. The sunset staff's report reveals that Texas could do a whole lot to move ex-offenders from prison to communities successfully and safely. TDCJ currently lacks the written reentry plans required by a state law passed in 2009 by the Legislature, and the Steering Committee set up by TDCJ leadership to define the agency's comprehensive reentry strategies has not established clear goals or even timelines for such a plan.
And although TDCJ is piloting a criminogenic assessment tool for use in probation, it has yet to implement broad-based criminogenic assessments of prisoners on intake as required as part of the agency's (again, yet to be written) reentry plan contemplated by the Legislature's 2009 law. TDCJ estimates such a broad based criminogenic assessment tool to be several years from implementation. Assessing criminogenic factors-- such as anti-social attitudes and values, family disfunction, and substance abuse-- is important for TDCJ to do, because addressing criminogenic factors through targeted interventions (i.e., life skills classes, therapy, substance abuse education programs, vocational and educational programs, etc.) reduces recidivism.
Sunset Staff think that TDCJ and its partner agencies-- Windham School District (WSD - TDCJ's educational system) and the Board of Pardons and Paroles-- are doing an inadequate job of coordinating reentry programming for inmates. The poor communication between TDCJ, WSD and the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Sunset staff thinks, may be resulting in inefficient duplications of programming and missed opportunities for reentry programming.
The agency could better coordinate reentry programming with relatively easy, low-cost fixes. The agencies may be able to better coordinate programming if they utilized existing classification hearings. TDCJ staff already meet face-to-face with prisoners to determine security levels and job assignments, and sunset staff recommended that they also investigate whether a prisoner has additional programming needs such as education or treatment. Sunset staff also identified the existing Individualized Treatment Plan (ITP), each prisoner's "record of institutional progress" while in Windham and TDCJ, as an underutilized resource which could help the agencies better coordinate prisoner programming. Sunset staff noted the following problems with current utilization of ITP's:
It seems that changes to TDCJ's reentry planning and programming could continue the Legislature down the path they chose last session and move Texas towards a saner, less costly criminal justice system. The full list of recommendations in the Sunset Staff Report can be viewed below the fold.
- Although TDCJ policy requires prisoners to meet with an "ITP team" to make determinations about possible program placement during incarceration, the ITP team no longer exists, no-one interviews prisoners to discuss programming needs prior to program placement, and no individual or team is responsible for managing a prisoner's overall programming.
- The ITP does not track participation in several new state-funded programs and intensive volunteer programs
- Responsibility for entering data into a prisoner's ITP is spread among many groups, and no uniform process exists to ensure data in the ITP is accurate, complete, and regularly updated.
- Different agencies utilize the ITP in different ways. Neither TDCJ nor the Parole Board input programming needs and priority information until after the prisoner is assigned to a program by the Parole Board as a condition of release. Windham inputs programming needs and priority information. Windham Counselors utilize the information input by Windham staff to place the highest priority prisoners in programs when they become available
|Issue 1: Texas has a continuing need for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Recommendation
- 1.1 Continue the Board and Department of Criminal Justice for 12 years.
Issue 2: Reentry strategies lack focus and coordination, limiting opportunities for Texas to further reduce recidivism and system costs. Change in Statute
- 2.1 Require TDCJ to produce a written reentry plan, detailing the reentry goals and strategies, and how it will evaluate the plan.
- 2.2 Require TDCJ to implement a system-wide risk and needs assessment for use in managing offenders on probation, parole, and in prison.
- 2.3 Require TDCJ to leverage existing resources to institute a case management system for offenders.
- 2.4 Require the Individual Treatment Plan (ITP) to capture all of an offender's risk and needs information, as well as all participation in both state-funded and volunteer programs.
- 2.5 Require the Parole Board to use the ITP in making programing placement decisions.
- 2.6 Expand the statutory membership and duties of the Reentry Task Force.
Issue 3: Community supervision funding formulas and grant processes need strengthening to keep pace with a changing adult probation system Change in Statute
- 3.1 Require CJAD (Community Justice Assistance Division) to establish standard grant processes.
- 3.2 Require CJAD to study the use of performance-based funding formulas and report its recommendations to the Legislature.
Issue 4: Statute does not align with recent changes in state's approach to providing offender health care. Change in Statute
- 4.1 Clarify TDCJ's Authority to contract with any provider for offender health care, to include, but not be limited to, specifically named university providers
- 4.2 Require TDCJ to adhere to standard contracting requirements for offender healthcare services contracts, and report healthcare cost and use information to state leadership.
- 4.3 Restructure the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee as a committee to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, instead of maintaining and independent state agency
Issue 5: Without a Regular review of the Windham School District and its programs, the Legislature cannot best direct resources to program that work. Change in Statute
- 5.1 Require Windham to conduct biennial program evaluations to measure whether its programs reduce recidivism and meet the district's other statutory goals, and to recommend changes to programs when needed.
- 5.2 Require Windham to be reviewed by the Sunset Commission in conjunction with future Sunset reviews of TDCJ.
Issue 6: The Parole Board's ability to make effective parole release decisions is impeded by its limited use available resources and inconsistent access to information. Change in Statute
- 6.1 Require the Parole Board to develop and maintain recommended parole approval rates for use with the parole guidelines, and to conduct peer reviews to help improve parole decision making and management of its operations.
- 6.2 Require standardized processes to ensure crime victim input is available for Parole Board consideration.
- 6.3 Require parole panels, when approving or denying an offender's release from incarceration, to provide clear and understandable explanation of the panel's decision.
- 6.4 Authorize the Parole Board to delegate all hearings, but not final determinations, to its hearing officers.
Issue 7: Texas Correctional Industries cannot sell to privately run correctional facilities, resulting in a missed opportunity to reduce TDCJ's general revenue funding. Change in Statute
- Authorize TCI to sell offender-made goods to companies that contract with TDCJ to house state offenders
Issue 8: Texas Criminal Justice agencies' statutes do not reflect standard elements of Sunset Reviews Change in Statute
- 8.1 Abolish TDCJ's report on bed ratios for SAFP facilities, and continue all other reporting requirements for TDCJ, the Committee, Windham, and the Parole Board.
- 8.2 TDCJ should research and implement innovative alternatives to recruit a more diverse workforce.