BUDGET-EXPENSES ANNUITY INVESTMENTS




    Budgets are important in practically every aspect of life. Paying bills, annuity investments, making room in your budget to afford all possible expenses. Budgeting and expenses are something everyone has to consider, and a reason so many look to save money or look into annuity investments like those found here in order to help. Even prisons have to budget out their money to help with expenses. Their budget must allow them to pay for all expenses necessary to keep the prison running smoothly for all imprisoned and working in the facility.


2014


    Why Fewer Prisons Are Good for Texas’s Economy

    MARC LEVIN, THE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR EFFECTIVE JUSTICE AND CO-FOUNDER OF RIGHT ON CRIME, MAKES THE FISCAL CONSERVATIVE’S ARGUMENT FOR CLOSING CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES.

    By NATE BLAKESLEE
    MARCH 11, 2014

    Marc Levin is the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), the state’s leading conservative think tank. He is also one of the founders of Right on Crime, a national campaign to promote criminal justice reforms in state legislatures across the country. Criminal justice advocacy has traditionally been the province of those on the left side of the political spectrum, but that has changed. Levin’s chief message, that incarcerating too many people for too long for nonviolent crimes isn’t a good use of taxpayer funds, has resonated with conservative voters and legislators.

    He advocates more effective and less costly measures, such as drug courts, which divert low-level drug offenders to treatment programs instead of prison, and more effective use of probation. Levin (pictured below) and his colleagues, in concert with reform advocates like the ACLU and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, have helped foment a shift in long-held attitudes about criminal justice in the state in recent years. After decades of adding prison beds, Texas has actually closed three adult prison units along with a number of youth lockups since 2011. We recently spoke to Levin at TPPF headquarters, in Austin, where he walked us through the conservative case for criminal justice reform.

    Read the complete interview here.


    2013


    April 27, 2013

    House Votes To Buy West Texas Lockup, Despite Declining Prison Population

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff


    Photo By; Greg Kendall-Ball
    The $35 million Jones County Secure Detention Facility, built to hold 1,100 state
    prisoners whom Texas officials decided they could not afford to send there,
    sits empty on the edge of Anson in West Texas.
    Jones County now faces default on its construction bonds.

    The Texas House on Friday voted to buy an unused West Texas prison for $19.5 million, brushing aside growing criticism that the state has 12,000 empty prison beds and is wasting taxpayers’ money.

    The decision to leave intact funding for the 1,100-bed Jones County lockup is expected to set up a showdown with Senate leaders, who have openly criticized the House as engaging in pork barrel politics.

    The House approved the purchase in House Bill 1025, a supplemental appropriations measure, by a 129-9 vote.

    “We’ll look forward to a discussion with the Senate,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “This is just putting it out there for discussion. This is not the final version of the bill.”

    The $35 million prison was built by the county with private bonds in 2009, after the state signed a contract with Jones County to house state convicts there. But before the lockup opened, the state canceled its contract because the prison population was declining.

    The prison has been idle ever since, and county officials and bondholders are on the hook for the expenses.

    Supporters of the plan argue that the county was duped by the state into building the facility, and the state should pay for it. They argue that the purchase price is only a fraction of its worth — a great deal for taxpayers.

    State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, had proposed an amendment to drop funding to buy the jail. But it never came up for a vote Friday.

    “I decided I had other fish to fry,” he said. “I know we don’t need those beds. But this is going to conference with the Senate. I’m sure they will do the right thing.” Other House members who opposed buying the empty prison said the bottom line was politics: They agreed to leave the purchase money intact, in exchange for support on other bills.

    Senators had angered House supporters of the purchase earlier this week by criticizing the deal as an example of wasteful spending by House Republicans who tout themselves as fiscal conservatives. One key object of their ire was Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who had announced that he was actively working to kill funding “to buy a prison we never needed, don’t need, never will need.”

    Under the House plan, the lockup would be mothballed for possible future use, if the state prison population ever climbs again to the point that it is needed. Whitmire and other Senate leaders said mothballing carries hefty maintenance costs in the meantime.

    House Votes To Buy West Texas Lockup, Despite Declining Prison Population


    Feb. 7, 2013
    GOVERNMENT SPENDING: PRISONS

    Senators To State Corrections Officials: Tighten Your Belts
    Additional funding requests draw rebuke, warning to stop paying for empty prison beds.

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff

    Senate budget writers warned the leaders of Texas’ criminal justice agencies Thursday to stop paying for thousands of empty beds at state-owned lockups and shift that money to other, more pressing needs.

    The directive came as new statistics revealed that the 111 state prisons might have as many as 10,000 empty bunks and hundreds more at the six state-owned lockups for teenagers, even as the state pays $123 million a year to lease beds from private corrections companies.

    “We’re spending millions of dollars to maintain bricks and mortar we don’t need,” said state Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, expressing irritation that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department between them are seeking about $400 million in budget increases — even as the number of offenders in both agencies declines.

    “We’ve got to quit, once and for all, running these facilities just because they’re there for economic development purposes,” Whitmire said. “We need to use taxpayers’ money to fight crime, on the public safety priorities of this state, rather than just on bricks and mortar that in some cases we don’t need.”

    Adult-corrections chief Brad Livingston and juvenile-justice chief Mike Griffiths told the committee they are looking for budget efficiencies, though they gave no specifics.

    Whitmire wanted specifics, asking why the state continues to lease thousands of prison beds from private prison companies when state bunks sit empty. On Thursday, Livingston said the adult system held just under 151,000 prisoners, down from nearly 157,000 two years ago.

    Whitmire wants to close the 2,100-bed Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the 2,200-bed Dawson State Jail in Dallas, both operated under contract by Corrections Corporation of America.

    “It would seem wise to get out of the private-lease beds as the contracts come up for renewal,” Whitmire said, insisting that as many as 10,000 state beds are empty. Livingston put that number closer to 4,600, saying all the empty beds can’t be filled because prison officials need the ability to properly manage convicts.

    “But there are other beds we don’t need either,” the senator said, noting that 400 boot-camp beds in state prisons now hold only 30 convicts. Whitmire said he is filing legislation to shutter that program.

    Still, Livingston argued that his agency needs a boost beyond the $3-billion-a-year budget it had already requested. The agency needs, among other things, to repair existing prisons, hire more parole officers, buy computers, hire 100 employees to help prisoners successfully reintegrate into society, and replace old vehicles, including 20-year-old prison buses with more than 600,000 miles on them and trucks with more than a million miles.

    State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, questioned why Texas continues to incarcerate about 6,400 illegal immigrants convicted of state crimes who could be turned over to federal authorities for deportation. Livingston said the state recoups a small share of the cost, $12 million, from the federal government.

    Griffiths said he needs more money to hire additional guards, provide more treatment and diversion programs for youth offenders, repair existing lockups and add more SWAT teams to deal with violent youths.

    Noting that the juvenile-justice agency had about 1,100 offenders in lockups on Thursday — “about the size of a junior high school here in Austin” — Whitmire said the agency should close some lockups and consolidate offenders at the remaining ones. Most juvenile lockups are operating at far less than their capacity, some less than half full.


    EMPTY JUVENILE BEDS: At a glance
    Lockup/ Capacity/ Population
    Corsicana Residential Treatment Center/ 198/82
    Evins Regional Juvenile Center/ 240/ 144
    Gainesville State School/340/258
    Giddings State School/376/252
    McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility/352/288
    Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Center/338/95
    Totals: 1,492/831 (The remaining offenders are housed in halfway houses)
    Sources: Texas Juvenile Justice Department daily population summary report for Thursday, Texas Youth Commission Facility Overview (2007).

    Senators to state corrections officials: Tighten your belts


    JANUARY 31, 2013

    Crime Is At The Lowest Rate In Two Generations But Texas Can't Stop Sending More People To Prison

    A Report (pdf) issued this week by the Texas Legislative Budget Board predicted that Texas' prison population will increase over the next several years if policy reforms aren't enacted to reduce incarceration rates. "The correctional institutions population is expected to increase moderately, 3.2 percent over the projection period, from fiscal years 2013 to 2018. This increase is due primarily to increasing admissions to correctional institutions," said LBB. This growth is actually less than the projections from several years ago, thanks to legislative reforms to the state's probation and parole systems, but there's clearly more to be done.


2012


    DECEMBER 11, 2012

    State Corrections Spending Growth Outpaced Highways, Health, Education Over Last Three Decades

    The Bureau of Justice Statistics put out a new report titled "State Corrections...
    Read the whole entry Here


    Officials: Texas prison system needs $6B budget

    MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press
    Published August 23, 2012

    AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas prison officials warned Thursday that the 10 percent budget cut recommended by state leaders would cost thousands of jobs in the nation's largest prison system and likely threaten public safety.

    Department of Criminal Justice officials unveiled a roughly $6.3 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015, up from about $6.1 billion in the previous two-year spending cycle. Officials noted that the system is already short about 2,750 workers and competing with higher-salaried oil jobs in some parts of the state.

    Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston said he was optimistic he could convince lawmakers, who will start working on the state budget in January, to fully fund the budget request.

    "We will work hard to put the message out what the impacts will be," he said during the Board of Criminal Justice meeting where the budget plan was unveiled.

    Gov. Rick Perry and other top state officials have asked all state agencies to offer contingency plans with 10 percent cuts. But corrections officials said a 10 percent cut would eliminate 4,800 jobs, including 3,200 corrections officers and parole staff.

    "Gosh! How many prisons would have to close?" board member Terrell McCombs asked. "No way it would not impact public safety."

    Although it's unclear how many prisons would be threatened, the cuts pose a public safety risk,Jerry McGinty, director of the prison agency's business and finance division, replied.

    The budget request amounts to a little more than $3.15 billion for each year, and anticipates that the number of Texas prisoners will remain stable at about 150,000 inmates statewide. Though it expects a slight growth in the number of felony probationers and continued increases in supervised parolees to more than 85,000 by 2015, which would require hiring nearly 70 more parole workers to maintain caseloads.

    Prison officials said they also need $141 million for department health care costs, including university health care providers, staff salary adjustments and "critical capital equipment needs."

    At the same time, the department is facing a staffing shortage at prisons in South and West Texas where prison job recruiters are competing with companies involved in the oil shale boom and other energy-related industries that can offer more attractive salaries and benefits.

    Livingston said he wants to build 80-man dormitories outside several prisons in those regions to provide housing for corrections officers where housing is in short supply or extremely costly. The department also has doubled hiring incentive bonuses to $3,000.

    "We will continue working extraordinarily hard in terms of recruitment and retention," he said.

    The department's 2,750 job vacancies is an improvement from 2007 when there were about 4,000 openings, he added.

    The governor's office and the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board sent agencies a letter in June advising them to hit the same reduction target as the one prior to last year's legislative session. That's when Republicans pushed through about $11 billion in budget cuts they said were necessary belt-tightening in tough times.

    The legislative budget board, which keeps track of how much money lawmakers have to spend, will assess the plans and make recommendations later this year on the proposed budgets of various state agencies. But the Legislature will have the last say.

    Officials: Texas prison system needs $6B budget


    New Study: Texas Spends 23 Percent More On Prisons

    By Mike Ward
    January 26, 2012

    Texas taxpayers pay an average 23 more for state prisons than the state’s annual corrections budget reflects, a first-of-a-kind national study shows.

    The new report by the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based research organization that tracks criminal justice trends, calculates the state’s total costs for its adult corrections and prison programs at $3.3 billion — almost $783,000 higher than the $2.5 billion annual budget for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    Usually, corrections spending is tracked by comparing the budgets for prison and parole agencies. The Vera Institute study includes additional costs such as contributions to pension and benefit programs and capital costs.

    Nationally, corrections spending is the second fastest-growing budget item for states, behind Medicaid. In Texas, the prison system’s budget was trimmed by about 10 percent last year thanks to cuts that were mandated because of a projected revenue shortfall.

    The study found that among the 40 states that responded to a survey, the total fiscal year 2010 taxpayer cost of prisons was $38.8 billion, $5.4 billion more than in state corrections budgets for that year.

    That is important because as state budgets tighten up, lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere have begun looking at better ways to ensure public safety and provide less-epensive ways of rehabilitating and correcting low-level, non-violent offenders offenders.

    With another tight state budget expected in 2013, the costs of state corrections programs — especially the mushrooming cost of providing health care to an aging population of convicts — are expected to be a key topic for debate when the Legislature reconvenes in a year. The cost of prison healthcare is among the fastest-growing items in the state budget, after Medicaid.

    “This new tool changes the equation. It paints a far more accurate picture of the costs to taxpayers,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States, a research and support organization that studies state funding issues and assisted with the study.

    “State leaders already have been questioning whether corrections spending passes the cost-benefit test, especially for nonviolent offenders.”

    While Texas’ costs were 23.7 percent higher with the associated additional costs, other states ranged from 1 percent higher (Arizona) to 34 percent (Connecticut). Texas was one of six states — Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania — where between 20 and 34 percent of the corrections budgets were outside the prisons system budget.

    When all costs are considered, the annual average taxpayer cost in these states was $31,166 per convict, according to the study. In Texas, the cost is $21,390 a year per convict.

    See the full report, The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers:

    New study: Texas spends 23 percent more on prisons

    Note From TPNS WebMaster:
    According to TCJC's Report: Of 77 recommendations in areas of corrections, probation, parole, and re-entry...
    Incarceration & Associated Costs
    There is a common misconception that public safety is best served by incarcerating all who break the law, regardless of level of offense or continued threat to the public. Unfortunately, because of this mentality, Texas prisons and jails will be operating at 99.7% internal operating capacity by the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, and they will exceed capacity by .2% at the end of FY 2012.
    1. This trajectory of incarceration is unsustainable, and it is forcing taxpayers to shoulder massive costs.
    • Prison: According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Texas housed 141,087 individuals in a state prison as of 31 May 2011.
    2. The average system-wide cost to incarcerate a person in a state-run facility costs the state $50.79 per day.
    3. • State Jails: At the end of May 2011, a total of 11,528 individuals were housed in a state jail.
    4. The average per-day cost to the State for each inmate in a state jail facility is $43.03.
    5. • Individuals, Entering, Facilities: In FY 2010, a total of 42,858 individuals were received by state prisons and 23,537 were admitted to state jails.
    6. In one day in 2011, Texas spent $7,661,859 to incarcerate individuals in state-run facilities.


    2011


      DECEMBER 14, 2011

      Budget cuts reduce mental-health staffing, services in Texas prisons

      Kristi Nix at the Pasadena Citizen has a report ("Budget cuts mean fewer medical workers to treat Texas' mentally ill inmates," Dec. 13) on the effects of budget cuts on mental-health care at Texas prisons.

      The story opens:
      State budget cuts handed down during the recent legislative session left the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with a dangerously-low $6.1 billion biennial budget, approximately $97 million less than last year’s funding levels.

      As a result, the mental health care system suffered layoffs along with the rest of the prison health care services. And although treatment and medications were left untouched, fewer medical workers are now left to treat mentally-ill inmates.

      “We were given dollars for facility staff, dollars for pharmaceutical care and dollars for hospitals and some specialty care. The cuts that came to the facility staff included 24 mental health employees that were laid off,” said Dr. Owen Murray, Vice President of University of Texas Medical Branch Correctional Managed Health Care system.

      Roughly 80 percent of Texas inmates are treated by UTMB, 14.2 percent of which have been diagnosed with serious mental illness. Owens said universal changes to mental health care services caused the number of mentally-ill offenders to increase significantly each year.

      “Given the erosion of infrastructure we are seeing trends that are alarming,” he said. “We’re seeing natural fallout from that change, and that is more of the seriously mentally ill patients in the state are migrating into the correctional environment via jail or prison.”

      And although the demand for services continued to increase, the mental heath care system suffered staffing reductions in 2011 as a result of state budget cuts. Last July, UTMB announced 50 unfilled positions would remain vacant and 130 health-care workers would be laid off, 24 of which were mental health care workers.

      Staffing cuts in turn increased the inmate-to-staff ratio from 58 to one upward to 65 inmates for every mental health care worker.

      POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST


      NOVEMBER 23, 2011

      No fluff to cut: Policy changes needed to reduce next TDCJ budget

      State Rep. Susan King held a town hall meeting in Abilene recently and got an earful from a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) employee unhappy about budget cuts at the agency, according to the Abilene Reporter-News: King said that because there was no increase in revenue, the state was left in a "structural deficit" with no way to pay for existing programs.

      "If we don't increase revenue, something will have to be catastrophically cut," she said.

      The most lively exchange came between King and a Texas Department of Criminal Justice employee from the French Robertson Unit who complained about excessive cuts to the criminal justice system.

      "Where would you cut?" King asked the man. "What agencies do you think have too much fluff?"

      "I can't answer that," he acknowledged.

      After the meeting, King said that although she appreciated the man's fervor, it typified the problem that arises when it comes to making cuts.

      "Nobody can tell you where to make cuts in their department," she said. "It's other places where cuts can be made."

      Earlier in the meeting, she remarked that she had heard the admonition not to "balance the budget on the backs of the schoolchildren."

      "People say the exact same thing about the elderly and the exact same thing about the infrastructure," she said.

      Bingo! She's exactly right. Indeed, next session's budget gap will likely be even larger than the state faced this time, when the Lege cut TDCJ's budget but did virtually nothing to reduce the number of people in prison.

      The real problem isn't that the agency's budget was cut - Grits believes it could be reduced substantially more - but that the Legislature failed to enact policy changes to make that reduction tenable. (E.g., they underfunded prison healthcare by more than $100 million while doing nothing to reduce the number of prisoners covered.) At this point, to further reduce corrections spending safely, the state must shift spending emphasis at TDCJ from prisons to community supervision - i.e, probation and parole. If the Lege would change policies to incarcerate fewer low-risk offenders, cutting TDCJ's budget would appear not only possible but wise.

      I'm pleased to see King's comments because too often Texas pols, just like in Washington, pretend they can be all things to all people, claiming they can cut "waste" without reducing services while lowering taxes despite yawning budget shortfalls. But there's no more fat to cut at TDCJ: Either the Lege must enact policies that let TDCJ reduce inmate numbers and close more prisons, or else live with a ever-increasing incarceration bill paid for with higher taxes.

      Perhaps Rep. King is prepared to begin believing impossible things.

      POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST

      LABELS: BUDGET, TDCJ


      OCTOBER 23, 2011

      Chronicling compliance, oversight cuts at TDCJ

      Eric Dexheimer at the Austin Statesman today has an interesting story on how budget cuts will affect compliance/enforcement positions at Texas state agencies.

      He included this tidbit about TDCJ:
      The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, too, said the loss of compliance-related jobs won't affect its operations.

      The agency shrunk by 760 positions as the result of budget cuts since 2009. Seventeen of those losses could be considered oversight or compliance positions, agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

      Among them: two prison health services employees who audited vendor contract compliance, three internal auditors and three roving compliance officers from the Private Facility Contract Monitoring/Oversight Division. The division keeps an eye on private prisons to make sure the facilities follow Texas corrections rules.

      The state prison agency also lost five investigators and supervisors from the Office of Inspector General, "which, as the law enforcement arm of the prison system, ensures that employees and inmates are compliant in following state and federal laws," Lyons explained.

      Grits hadn't realized the Lege had reduced the number of OIG staff nor compliance/enforcement officers related to private prisons, which on its face seems problematic when in the same budget the Lege opened the door to wider private prison contracting.

      POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST

      LABELS: BUDGET, TDCJ


      SEPTEMBER 28, 2011

      LBB criminal justice data team to host policy forums

      Don't miss out on Criminal Justice Forums, held the first Friday of each month, beginning on October 7th. The forums will be hosted by the Criminal Justice Data Analysis Team of the Legislative Budget Board, and they will present various reports on criminal and juvenile justice issues.

      Location: Robert E. Johnson Conference Center
      1501 N. Congress
      Austin, TX 78701

      Time: 1:30-3:00 PM

      Price: Free

      Questions: Contact cjforum@lbb.state.tx.us
      Or call Michele Connolly or Ed Sinclair at (512) 463-1200

      For more information click HERE.


      Taxpayers pick up tab for empty would-be prison hospital

      By Mike Ward
      AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
      Published: Aug. 23, 2011

      MARLIN — Four years ago, state officials heralded the gift of a red brick hospital in a residential neighborhood, unveiling plans to convert the onetime Veterans Affairs center into a prison hospital for women.

      Today, after funding for the project evaporated, the six-story building remains vacant. But Texas taxpayers continue to pick up the tab for maintaining the empty structure — $1.2 million and counting, officials said.

      Prison officials said they are following the wishes of the Legislature, but a key lawmaker whose committee oversees the prison agency said keeping the building makes little sense in such tight budget times. Meanwhile, the female prisoners whom the hospital was intended to serve continue to be transported to the Gulf Coast when they require hospitalization.

      "There are no plans to move ahead with that project at present, because there is no funding," said Brian Collier, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "The Legislature had it transferred to this agency. We are obligated to keeping it in a holding pattern until they decide what they want us to do with it."

      Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said the dead-end project is another example of wasted money at the prison agency, at a time when employees have been laid off, programs have been deeply cut and prison medical care faces further cuts. "I'm fed up with this bureaucracy not paying attention to how they spend money," he said Tuesday.

      Prison officials said they had no choice but to spend money to keep the former VA hospital from deteriorating until a decision on its future is made.

      Opened in September 1950, the hospital on Ward Street in Marlin's northwest section initially employed 14 physicians, two dentists and 42 nurses and had bed space for 222 patients. But the staff shrank in a series of federal cost-saving efforts in the 1990s, and most services for veterans were eventually moved to a Temple VA medical center.

      The facility continued as a community-based health clinic with a small staff until 2005, when it closed to house coastal evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It never reopened.

      Texas was handed the keys in May 2007, when then-state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, and U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, announced that it would become a 200-bed prison hospital that would treat offenders from the women's prisons outside Marlin and in nearby Gatesville. That would save the state money by keeping them from being transported long distances to Texas City and Galveston for hospital care, officials said. Those hospitals are run by the University of Texas Medical Branch, which provides prison medical care for the eastern part of the state.

      Marlin area officials cheered the acquisition of the hospital, eyeing a return of 140 well-paying medical jobs. "This is a great day for the City of Marlin," Mayor Norman Erskine said at the time of the transfer.

      Averitt announced that he had secured $3.5 million in state funding for renovations to the building and $10 million for operating expenses. But it remained vacant, except for state contractors who came in to renovate the elevators, the boilers and the central chilling system for air conditioning.

      Within the past year, as part of cuts ordered by Gov. Rick Perry and state leaders to address a looming shortfall in the state budget, prison officials gave back the $10 million in operating costs that had been earmarked for the hospital.

      Frank Inmon, the prison system's facilities director, said about $1.2 million has been spent on the vacant center so far, including $400,000 to put the elevators in working order.

      Other prison officials said the agency keeps a correctional officer assigned to the vacant building to provide security against break-ins. No one could be found at the block-square hospital campus on Tuesday.

      The property includes several buildings, a boiler plant and a water tower.

      Prison maintenance employees are maintaining the mechanical systems in the building. "If you don't do that, it will cost you more because of deterioration," Inmon said.

      Other officials said convicts from nearby prisons have been brought in to do work at the hospital.

      At the time the center was transferred to state ownership, officials said the federal government had been spending about $265,000 a year to maintain the vacant facility.

      Prison officials said they intend to continue maintaining it until state leaders tell them to do otherwise.

      To let the building go unmaintained, they said, would end up costing taxpayers much more than the cost of keeping it up while it stands vacant if the state plans to eventually use it.

      Whitmire, for one, said he thinks a decision on the vacant hospital is long overdue.

      "Maintaining an empty hospital when treatment and rehabilitation programs have been cut, when employees have been laid off, when medical care has been cut?" he asked. "It makes no sense."

      mward@statesman.com

      Taxpayers pick up tab for empty would-be prison hospital


      Program: PBS NewsHour

      Episode: NAACP Report Calls Shift in Funding Toward Prisons 'Alarming' A new report from the NAACP shows states are devoting increasingly larger portions of their budgets to prisons, while education gets smaller and smaller portions. Judy Woodruff discusses the report with NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform.

      TO WATCH VIDEO CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW:
      Funding Toward Prisons


      April 03, 2011

      'State budget crises push sentencing reforms': Time for truth in sentencing budgets

      From AP, a story with same title as this post says states around the country are struggling with incarceration costs after "The total cost of incarcerating state inmates swelled from $12 billion in 1988 to more than $50 billion by 2008." Notably, "Newly elected Republican governors in Florida and Georgia are among those pushing sentencing reforms." Reporter Greg Bluestein writes that:

      Fall election gains put Republicans in control of 25 state legislatures and 29 governor's offices, and many have pledged not to raise taxes even as they face budget shortfalls. Reforming laws to send fewer low-level offenders to state prison or reduce their sentences is a more politically palatable way to save money than cutting spending for schools or health care programs.

      "Conservatives are about limited government, lower taxes and personal responsibility. And the reforms that we advocate advance those principles," said Marc Levin of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. "We're not saying conservatives were wrong 30 years ago. But the pendulum swung too far."

      The proposals vary by state, but the hallmarks include ways to reduce sentences for lower-level offenders, direct some offenders to alternative sentencing programs, give judges more sentencing discretion and smooth the transition for released prisoners. In many states, the Republican measures parallel Democratic efforts that stalled long ago.

      The push to reform sentencing laws has forged uneasy alliances between law-and-order politicians and activists who have long argued that many laws went too far.

      As you might expect,"Backers of the state measures almost always refer to Texas, which began implementing sentencing changes six years ago." But it's pretty clear that, without further policy reforms, the effect of those 2007 reforms have pretty much played out and incarceration will increase if more resources aren't funneled to diversion programs.

      Having done a lot of work on front-end diversions in 2005 and 2007, some of the biggest cost-saving corrections bills considered in Texas this legislative session concentrate on the parole side. Either way: Diverting prisoners on the front end or the back end saves money.

      Over at the prosecutors' association, these efforts have been greeted with snide rhetoric about "new math," joking that in one case, "1/4 of 90 = 22.5 = 7," meaning that, with good-time credit, a nonviolent defendant sentenced to 90 years is eligible for parole in 7. In response, TDCAA lobbyist Shannon Edmonds told prosecutors that:"I just attended a legislative symposium at which a coalition of liberal (hug-a-thug) and conservative (save-a-buck) groups advocated restoring the old mandatory supervision laws, which would allow guys like Mr. 90 Years to be entitled to early release after a few years." (That's not a precisely accurate characterization of the proposed legislation, but let's set that aside for the moment.)

      Critics of this "new math" (which is really longstanding math) usually tell us they prefer "Truth in Sentencing," meaning that offenders should do every day, or close to it, of even the longest sentences assigned for nonviolent offenses. But seldom if ever do such critics ask the bigger question: Why is there no "truth in sentencing"? The answer isn't the overarching power of liberals on Rick Perry's parole board, it's that reality and money ultimately trump ideology and for many years Texas has never had truth in sentencing budgets. Whenever the state increases criminal penalties, no matter how many new people would be incarcerated, the Legislative Budget Board fails to require them to account for the extra cost in the budget. So every session the Lege votes for "tuffer" laws they never pay for, then wonder why the budget is bloated and the prisons are full.

      Over time, dozens such bills pass each session (the Legislature in 2009 created or "enhanced" 59 felonies, according to the parole board's official count), creating an inexorable, one-way ratchet. Meanwhile, years-old theft thresholds apply to ever-smaller baskets of goods and antiquated drug laws focus on incarceration instead of treatment and/or diversion for small-time users, which is where law enforcement focuses arrests when they can't figure out how to catch the Big Fish.

      Legislators pass such "enhancements" and prosecutors sometimes seek ridiculously long sentences for petty crimes to "send a message," we're routinely told. But that's revealing terminology: It's really just for show - a form of demagoguery aimed more at public relations than public safety. In reality, the state cannot afford to incarcerate someone for 90 years for burglary or possession of a few grams of meth, even if statutes have been "enhanced" to routinely allow such sentences.

      That's why, as a practical matter, the parole board must act as a release valve to mitigate politicized local sentencing decisions. Otherwise, there won't be enough room to incarcerate more serious, dangerous offenders. If the Lege were required to pay as they go, increasing TDCJ's budget at the margins whenever they pass laws sending more prisoners there, Texas could afford to have everyone serve their full sentence. But the politics of mass incarceration, until now, have encouraged pols in both parties to pretend prison is both free and a universal, one-size fits all solution to every social problem. That's not sustainable any more.

      Texas releases some 72,000 people annually from prison, only about half of them having served their full sentence - that's a population larger than the city of Harlingen. So complaints that measures currently under consideration might create a "revolving door" ignore the reality that we've already got one, with no money available to pay for longer incarceration stints: The question now for Texas is not whether to prioritize who to incarcerate, but how. And as this AP coverage shows, we're not the only state facing that quandary.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast


      Study: Prison bed shortage if budgets cut

      By Mike Ward
      March 1, 2011

      Texas could find itself short a whopping 12,000 prison beds in two years if budget cuts take place as planned in the initial Senate and House appropriations bills, a new study to be made public this afternoon warns.

      The report by the Justice Center, a research affiliate of the Council of State Governments, a legislative trade group, marks the first updated statistical prediction that the proposed cuts in treatment and rehabilitation programs could lead to a shortage of prison beds — and could put Texas’ corrections system in crisis.

      The report is expected to support calls to leave the corrections budget largely intact, for fear of causing an imbalance in the system that could drastically drive up costs when the goal was to save money.

      That could make balancing the state budget even harder than is already expected.

      The study predicts that if the House draft is approved, Texas could be more than 12,000 prison beds short by 2013 — 8,657 from expected growth in the number of prisoners, and another 4,200 from beds that are to be closed.

      The Senate draft budget, which cuts less from the prison budget, could leave Texas more than 9,600 beds short, according to the report — 6,774 for predicted growth and 2,860 from beds that are to be closed.

      Both the Senate and House drafts proposed closing the century-old Central Unit near Sugar Land, and different numbers of treatment and pre-parole beds to save money.

      Much of the growth in prisoners could come from reductions in treatment and rehabilitation programs, the report notes, and closing beds to save money might aggravate an already large state-budget shortfall, according to the report.

      The study warns that while corrections reforms enacted by the Legislature in 2007 are working as envisioned in keeping the prison population down, at reduced costs and with increased public safety, that proposed changes to the system through proposed budget cuts could throw the system out of whack and trigger a crisis during the next two years.

      A copy of the report, to be made public at an afternoon meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, was obtained by Statesman.com.

      Prison bed shortage if budgets cut


      February 28, 2011

      'Prison budget cuts must not lead to more prisoners'

      An editorial in the Beaumont Enterprise with the same title as this post IMO makes exactly the right point about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's finalized cuts for the current fiscal year. They're okay with cuts to the food budget, but:

      We're not so enthusiastic about additional plans to cut 555 non-guard positions in the state prison system.

      Many of those employees are charged with making sure that prisoners don't come back once they are released.

      For example, 155 jobs would be cut from Project RIO, which stands for Re-Integration of Offenders. Those employees help inmates make the transition from the tightly controlled world of a prison to the vast challenges and temptations of the outside.

      And even though no parole officers will be cut, some of their support staff will. That is going to make it harder for parole officers to do their difficult jobs effectively.

      Many prison inmates have poor education or social skills. They often abuse drugs or alcohol, or they may have mental health issues.

      If they are simply dumped back into society when their sentences are up without sufficient preparation or oversight, they clearly stand a bigger chance of reoffending and returning to prison.

      The Texas prison system was hardly overfunded to begin with. State officials have to be very careful that the immediate savings of these budget cuts don't end up costing Texans far more in the long run.

      That's a great point. Though it's good legislators didn't let TDCJ cut more deeply into treatment programming, budgets are an expression of priorities and the priorities expressed in this first round of cuts prioritizes keeping the maximum number of prisons open instead of focusing on reentry and community supervision.

      These cuts are just a taste of what's coming. TDCJ has only agreed to close one unit - the Central Unit in Sugar Land, where local developers are salivating to turn the property into a private business park - but otherwise has said it would slash probation, treatment, parole and reentry funding and dangerously reduce its guard-to-inmate ratio before considering closing another one.

      Unless legislators propose policy solutions to reduce mass incarceration - and there are a few already out there which Grits will be discussing soon, though not on the scale needed to solve the problem - there's a limit to how many beds the Lege can require TDCJ to cut. If those discussions are occurring, and I'm sure they are, they're not happening yet publicly. At this point in the session, there's little time left for dawdling before TDCJ's regressive priorities become the only option on the table, at the expense of Texas' much-lauded 2007 probation reforms which have drawn national approbation and mimicry.

      There is probably political will to cut more deeply into prisons. After all, both the Governor and the filed version of HB 1 would cut nearly $800 million from TDCJ's budget. What's missing is a plan from any key legislative leader so far to counter the agency's Maximum Prisons approach. Texas legislative sessions are short and we're a third of the way through this one. If the only plan on the table for budget reduction says "cut reentry and community supervision first," when push comes to shove that's what'll be implemented.

      That implies that soon it'll be time for Mssrs Whitmire and Madden, Chairmen of the Senate Criminal Justice and House Corrections Committees, respectively, to reach into their hats looking for rabbits to pull out that let them cut the agency budget but save the diversion programs they've worked so hard to create.

      Otherwise, the misplaced priorities lamented by the Beaumont Enterprise will be enacted writ large when the much deeper cuts that are surely coming get implemented come September 1, 2011.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast


      FEBRUARY 16, 2011

      Reduce inmate population to cut prisons budget

      Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman has a story today ("State looking at release of foreign, or sick inmates") in which legislators finally acknowledge the elephant in the room: Cutting as much at the Department of Criminal Justice as proposed in the draft House an Senate budgets will require policy changes to reduce the real number of human beings locked up, beyond just cutting the budget.

      His story opens:
      Faced with making deep cuts to schools and human services programs, closing at least two prisons and slashing rehabilitation programs, legislative leaders are beginning to talk about what is usually unthinkable in tough-on-crime Texas: releasing more convicts to save money.

      Not violent offenders, mind you, but nonviolent foreign citizens who are eligible for parole and old, infirm convicts, some of whom have been diagnosed as dying.

      "We don't have the resources to continue business as usual in Texas," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston , whose committee oversees prison operations.

      "Everything is on the table for discussion this year. Everything." Of course, Grits has discussed these ideas before, but now that budget issues are on the front burner, they're not being pooh-poohed the way they might have been just a couple of months ago. On illegal immigrants, Ward reports: About 3,000 were behind state bars as of December for nonviolent or drug offenses, according to statistics from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. All were listed as parole-eligible. All are targeted for deportation as soon as they are released. The majority of the inmates in question were in the country illegally before their arrest, lawmakers said recently.

      By some calculations, sending them all home could save more than $54 million a year — enough to restore some of the deep cuts planned in prison, human services, public education and many other state programs.

      On medical parole: "Several hundred inmates who are considered terminal or completely incapacitated are among those being looked at for release, lawmakers said. The cost savings from these medical releases have not been determined."

      A couple of remarkable quotes jumped out at me from the article. First: "What this state is finally realizing is that we've got too many people locked up who may not need to be in prisons," said Sheryl Lynn Washington, a crime victim advocate from Houston and self-proclaimed tea party activist who was at the Capitol on Tuesday urging more treatment and rehabilitation programs and less imprisonment.

      "Use prison only for the worst, most violent offenders, not everyone who violates any little law."

      I'm not sure most folks would associate this issue with tea party activists, but it goes to show the extent to which the subject crosses party and ideological lines. Another remarkable quote comes from a victims' rights advocate: "If they want to get rid of the dopers, OK. The drunks, hot check artists, the thieves, OK," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth , an Austin lawyer who is a vice president for Justice for All, a Houston-based crime victims group.

      "But they should keep all the sex offenders and the 3G (violent) offenders right where they are. They don't need to go anywhere."

      Of course, Grits would prefer the Lege consider even bolder options for reducing the inmate population. But I find it telling that even traditional "tuff-on-crime" types recognize that continuing to lock up low-level offenders isn't a viable financial option. If the tea party folks and victim rights advocates can wrap their heads around that concept, maybe it's not completely beyond the pale to hope that, before the 82nd session is complete, a majority of Texas legislators will be able to do so, too.

      POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST


      Texas leaders consider freeing more prisoners

      By Associated Press
      Posted on February 16, 2011

      AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas lawmakers are discussing whether releasing nonviolent convicts is a money-saving way to help deal with a projected $15 billion state budget shortfall.

      Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire of Houston says the state does not have the resources to continue business as usual in Texas.

      Whitmire said Tuesday that "everything is on the table for discussion this year."

      The Austin American-Statesman reports lawmakers are considering whether nonviolent foreign citizens who are up for parole and old, ill convicts might be considered for early released.

      Police, prosecutors and crime victims groups are urging caution in paroling any more convicts.

      House Corrections Committee chairman Jerry Madden of Richardson says whatever lawmakers decide, it should not compromise public safety.

      A 2009 legislative study urged that additional medical paroles be considered.

      Texas leaders consider freeing more prisoners


      January 10, 2011

      Texas' budget shortfall dwarfs corrections budgets

      Comptroller Susan Combs issued her proclamation today regarding how much money Texas legislators have to spend in the next biennial budget: $72.2 billion, down from $87 billion in the last budget. But the real budget gap is bigger than the $14.8 billion difference between those numbers, because population growth and inflation means the state must spend more to provide services - particularly for education and healthcare. Also, smoke-and-mirrors tricks from past budgets eventually must be paid for (e.g., the $61 million owed to UTMB for prison healthcare services already provided). Bottom line, according to those who estimate such things, if Texas continued spending at current levels, adjusted upward to pay for those (not really optional) services, the budget would reach $99 billion.

      So we're basically $15 billion short (with a big, fat, capital "B") if you consider the baseline what was spent in the last budget; $27 billion short if you account for population growth and inflation. (Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune walks through all this in more detail, for those interested.)

      What does this mean for policing and corrections? IMO it means prison downsizing inevitably must be on the table, and probably scaling back grants for border security, and maybe even the number of DPS troopers. Criminal justice is one of the only areas where it's even possible to outline how sizable cuts could be managed. On healthcare, education and transportation, most large cuts have potential to seriously backfire in fairly obvious ways.

      Health costs would be shifted to local emergency rooms. School property taxes would rise and/or the quality of education would decline. Meanwhile, traffic (and voters) would snarl inexorably as more and more people drive on roads built for a less populous state. Only on criminal justice is there a proven model for cutting costs safely.

      Perhaps overall spending growth could be cut at the margins, but measuring spending requirements by the last budget is probably unrealistic. There are benefits to population growth - like four new congressional seats and expanded consumer demand that's kept our economy afloat - but it's not free to provide transportation and healthcare infrastructure for all those folks, schools for their kids, etc.. The gap may not be $27 billion, but it's up there in the 20s, no doubt.

      In the last round of budget cuts directed by legislative leadership, the Department of Criminal Justice was asked to shoulder 15% - or $75 million - of a proposed half billion in cuts. If TDCJ must shoulder 15% of the cuts required in the new budget, taking legislators at their word (for now) that they won't raise taxes, that means the agency will be required to cut between $2.25 - $4 billion out of a two-year budget that's currently at $6.1 billion.

      Indeed, if you zeroed out budgets for TDCJ ($6.1 billion), DPS ($1.7 billion), retirement and healthcare benefits for all Article V public safety employees ($1 billion), and eliminated the Youth Commission ($455 million), you'd still be $5.5 billion short of the smaller, probably unrealistic $14.8 billion deficit figure (though you could get the rest of the way by spending the "Rainy Day Fund"). Mind boggling! Clearly the bulk of budget solutions must come in the realm of education and healthcare - we're not going to eliminate the state's criminal justice system, and even if we did it simply wouldn't be enough. (Agency budget data from the Comptroller's Texas Budget Source.)

      IMO, however, the justice system can and should be a source of significant savings. For too many years it's sprawled and expanded at every turn, with money seemingly never an object. As detailed on this blog many times, it's not difficult to envision a handful of basic policy changes that would depopulate TDCJ enough to close perhaps 6 to 10 of their 112 units in the near term, shifting resources to (much cheaper) community supervision and front-end diversion to compensate for reduced incarceration. TDCJ so far has refused to consider such options, but if they must come up with $2-4 billion in cuts, or anything remotely close to that, Grits' purportedly radical suggestions will begin to appear minimalist.

      Some people say it can't happen, that Texas will never close a prison. After all, it's never happened before. By the same token, the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass famously boasted she was able to believe "six impossible things before breakfast." By the time the Texas Legislature finishes slashing the budget during the 82nd session, I predict legislators will come to believe many more than six things that seemed "impossible" just a couple of months ago during election season. That's why I remain optimistic that the budget crunch can motivate legislators to scale back the state corrections system - which today oversees 1 in 22 Texas adults in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole - in ways that sound arguments from policy wonks or reform advocates could otherwise never accomplish.

      Texas' budget shortfall dwarfs corrections budgets


      2010


        Budget cuts might close some prisons
        Treatment and rehab programs have reduced inmate numbers

        ASSOCIATED PRESS
        May 30, 2010

        AUSTIN — The latest demand for 10 percent in spending cuts by all state agencies has raised a possibility once unthinkable in Texas: closing some prisons.

        The Austin American-Statesman reported in its Sunday editions that some officials say a reduction in the number of state prison beds is on the table as a possible measure in the struggle to balance the state budget by next year's Legislature.

        One in every 22 Texans are in the criminal justice system — “on probation, on parole, in prison,” Texas House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds told the newspaper.

        “Because we invested in treatment and re-entry and rehabilitation programs starting several years ago, Texas is in a position to have those drive the discussion for the first time that I can remember, instead of just incarceration or building new prisons. That's a big change from the past,” the Lufkin Democrat said.

        2,000 empty beds

        The state tripled the size of the prison system during the 1990s under the decades-old criminal justice doctrine centered on building more prisons. Now, state officials have found that expanded treatment and rehabilitation programs have shrunk the inmate population, leading to about 2,000 empty prison beds.

        They have also said that greater use of in-prison treatment programs and community-based probation and rehabilitation efforts have reduced the number of imprisoned nonviolent offenders.

        Housing one felon in prison costs the state an average of about $47 per day, while probation costs an average of $1.24 per day and parole supervision costs about $3.74 per day, according to state statistics. Community-based supervision programs cost the state from $5.56 to $47 per day or more, depending on the program and whether secure housing is provided, the newspaper reported.

        A wrong choice?

        McReynolds said lawmakers made the wrong choice the last time they had to make spending cuts across the board, cutting spending on the probation and rehabilitation programs at 112 state prisons instead of the prisons themselves.

        “The result was that our prison population went up, and it ended up costing us more in the long run,” he said.

        He said he hopes lawmakers avoid that mistake when they grapple with a possible $18 billion budget shortfall for 2012-13 in next year's Legislature.

        “This should be a no-brainer. We can't do that again,” McReynolds said.

        Efficiency, public safety

        His counterpart in the Texas Senate, longtime Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, said, “We should not close any prison just to save money.”

        However, the Houston Democrat said that does not mean prison closings would be off the table.

        “If we can do it for efficiency and maintain public safety — which should be the No. 1 priority for anything we do — then you'll see us getting serious about it. We may be in the position at some point where we may not need one, two or three (prison) units. It's a place I can't ever remember Texas has been in.”

        Budget cuts might close some prisons


        State budget cuts could affect Texas prison system

        Posted: Feb 21, 2010
        By John Cuoco

        WACO- The Texas Department of Criminal Justice released a letter Monday to Governor Rick Perry and his staff asking for exemptions from a proposed 5% reduction from the 2010-11 biennial budget.

        These proposed cuts are being called irresponsible by the prison employee unions.

        In that letter the TDCJ said that the areas most impacted will be probation, offender treatment services, security, offender health care, and parole supervision.

        "Reduction in those areas we feel like would not only increase recidivism, meaning more people coming back into the system, but also affect our community supervision," Jason Clark, TDCJ Public Information, said.

        So, with more repeat offenders coming back into the prisons, and With 3,100 jobs that could be trimmed from the Texas prison system, that could mean less people to keep an eye on prisoners behind bars and when they leave for parole.

        The TDCJ isn't trying to completely skip out on all cuts, in fact they list seven items that total over 50 million dollars they are willing to either put on hold or part ways with all together.

        For example that includes funding sources, cutting travel, and even a hiring freeze.

        The TDCJ did suggest to delay the opening of a new Marlin medical facility until 2012, which would save them 10 million dollars.

        They also called these exemptions a starting point and say they will continue to work with the state.

        State budget cuts could affect Texas prison system


        STATE BUDGET
        Prison officials seek a pardon on spending cuts

        By PEGGY FIKAC
        Austin Bureau
        Feb. 16, 2010

        CUTS ON THE TABLE
        Possible spending reductions identified by state agencies include:

        Texas Education Agency
        • Eliminate funding for steroid testing, $1 million.
        • Cut part of funding for textbooks and kindergarten materials, $10 million

        Texas Department of Criminal Justice
        • Identified $294.3 million in possible cuts, including cuts at the Board of Pardons and Paroles
        • Cut correctional security operations, $84.4 million
        • Cut correctional psychiatric care/managed health care, $41.9 million • Cut probation funding, $22 million
        • Eliminate funding for about 817 beds at contract prisons, privately operated state jails and pre-parole transfer facilities, $10.7 million
        • Reduce parole supervision, $8.1 million
        • Cut substance abuse treatment, $7.8 million

        Texas Department of Public Safety
        • Cut funding for local border security overtime, nearly $10.4 million

        Health and Human Services
        • Eliminate 50 beds at four state psychiatric hospitals, $27 million
        • Cut rates for health care providers who treat Medicaid patients, nearly $98.6 million (Of note: The reductions would cost the state $238 million in federal matching funds.)

        Governor's Office
        • Cut Texas Enterprise Fund, $20 million

        Texas Department of Transportation
        • Reduce appropriation for debt service on general obligation bonds, $20 million

        AUSTIN — Texas' prison system is asking state leaders to exempt it from most of a proposed 5 percent spending cut, warning that reductions could hurt prison security and make it more likely offenders would relapse into crime.

        State agencies, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, are identifying cuts at the direction of Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus.

        The agencies and universities were directed to identify potential cuts because of a looming multibillion-dollar state budget gap. Some exceptions will be allowed, and the three leaders will review whether the identified cuts should occur.

        “It is important that we make every effort during these difficult economic times to live within our means,” Straus said. “State revenues are down, and we face hard choices. But it's no different from what many businesses and families in Texas face every day. We are still receiving proposals from the agencies, and it's a bit early to discuss recommendations we would take.

        “As we review these recommendations, we will certainly want to be careful that these changes are not made at the expense of public safety and essential services.”

        F. Scott McCown, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates programs for lower-income Texans, suggested state leaders look beyond spending cuts.

        “We underwent deep cuts in 2003. There's nothing easy left to cut.

        Every cut is going to be a cut to an important state service or program,” he said. “What we need is a balanced approach to balancing the budget.

        “We need to be seriously talking about how to increase revenue by eliminating some no-longer-justified tax exemptions and looking at other options to make sure we have a balanced approach to a serious problem.”

        Support for cuts

        Former state lawmaker Talmadge Heflin, of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates limited government, said the call for cuts is “an excellent approach.”

        “I'm not surprised to hear agencies such as TDCJ ask for exemptions,” Heflin said. “That is a lot of times kind of the first order of business — you see how serious the leadership is about that. But I believe that you can always reduce budgets and continue to deliver services.”

        TDCJ officials identified $294.3 million in cuts, but asked to be exempted from $243.9 million worth of them.

        Among those the agency wants to exempt are the elimination of 2,037 correctional officer positions, “resulting in reduced staff levels that could place public safety and the security of our institutions at risk.” The agency has more than 26,300 such positions.

        Other cuts would reduce parole officers, probation officer positions, academic and vocational training, treatment services, halfway-house placements and correctional psychiatric care and managed health care.

        Negative effects warned

        “The operational impact of a funding reduction to these operations (probation, offender treatment services, institutional security and offender health care, and parole supervision) will likely increase recidivism; cause significant growth in the prison population; require a substantial staff reduction of nearly 3,100 TDCJ employees; and negatively impact both supervision in the community and security within our institutions,” Brad Livingston, TDCJ executive director, said in a letter identifying the proposed cuts.

        The prison system said it can make the other $50.4 million in cuts but warned even that would “remove all flexibility to manage potential fiscal shortfalls and operational challenges” in the current two-year budget period.

        Other agencies that released their proposals Tuesday included the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

        TEA's $135.5 million in possible cuts include eliminating state funding to the University Interscholastic League for a steroid testing program, saving $1 million. Testing has found few students using steroids. It also identified a $10 million cut in funding for textbooks and kindergarten materials.

        Overtime pay grant

        The $14.6 million in possible cuts identified by DPS include nearly $10.4 million in overtime pay for border security conducted by local law enforcement agencies. DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said a separate $16 million federal grant available through Perry's office would cover some overtime.

        Some agencies had made their proposals public earlier, including human services agencies that could save $303 million in state spending through such cuts as reducing Medicaid rates for health care providers and serving fewer patients at four state psychiatric hospitals. Those state cuts would cost the state $238 million in federal matching funds.

        pfikac@express-news.net

        Prison officials seek a pardon on spending cuts


        Budget cuts to state prison system would mean 3,100 jobs lost
        But officials want to exempt many criminal justice programs.

        By Mike Ward and Kate Alexander
        AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
        Published: Feb. 16, 2010

        The jobs of nearly 3,100 prison guards, parole officers and other state corrections employees would be eliminated as part of a proposed budget-cutting plan unveiled Tuesday that includes closing some privately run prisons and cutbacks in treatment and rehabilitation programs and medical care.

        Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, warned that the $294.3 million in cuts requested by state leaders "will likely increase recidivism, cause significant growth in the prison population ... negatively impact both supervision in the community and security within our institutions."

        He said cuts of more than $50.4 million could disrupt operations.

        Legislative leaders immediately called for the prison system and other public safety agencies to be spared from the proposed cuts.

        Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus — anticipating a shortfall of more than $10 billion in the next budget — told agencies to submit plans for cutting 5 percent of their general revenue budgets. The goal is to find perhaps $1 billion that could be trimmed, if necessary, while minimizing the effect on direct services.

        The bulk of the money, however, has to come from criminal justice and some health and human services programs because more than half of the general operating budget was exempt from the cuts.

        School funding and the Children's Health Insurance Program were among the exemptions.

        Agencies offered suggestions large and small. More than $303 million in potential cuts were outlined by the Health and Human Services Commission, including a 1 percent reduction in rates paid to health professionals providing care to Medicaid recipients.

        The Texas Department of Transportation said it could save $20 million — much more than $1 million it was asked to trim — by delaying the issuance of some debt. With the generous offering, the agency sought to protect its infant "sister agency," the Department of Motor Vehicles, from any reductions.

        And the Texas Education Agency has proposed eliminating $1 million for a steroid testing program for high school athletes — which Dewhurst championed — that yielded only 11 positives out of 29,000 tests at a cost of $6 million over two years.

        No immediate decisions are expected on enacting any of the reductions. Perry and legislative leaders are waiting to see whether state revenue rebounds soon before determining what to trim.

        Under the prison system's proposed cuts, 2,037 correctional-officer jobs would be eliminated to save $84.4 million, even though Livingston warned that the change would result in "reduced staff levels that would place public safety and security of our institutions at risk."

        In addition, another 465 prison jobs in food service, maintenance and farming operations would be eliminated to save another $42 million, along with 198 support employees that the report says, if approved, would "negatively impact our ability to manage" day-to-day functions.

        The jobs of 195 parole officers also would be cut.

        Aside from job losses, the biggest cuts would come in prison medical care, where medical clinics would stop providing over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen; dietary services would be eliminated; an infirmary at the University of Texas at Tyler would be closed; and convicts leaving prison would be given a prescription for their medications rather than a 10-day supply that the state now pays for.

        In addition, most prison clinics would see reduced hours of operation cut even more; dental and mental health services would be reduced; and voluntary and routine HIV and Hepatitis C testing would be suspended.

        A new 500-bed prison hospital in Marlin, slated to open this spring in a former federal Veterans Administration health center, would be delayed for a year to save another $10.3 million.

        "There's only so many ways to reduce the budget by 5 percent," said Allen Hightower, director of the state Correctional Managed Health Care Committee that oversees prison medical care. "Bottom line is you have to reduce services."

        Along with the cuts to prison operations and administrative support, Livingston proposed that funding to the state's 122 county probation departments be cut by $22 million, a move officials warned could increase revocation rates and send more people to state prisons.

        Substance-abuse treatment programs would be cut by $7.8 million, reducing by 1,378 the number of convicts in the rehabilitation initiatives; 817 beds in privately run prisons would be eliminated along with 400 halfway house beds to save $12.5 million, and academic, vocational and other rehabilitation would also be cut, leaving hundreds more offenders without those programs.

        "This 5 percent cut tears down what Texas has built in the last five years, and I can't just stand by and let that happen," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin , who plans to seek support from House and Senate members to block the prison cuts.

        Among the $50.4 million in budget reductions prison officials said they could absorb without causing problems are a hiring freeze for all administrative positions and new limits on official travel, except for security and investigations, and a freeze on $6 million worth of capital expenditures such as replacing aging vehicles, computer equipment, and kitchen and laundry equipment.

        State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson , who with Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, helped pass into law many of the rehabilitation and treatment programs, said he will oppose cutting many of the programs that are saving taxpayers money. Instead, he questioned whether the prison system needs headquarters in Austin and Huntsville.

        "They ought to just have one," he said, insisting that consolidation could yield savings to offset program cuts. "That's an alternate I'm pursuing."

        mward@statesman.com; 445-1712
        kalexander@statesman.com; 445-3618

        Budget cuts to state prison system


        Texas prisons part of budget cutting

        Associated Press
        Feb. 11, 2010

        AUSTIN — Closing some Texas prisons is an option as the correctional system faces a Monday deadline to put together a budget-cutting plan.

        Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus asked all state agencies in January to offer proposals cutting 5 percent of their budgets by Feb. 15. Texas is facing a projected state budget shortfall of at least $10 billion.

        The Austin American-Statesman reported today that Texas prison officials are looking for perhaps as much as $300 million in cutbacks in the 112-unit system.

        “Closing prisons? It’s absolutely on the table,” said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds of Lufkin. “As tight as our budget situation looks, we cannot unravel the fledgling system of diversion and treatment programs that are paying big dividends now for the states. And there’s only one other place to look prison operations.”

        Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, has said that any budget reductions would not compromise public safety or agency operations.

        “We certainly can’t compromise public safety, and I’m opposed to closing prisons just to save a buck,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire of Houston.

        “Closing prisons ought to be a result of having excess capacity that results from having diversion and treatment programs that are successful, to build new efficiencies into a system to make it work better, to be smarter about how we approach criminal justice,” Whitmire said.

        The number of imprisoned Texas adults has been decreasing and the system currently has about 2,300 vacant beds, according to Whitmire and McReynolds. The Texas youth prison system, which five years ago housed almost 5,000 offenders, now holds fewer than 1,700.

        Texas prisons part of budget cutting


        January 4, 2010
        EDITORIAL

        Prisons and Budgets

        The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has about one-quarter of its prisoners. But the relentless rise in the nation’s prison population has suddenly slowed as many states discover that it is simply too expensive to over-incarcerate.

        Between 1987 and 2007 the prison population nearly tripled, from 585,000 to almost 1.6 million. Much of that increase occurred in states — many with falling crime rates — that had adopted overly harsh punishment policies, such as the “three strikes and you’re out” rule and drug laws requiring that nonviolent drug offenders be locked away.

        These policies have been hugely costly. According to the Pew Center on the States, state spending from general funds on corrections increased from $10.6 billion in 1987 to more than $44 billion in 2007, a 127 percent increase in inflation-adjusted dollars. In the same period, adjusted spending on higher education increased only 21 percent.

        In 2008, the explosion of the prison population ground to a near halt, according to data released last month by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 739,000 inmates were admitted to federal and state facilities, only about 3,500 more than were released.

        One factor seems to be tight budgets as states decide to release nonviolent offenders early. This can not only save money. If done correctly, it can also be very sound social policy. Many nonviolent offenders can be dealt with more effectively and more cheaply through treatment and jobs programs.

        Michigan, which has been hard hit by the recession, has done a particularly good job of releasing people who do not need to be in prison. As the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project details in a new report, Michigan reduced its prison population by about 8 percent between March 2007 and November 2009 by taking smart steps, notably doing more to get nonviolent drug offenders out, while helping in their transition to a productive, and crime-free, life.

        Not every state has gotten the message. Florida, for example, has a state law mandating that all prisoners serve a high percentage of their sentence, which is both dubious corrections policy and terrible fiscal policy.

        For many years, driving up prison populations has been an easy thing for elected officials to do, popular with voters and powerful corrections officer unions. The new incarceration figures suggest, however, that in the current hard economic times, strapped states are beginning to realize that they do not have the money to keep people in prison who do not need to be there.

        Prisons and Budgets


      2009:


        Budget woes affecting states' approach to prison sentences

        By Associated Press
        December 20, 2009

        DALLAS -- The prison population of the United States may soon drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other.

        The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies, which sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them.

        "It's a reversal of a trend that's been going on for more than a generation," said David Greenberg, a sociology professor at New York University. "In some ways, it's overdue."

        The U.S. prison population dropped steadily during most of the 1960s, and there were a few small dips in 1970 and 1972. But it has since risen every year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

        About 739,000 prisoners were admitted to state and federal facilities last year, about 3,500 more than were released, according to new figures from the bureau. The 0.8 percent growth in the prison population is the smallest annual increase this decade and significantly less than the 6.5 percent average annual growth of the 1990s.

        Overall, there were 1.6 million prisoners in state and federal prisons at the end of 2008.

        In the past, prison populations have been lower when drafts were enacted, including during World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

        "People who go to war are young men, and young men are the most likely to get arrested or prosecuted," said James Austin, president of the JFA Institute, a research organization that advises states on prison issues.

        The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not involved a draft. Instead, the economic crisis forced states to reconsider who they put behind bars and how long to keep them, said Kim English, research director for the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

        In Texas, parole rates were once among the lowest in the nation, with as few as 15 percent of inmates being granted release as recently as five years ago. Now, the parole rate is more than 30 percent after Texas began identifying low-risk candidates for parole.

        In Mississippi, a truth-in-sentencing law required drug offenders to serve 85 percent of a sentence. That has been reduced to less than 25 percent.

        California's budget problems are expected to result in the release of 37,000 inmates in the next two years. The state also is under a federal court order to shed 40,000 inmates because its prisons are so overcrowded.

        Budget woes affecting states' approach to prison sentences


        August 31, 2009

        Truth in Sentencing Budgets: How the Lege boosts prison expenses without paying for it.

        At the Dallas News, Terrence Stutz provides that paper's biennial recounting of new criminal penalty increases passed by the Texas Legislature that go into effect tomorrow ("In Texas, penalties rise for senior fraud, graffiti, drive by shootings," Aug. 31).

        Writes Stutz:

        In all, more than a dozen laws boosting the penalties for certain crimes will go on the books Tuesday.

        Legislators raised the stakes even as they have tried to control the size and cost of Texas' prison system. Some critics question whether increased mandatory jail time for various offenses makes sense."

        Here's a list compiled by Stutz of some of the new criminal penalty increases.

        This was actually a relatively light session as far as so-called "enhancements" - some sessions the Lege passes dozens of these things, but restraint in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee combined with the meltdown in the House in the final days kept the number of penalty hikes relatively small this time around. According to Shannon Edmonds from the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, writing in the comments, "By our count, the Legislature created at least 40 brand-new crimes and enhanced the penalties for at least 36 existing crimes." (Yikes!)

        Yours truly was quoted arguing that past penalty hikes often haven't impacted the behaviors targeted. But several aspects of this issue come to mind that didn't make it into the story. First, in the big picture, the Legislature pretends increasing criminal penalties is a budget neutral act and so the practice of increasing criminal penalties adds prisoners to the system without adding to the state budget to pay for it.

        For example, the article focuses on new legislation boosting penalties from a state-jail to a third-degree felony for committing fraud against seniors.

        (Leave aside for the moment that the strategy may backfire to the extent those committing fraud are family members if seniors don't report crimes so their kids or relatives won't face harsh penalties.)

        It's obvious on its face that increasing the penalty for an offense from up to two years to 2-10 will increase the overall amount of incarceration the state must ultimately pay for - at around $18K per inmate per year in current dollars. But the "fiscal note" for the bill, as is the case for every fiscal note for a penalty enhancement, says there will be no sigificant fiscal impact.

        That's simply a falsehood put out by the Legislative Budget Board, especially at a time when our prisons are at capacity and the state has not authorized new ones. But it's a politically convenient lie because it allows the Lege to pass criminal penalty increases without relatedly budgeting to pay for the extra costs.

        That's the kind of irresponsible if politically expedient budgeting that got California's prison system in trouble by jacking up criminal penalties without simultaneously identifying revenue streams to pay for it.

        Indeed, whenever you hear someone complain about "truth in sentencing," i.e., that offenders don't serve the full number of years they're sentenced, this budget phenomenon is the ultimate source of the problem: By lengthening penalties without paying for it, the Lege ensures offenders must be let out before the end of their sentence because there's not enough money available to lock them up. Over time, after the Lege has done this decade after decade regardless of which party is in power, the prison budget becomes wholly inadequate to pay for the number of people the laws say should be sent there.

        It should also be mentioned that over the last several sessions, the House of Representatives (especially the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee) has been the biggest source of criminal penalty hikes and new crimes created in Texas statutes. Chairman John Whitmire of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee has been much less sanguine about such legislation, though he finds himself under great pressure in odd-numbered years to let at least a few of those bills pass.

        Without his strong stance, though, this problem would be much worse.

        Finally, although increasing criminal penalties is a bipartisan pastime, it's worth pointing out that Democrats tend to carry more "enhancement" bills than Republicans, a situation that's been true since I've been following the issue at the Lege. My theory is that the Dems feel an extra need need to prove they're sufficiently "tuff on crime." But whatever the reason, that reliable pattern undermines the usual stereotypes about partisan politics and the justice system.

        Given that one in 22 Texans is in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole - as many people as live in Washington, D.C. and more people than live in four US states - surely Texas' criminal penalties at this point are plenty high enough. Jacking them up further without paying the bill makes little sense and creates more problems than it solves.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: budget, Enhancements, House Criminal Jurisprudence, LBB, Senate Criminal Justice, Texas Legislature


        August 11, 2009

        States slashing prison costs, closing units

        At least 23 states cut prison spending in their most recent legislative session, reports Stateline.org:

        The national recession is taking its toll on what had been one of the fastest-growing areas of state government spending: prisons. Even though state corrections budgets have ballooned in the past two decades amid a surging U.S. prison population, at least 23 states slashed funding for prisons this year, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Vera Institute of Justice, a research organization based in New York. Thirty-three states responded to the survey, paid for by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline.org.

        Six states — Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and Washington — cut funding for corrections by more than 10 percent from last year’s levels, according to the study. Kansas saw the biggest recorded decrease, spending 22 percent less than it did last year.

        According to Stateline.org’s annual review of states’ legislative sessions, at least seven states — Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Washington — this year decided to close prisons. In some states, those plans touched off resistance among prison unions and in hard-hit communities anxious about losing even more jobs.

        So much for the idea that being a prison guard is a "recession proof" job.

        Posted By; Gritsforbreakfast


        April 19, 2009

        Report: Shortchanging indigent defense budgets diminishes constitutional rights

        Dr. Tony Fabelo, one of Texas' leading criminal justice policy experts, emails to let us know about a new report, produced by a national committee on which he participated, arguing to spend new resources to shore up public defender systems and corresponding press coverage on NPR.

        The report goes into detail about the wide range of ways public defender systems fail poor defendants. Sometimes people don't get lawyers at all. Other times they get a lawyer who is so overworked and underpaid that there's no way the accused can get a real defense.

        When that happens, the system ends up with people like Alan Crotzer, a man who spent 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. "I was poor and indigent," said Crotzer. "I didn't have no political connections, but I was innocent. And because of that fault in me, I spent more than half of my life in prison."

        Crotzer was released when DNA evidence proved his innocence. He has been out for three years, and he's part of the committee that helped produce the report.

        The study includes a list of recommendations to fix public defender systems — for example, each state should have a commission to oversee indigent defense. These steps may not be cheap, and it's a difficult time to convince states to spend money.

        [Former federal judge Tim] Lewis argues that there's really no choice. "Even in difficult economic times, how much is a constitutional right worth?" he asked. "What price tag do we place on the right to vote? The right to be free from illegal searches and seizures? This is no different."

        RELATED: See coverage from the Stand Down Blog.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: Indigent defense


        News: March 6, 2009

        Reefer Madness: Treatment Works

        Bill would divert low-level drug offenders from prison and save a bundle of money

        By Jordan Smith

        Keeping people in prison is expensive. It costs the state of Texas more than $14,000 (at the low end) to house an inmate in a state jail facility for a year and, on average, more than $16,000 per year to house an inmate in a Texas prison.

        According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's 2007 annual review, it costs more than $2 billion per year to incarcerate felons – 79.4% of the agency's budget. The cost might be understandable if it were being spent to house violent offenders who pose a real risk to society. But the fact is that a large chunk of that money is actually being spent to house low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Keeping those folks out of state jails and prisons could save the state a lot of money – according to the Legislative Budget Board, it could save the state as much as $500 million over just five years.

        That's the goal of Senate Bill 1118, the so-called Treatment Works bill, filed by Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; John Carona, R-Dallas; and Glenn Hegar, R-Katy (with co-sponsors Robert Deuell, R- Greenville, and John Whitmire, D-Houston), which would divert from prison and state jail offenders charged with third-degree felony or misdemeanor drug possession. These defendants instead would be put into community supervision and, importantly, drug treatment – at an average cost of just $3,241 per person.

        The drug treatment costs would be paid by the individual, if possible, meaning the state would have to provide drug-treatment funding for roughly 60% of offenders eligible for the diversion. But that cost pales in comparison to the costs associated with keeping low-level drug offenders in jail: As of Aug. 31, 2008, there were more than 19,000 inmates in Texas facilities for drug possession, which costs, on average, more than $260 million a year.

        Continuing to spend that kind of money, especially in a down economy, just to lock up nonviolent drug offenders makes no sense, says Ellis. And the bill contains extra motivation for offenders to stay out of jail. If successful in treatment, a defendant can ultimately ask a judge for nondisclosure of the original charge, which helps individuals land and keep employment, access funding for education, and stay clean. "My motivation is to create a smarter, more effective criminal justice system in Texas, and this bill does just that," he said. "It saves Texas money while still keeping Texans safe."

        This is the second time Ellis has filed such legislation.

        In 2007, he joined with Carona and Deuell to offer the same bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, in the House. The bill passed easily out of House and Senate committees but later languished on the House floor. Why it died isn't entirely clear – with strong bipartisan support, Capitol watchers thought the bill was a clear choice for fiscal responsibility.

        But it proved politically challenging: Madden's support for the measure became an issue during his re-election campaign, and, says Marc Levin, with the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Effective Justice, it nearly cost him his seat.

        Jon Cole, Madden's 23-year-old primary challenger, did a stint with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under former drug czar John Walters while he was a student at Georgetown University. During the campaign, Cole tossed a soft-on- crime barb at Madden, and the label gained traction. Cole called for a return to "Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs" (while, ironically, also calling on lawmakers to "rein in spending"), and he got backing from eight current and former elected district attorneys, including Williamson Co. D.A. John "Tough Guy" Brad ley. Madden hung on to his seat, but the primary vote was close, with Madden pulling 51.8% of the vote. (Notably, Madden has not yet signed on to this session's version of the bill.)

        For sure, the only public opposition to the measure in 2007 was from prosecutors – and only a single voice, an assistant district attorney with the Harris Co. prosecutor's office, spoke out against the measure at a committee hearing, complaining that the drug quantities covered by the bill were excessive for a simple user. In short, there are certainly politics involved in such reforms, but Levin says TPPF supports the measure because it's smart policy. "It's a challenge getting support from Republicans in the House, but I'm working on it," he said. "It's good policy, and that's what we're focusing on. The politics will take care of itself."

        Indeed, it's not as though this kind of measure is untried, and state lawmakers are increasingly turning to adopting prison-diversion programs. Notably, in 1996, Arizona voters passed the Drug Medicalization, Preven tion and Control Act, which did much the same thing that SB 1118 now seeks to do. In Arizona, Levin notes, the program boasts a 77% success rate in keeping folks from becoming repeat offenders. And California, where voters passed a similar measure in 2001, has already seen more than $1 billion in savings.

        In fact, between 2004 and 2006, 22 states enacted legislative reforms to sentencing policies, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, including several that passed diversion programs similar to the Texas proposal.

        Any opposition, of course, will likely come in the form of tough-on- crime posturing that took place last session. But the reality is that we can't incarcerate our way out of crime – and certainly this is not a solution for the majority of drug offenders. The fact that drug addiction is a disease is hardly controversial. While some people see addiction as a "failure of will," former National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Alan Leshner argued addiction "should be understood as a chronic recurring illness." According to the institute, $1 spent on treatment actually saves $4 to $7 in costs related to addiction.

        Given the money involved and the lives in the balance, getting people out of jail and into treatment makes perfect sense, says Ellis. "Any reform of this type will be an uphill climb in Texas, but I feel very good about its chance for passage," Ellis said. "We have strong bipartisan support, and we are starting to see a shift from the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' mentality.

        ... I think that holds true in both parties – and though we haven't spoken directly about it – I believe if we get this bill to [Gov. Rick] Perry's desk, it will become law."

        Reefer Madness: Treatment Works

        Copyright © 2009 Austin Chronicle Corporation.


        Senate backs prison pay hikes

        By Mike Ward
        March 5, 2009

        A Senate Finance Committee work group voted this afternoon to fund the full 20-percent in pay raises for Texas’ correctional officers, a $450 million package that was proposed last summer by prison brass.

        The move came just hours after a House budget work group decided to cut the proposed pay hikes to just 5 percent, and move them to a wish list of items that may be funded if enough money is left over.

        “We think that’s an important initiative that should stay in” the budget, said state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, echoing sentiments from Sens. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

        Added Seliger: “In the best of times, we’re 4,000 officers short. Now, we’re 2,200 short. I think they need a raise.”

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Senate backs prison pay hikes


        March 3, 2009

        Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid

        By SOLOMON MOORE

        One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study.

        Correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data.

        Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report today by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years.

        The increases in the number of people in some form of correctional control occurred even as crime rates sharply declined, by about 25 percent in the past two decades.

        At a time when states are facing huge budget shortfalls, prisons, which hold 1.5 million adults and cost far more per convict than community supervision, are driving the cost increases.

        Yet states have shown a preference for prison spending even though it is cheaper to monitor convicts in community programs, including probation and parole, which require offenders to check in regularly with law enforcement officers.

        Over all, two-thirds of offenders, or about 5.1 million people in 2008 were on probation or parole.

        Pew researchers say that as states trim essential services like education and health care, prison budgets continue to grow. Those priorities are misguided, the study says.

        “States are looking to make cuts that will have long-term harmful effects,” said Sue Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “Corrections is one area they can cut and still have good or better outcomes than what they are doing now.”

        The study found that states are failing to increase spending for community supervision in proportion to their growing caseloads. About $9 out of $10 spent on corrections goes to prison financing. A person in community supervision costs far less: a survey of 34 states found that states spent an average of $29,000 a year on prisoners compared to $1,250 on probationers and $2,750 on parolees.

        One in 11 African-Americans are under correctional control, one in 27 Latinos, and one in 45 white people are in prison, jail, or under correctional supervision.

        Only one out of 89 women is behind bars or monitored, compared to one out of 18 men.

        States with the highest proportion of people under some form of punishment regimen include Georgia (1 in 13), Indiana (1 in 26), Louisiana (1 in 26), and Ohio (1 in 25).

        Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid


        Cost of locking up Americans too high: Pew study

        Mon Mar 2, 2009

        WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One in every 31 U.S. adults is in the corrections system, which includes jail, prison, probation and supervision, more than double the rate of a quarter century ago, according to a report released on Monday by the Pew Center on the States.

        The study, which said the current rate compares to one in 77 in 1982, concluded that with declining resources, more emphasis should be put on community supervision, not jail or prison.

        "Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost," said Adam Gelb, director of the Center's Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report.

        The United States has the highest incarceration rate and the biggest prison population of any country in the world, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Justice.

        Most of those in the U.S. corrections system -- one in 45 -- are already on probation or parole, with one in 100 in prison or jail, the Pew study found.

        Those numbers are higher in certain areas of the country, and Georgia tops all states with one in 13 adults in the justice system. The other leading states are Idaho, where one in 18 are in corrections and Texas, where the rate is one in 22. In the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., nearly 5 percent of adults are in the city's penal system.

        This was the first criminal justice study that took into account those on probation and parole as well as federal convicts, Pew said.

        'STATES SPENDING TOO MUCH'

        The numbers are also concentrated among groups, with a little more than 9 percent of black adults in prisons or jails or on probation or parole, as opposed to some 4 percent of Hispanics and 2 percent of whites.

        Pew compiled the report as states consider cutting corrections spending during the recession. The research group said that by changing sentencing laws and probation programs states can lower incarceration rates and save money.

        "Among the many programs that are competing for scarce taxpayer dollars, there is one area of the state budget that could use some trimming, and that area is corrections, " said Susan Urahn, the center's managing director, in a call with reporters. "The bottom line is that states are spending too much."

        Penitentiary systems have been the fastest-growing spending area for states after Medicaid, the healthcare program for those with low income. Over the last 20 years their spending on criminal justice has increased more than 300 percent, the study found.

        During the last 25 years prison and jail populations have grown 274 percent to 2.3 million in 2008, according to the Pew research, while those under supervision grew 226 percent over the same span to 5.1 million.

        It estimated states spent a record $51.7 billion on corrections in fiscal year 2008 and incarcerating one inmate cost them, on average, $29,000 a year. But the average annual cost of managing an offender through probation was $1,250 and through parole $2,750.

        "The huge differences between states are mostly due not to crime trends, or social and economic forces," Gelb said. "The rates are different mostly because of choices that the states have made about how they respond to crime."

        "New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back. Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn't," Gelb said.

        Some states have begun experimenting with ankle bracelets, Global Positioning Systems, and even kiosks akin to cash machines in order to track those on probation for less, he said.

        (Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Eric Walsh)

        Cost of locking up Americans too high: Pew study


        How a Prisoner Funds America!

        Feb. 28, 2009
        By Lynn Schmaltz

        Editor's Note: In the mid 1990's, I began finding out information about an educational process called 'Redemption' which referred to taking back your sovereign rights as a natural born citizen of America due to a deception that was perpetuated on the American people by the Illuminati during the 1930's. A number of legal 'fictions' were created at that time by federal fiat that declared that the U. S. was in a state of bankruptcy and that a 'policy' would now take over that established all legal matters-from civil to criminal-to be under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Commercial Code, the UCC, which is created by statutory laws ('laws' created by legislatures without approval -and usually without knowledge-of the general public), in place of Constitutional law which was created with the approval of the American people.

        This fiction took you, the flesh and blood creation of God out of the picture and substituted in your place something called 'the straw man'. Whenever you get a summons to appear in court, your name is printed in all capital letters because that is how the 'straw man' is distinguished from the flesh and blood, God-created man. Since you show up and answer to your all-capital name on the docket, the court accepts you as the 'representative' of the straw man and proceeds to play the game with you. If you don't show up, they're still arrest you for failure to appear, because the state has already recognized you as the representative of the straw man-unless you learn how to break that connection (called a 'nexus') and take back your straw man from state 'ownership'. I know it sounds complicated and you weren't told a thing about it, but I did tell you it was a deception, remember?

        If you don't realize that you are 'owned' by the state, then consider this: whenever you go to a car dealer and buy a new car, the deed (from the manufacturer) of that car is sent by the car dealer to the Secretary of State of the state in which you live. It's recorded and then destroyed. You, in turn, are given a title of certificate by your state which says that you have a legal right to possess and use this car which is now owned by the state who received its deed. Your ownership of the car is an illusion, the reality is-the state owns the car, same for a marriage license. You are asking the state to give you permission to become man and wife. By seeking out said marriage license, you are affirming to the state that your are slaves of the state ("chattel") and you recognize that the 'massah' has authority over you for such things, otherwise you wouldn't be asking for its 'permission' in the first place. Beginning to see the big picture, Bunky?

        To learn more, type in "redemption + straw man" into Google and see what comes up. Don't forget, the debunkers are there too to dissuade you about the Redemption process, so don't let a little sand in your eyes throw you for a loop...Ken]

        Here's some interesting research on 'crimes'. It appears that all crimes are commercial and have a commercial value to them. It makes you look at improvements to the freeways, cities and towns in a different light....... especially when those improvements are funded by 'municipal bonds.' You'll also understand why there's no hurry to end the war in Iraq , and you may ask the question "who is shooting whom?" Take care, Lynn.

        Gxxx is investigating more into the criminal jail/prosecution aspects. The results are incredible. His strawman is currently on probation from activities that were the result of Cxxxx prosecution of 17 to 18 people who were attempting to help patriots to buy Cadillacs. He was put in jail for a year, then a half way house. He's been researching admiralty. When he was ready to leave the half way house he was caught on the computer creating a bill of exchange and the guards and matrons thought it was criminal activity so they jerked him back into jail for violating his probation for putting a blank bill of exchange.

        Jxxx had advised him that he had to quit fighting these people or he'd be in dishonor under admiralty and he had to keep raising questions rather than fighting and denying the charges. He was only in jail about 4 or 5 days and when they tried to interrogate him to get him ready for his hearing where the judge would eventually put him back into prison. He started using the correct tactic of accepting and asking questions. He got the prosecutor (assistant) to throw up her hands and scream he was too smart for her, to just get out. He's been in a half way house since May.

        The last time he had a probation hearing with his officer in Cxxxx, he'd gone to the meeting personally. Before he went, he'd written a letter to her, the judge, the prosecutor, and others, and said that he requested that they deliver to him the bonds from CUSIP which were being used to underwrite his time in prison and his time on probation. He wanted them to deliver the bonds being held by CUSIP and other government agencies so he could accept them for settlement and closure. When he went to his probation officer meeting he was disappointed because his probation officer wasn't there to meet with him. He filled out a form and left. It seems that no one wants to talk with him or meet with him now that he's asked for the CUSIP bonds so he can settle and close the bonds.

        CUSIP is an acronym. Gxxx is telling us that all criminal prosecution is for the purpose for raising revenue for the United States of America and he'll tell us who that is. Now you'll have a better understanding of why people are in jail, why they are in prison, why they are on probation and why they are charged with everything from jaywalking on up through murder one. Jack further heard from others researching, and Gxxx is also saying that every American soldier who dies in Afghanistan and Iraq probably carries a $10 million life insurance on him carried by our government. After all, every soldier, marine, or air force person is an asset to the United States of America . They have a huge investment in that particular soldier and his activity and it can explain why it is that the US is not so anxious to withdraw its troops from that area. It's a money making activity and they don't want to talk about the fact that they are making money on death and that they are making money the incarceration and imprisonment on otherwise good hearted people.

        Gxxx:
        The key to finding out what you want on the Internet is knowing how to put it into the computer. If you put the right information in there, you get the right answer. He's been finding out who the investor is, the 144 holders. They have a rule called the 144 holder. The rule is that they can't sell private investment securities that are not registered. The rule prohibits them from selling the prison bonds. They have to wait 6 months before they can sell a certain quantity of private securities without being registered, selling them as private securities. Basically there are 8 people on the board of directors of CCA (Corrections Corporation of America)-Joseph E. Russell, the top holder, and John M Ferguson. Russell owns 64,000 shares of CCA stock which is worth about $70 million. Ferguson owns 34,000 shares valued at about $37 million.

        Fidelity Management and Research is the top stock holder, the top investment firm that is selling the bonds as investment securities. They pool them and sell them as mortgage backed securities. They also when they pool them, they sell them as mutual funds on the stock market. By pooling you mean the securities on the inmates. What they are doing is they are actually taking the mortgage backed securities, which are really bid bonds, performance bonds and payment bonds. They pool these bonds and when they pool them together they call them mortgage backed securities. They take these to TBA which is the Bond Market Association. It's an actual market for bonds. Anytime a bond is issued there has to be an underwriter. The bonds have to be underwritten. Bonds that are issued have to be indemnified so there has to be surety (spelling?) to indemnify the bonds. The brokerage houses and the insurance companies indemnify the bonds. They're called surety companies.

        After the surety companies indemnify the bonds, which is underwriting them, they do this through an investment banker or the banks themselves do this. They job it out to them.

        They buy up all these shares and turn around and sell them as investment securities. The shares represent the stock which represent the account of CCA. All of this has been funneled through CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America . What they are doing is selling stock in the prison system by selling the prisoners' accounts as securities through the securities exchange. They are making huge amounts of money off it. They privatize the prisoners' accounts and bring all these investors in and what they are doing is underwriting all these prisoner's accounts (bonds). This is after the surety company guarantees the bonds. Then they are underwritten through an investment bank or banker. Then they are put out on the market and resold to the public.

        In other words the banks are buying up all the shares and then they resell them as investment securities to the public. The public them buys them as mutual funds or they can buy them as debt instruments, equity instruments. What they are really doing is they are buying up debt instrument. They are using the fiscal accounting cycle of accrual and they sell the prisoner's 'capital and interest' as it is called in accrual accounting. They resell these to the public because the prisoner did not do full settlement and closure on the account. They sell the prisoner accounts as a commercial dishonor and sell it to the public as a commercial dishonor. When you go in the courts they always say they are operating under a statute jurisdiction.

        The Black's Law Dictionary 4th edition says a statute is a bond or obligation of record.

        That's what all the criminal statutes are........bonds or obligation of record. Go in and read the definition of a recognizance bond and you find that it is a bond or obligation of record.

        They are selling bonds. They are charging prisoners under a bond; the prisoner signs the bond and the bond becomes the agreement for the payback. This is done when the prisoner signs the final court papers at a sentencing hearing.

        Just: how many of us remember when our government attempted to finance from the private sector during the second world war? Weren't they selling war bonds? They were soaking up the people's equity in terms of buying bonds, transferring your funds to the government.

        The government by purchasing those bonds, was promising to pay you back your investment at sometime in the future with interest. At that time what they were collecting from the people was their so-called cash equity. What Gene saying now is that people have gotten too poor, too stingy, too smart to buy bonds to finance the government. How long has it been since you heard the Post Office or anyone trying to get you down to buy US savings bonds? So what they are doing now instead of getting us to voluntarily give our cash equity to the government for a promise to be paid back in the future, they are securing from us some violation of a statute by which the law ascribes from us a penalty; i.e., the payment of a sum of money due. Instead of collecting the cash from us, they put us through a criminal procedure where we dishonor the system and what Gene said is what is happening is they are selling our capital and our interest. In other words, they are selling the liability you had in whatever charge was brought against your strawman. They are taking that capital and interest that you should pay and are grabbing that from us and selling it on the open market to bankers and investors to transfer their funds to government which is covered by the bond of the violation of your strawman of that statute. In order to secure the bond the living soul is placed in prison as the surety to back the bond which is financed on the investment of the public market place in terms of the sales of stocks and bonds.

        The public doesn't directly bid on my (the prisoner's) debt. Your debt is assumed by the bankers. The bankers issue secondary paper that allows me to invest in what they are holding as the holder in due course of the claim against your strawman. The reason they are doing this is because you dishonored the post settlement procedures for settlement and closure of the account. The prisoner should have come in and accepted and used his exemption. Since the prisoner dishonored the post settlement proceedings, then the prisoner is in dishonor and the issuance of the bonds by the financing system was done in order to pass the punishment on to him because of his inability to fulfill his post settlement objectives.

        If you get into to dishonor by nonacceptance, what they are trying to do is get an acceptor which is the same thing as a banker. They need someone to pay off the obligation and if you get into dishonor, they sell your dishonor and put you into prison as the collateral and they sell the bond. The bond is issued and they get a surety to underwrite the bid bond with a performance bond and then they get an underwriter to underwrite the performance and payment bonds. What the performance bond does is it guarantees the bid contract, or the bid bond. What the bid bond does is guarantee the payment of the performance bond.

        This is done through a surety company. Then they get an underwriter or an investment banker to underwrite it. After it's underwritten, they sell it to the public as investment securities, debt instruments, or mutual backed securities.

        It's all done through bonds...bonding. That's what all these municipal bonds are. What they doing is following everything through the prison system. The prison system is being privatized. Through privatization , private enterprise can fund the prison system cheaper than the government can. They are subsidizing everything through privatization.

        ALEC does this; the American Legislative Exchange Council, promotes privatization through foundations like the Reason Foundation owned by David Knott. They get the foundations to promote this and gets investors to come in. Cornell was merged with Trinity venture Company which is an investment company. What they did was change their name to Reid Trinity Venture and then merged with SB Warburg. (Warburg was out of Germany or France and partnered with Rothschild). SB Warburg is in Chicago , Illinois , and they merged with BIF in Switzerland , which is a settlement and closure bank, and the biggest bank in the world for settlements. They are connected to Cornell Company which is owned by David Cornell.

        Everyone is tied in. Paine Webber Group is the United States of America and all the big international corporations are the stockholders and own all the stock in CCA. Everyone is using our exemptions on the private side. They filed a 1096 tax return and show it as a prepaid account, as prepaid interest and they returned it back to the prisoner. They took the prisoners deduction for the exemption and they deduct the tax and the IRS bills the prisoner for the tax. So the corporations are stealing your exemption which is your intellectual property. What's wrong with this? They are not telling us what they are doing.

        It's all commercial. When you go into the court room everything is commercial. Vxxxxx in her seminar says the facts don't matter, the facts are on the moon. What matters is honor and dishonor. The courts have to dishonor the potential prisoner or get that 'person' to argue or get that 'person's' attorney to argue. Just like Martha Stewart. Argue and you're in dishonor and you'll end up in jail.

        The attorneys are actors to make us think the whole process is a factual issue. They get us into the guilty/not guilty mode and they get into all the cloak and dagger or what evidence to present. It's a dog and pony show to cover up that they are after the debt money. All corporations work on a fiscal accounting year which means that they spend debt. They can't get rid of the debt and balance the books unless they run it through our accounts on the private side. We the people run on a calendar year and the corporations run on the fiscal year. They can only balance their books is to run it through our accounts using our exemptions. Then they can do their reverse bookkeeping entry and go to post settlement and closure. They can't do that until the prisoners do the acceptance (if they do it). That what they are looking for in the court room under 3-410 is the acceptor. That means we are assuming the liability for the debt as the principal. A lot of times with debt the principal is always the primary libellant in the commercial setting. He has to assume the liability and then you get your remedy. Otherwise you don't get a remedy.

        They sell your account to some corporation while you're sitting in prison. How many times has government ever had a case against anyone. The attorneys have to attempt to get you to go right into argument and trial and go into dishonor. Axxxx was given documents from Redwood Trust on a mortgage foreclosure. She did an conditional acceptance and she did a heck of a job. She stopped them cold and they took the property off the market. At the end she said if they didn't answer her within 14 days she was going to resort to Notarial protest and get remedy for dishonor. She went into the fact that their charter doesn't allow them to loan credit, she wanted to know the name of the company who was the source of the credit, she wanted the name of the account number, she wanted certified copies of the font and back of the promissory note. She was trying to get them to divulge that it was her secured party creditor that was the source of everything they were doing.

        She was forcing them to admit that it was her promissory note that was the basis of the credit instrument that they loaned and that they had already sold the note to someone else and they didn't have it in their possession. What they do is they sell the notes just as they do when you go into prison. They endorse the note and they no longer the holder of the note. The mortgage company wasn't involved in this process....the attorneys are doing all this. What they are doing is coming to the private side to get the debt without any permission from the mortgage company. IN this case they quoted from the UCC, and it's from Lex Mercatoria, the Law of the Merchant.

        If you read John Hall's book, it talks about letter Rogatory, indictments where you are indicted and brought into the court under a warrant. What the warrant is, is a demand for payment of debt. What they did under admiralty in the court room is they are demanding payment. You sign a bond to be released until the civil complaint is prosecuted and then they release you under the bond until civil bond is prosecuted. If you didn't pay the debt they put you in prison until the debt is paid. They use the same terms in this practice book from 1700. This is an actual practice book. It was written by Courts Practice who worked in the Court of Arches for the Crown as a registrant. This is a private book, not meant for public viewing. It laws out the whole practice of admiralty during the American Revolution.

        Hall translated this and put it in put it in district court in Maryland in 1809. This was written in 1692. It's an actual practice. Benedict is not a practice; it gives information about what admiralty is. Admiralty is all debt and it's all civil; it becomes criminal when the prisoner gets a contempt charge when he refuses to pay. They can keep you in jail until you pay the debt. The initial get out of jail bond releases you until you've successfully paid the debt.

        This book goes into the history and practice of admiralty. It tells how to set the bond, and do court room procedure. The laws haven't changed; the circumstances of the government have changed so admiralty can be applied instead of constitutional law. Warden comes from admiralty-warden of the sea. The warden is the warehouse man who is warehousing all the goods; he's the bailee. The commitment order is your bailment, your contract for the commitment of the goods. Then they put the goods in a warehouse and store them there (prisoners stored in prisons, just like the people stored in the pods in the movie, The Matrix).

        … now YOU know!

        By Lynn Schmaltz
        lynnsch@spinn.net

        How a Prisoner Funds America!


        State should take a look at high cost of corrections

        By MARC LEVIN
        Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
        Feb. 23, 2009

        As state agencies are asked to prune 2.5 percent of their budgets, lawmakers must take a hard look at Texas’ corrections budget during this legislative session. Our state’s prison population has grown from 50,000 in 1990 to more than 157,000 today, while our incarceration rate is the nation’s second highest.

        Fortunately, this means there are plenty of opportunities for savings. First, Texas incarcerates 20,000 offenders for drug possession. Sixty percent of them have not been convicted of another felony. These nonviolent offenders who simply have a substance abuse problem could be redirected into treatment at a significant savings to taxpayers.

        Legislation to divert from prison those whose only offense is possessing less than four grams of a controlled substance is estimated by the Legislative Budget Board to save $500 million over five years.

        Offenders would be required to pay for their own treatment, although this estimate assumes the state would wind up paying half of the treatment costs.

        Judges could refer offenders for residential or outpatient treatment at any licensed provider, including faith-based providers.

        Under this legislation, judges could also still order to prison any offenders who they determine would pose a threat to public safety or not benefit from treatment.

        Even without any finding, judges could sentence offenders to confinement at intermediate sanctions facilities and community corrections facilities. Each of these lockups provides shorter-term confinement, usually about 90 days, resulting in savings to taxpayers.

        In 2007, lawmakers increased funding for these alternatives to prison. The expansion of these facilities and other changes were successful in avoiding the projected need for 17,000 new prison beds, which would have cost $1 billion to build and operate over five years. Now, however, the state needs to scale back on existing prisons to ensure a balanced budget.

        Arizona implemented a similar initiative to divert low-level drug offenders from prison more than a decade ago. It has not only produced savings but also curtailed addiction. A study by that state’s Supreme Court found that 77 percent of participating offenders successfully kicked their drug habit as a result of the treatment regimen.

        Another area where Texas can save on correctional costs is technical revocations to prison.

        In 2008, there were 12,788 probationers revoked to prison for technical violations.

        These probationers did not commit new offenses; they merely violated a term of probation. Of these technical revocations, 22 percent were for absconding.

        Rather than revoke probationers who do not show up but have not committed another crime, the state could provide funding for probation departments to use electronic monitoring to track these offenders to ensure they comply with the terms of their probation.

        For offenders who cannot pay for the monitor themselves, it costs $8 to $10 a day, less than one-fifth the price tag of prison.

        A study of more than 75,000 Florida offenders found that electronic monitoring was highly successful in preventing absconding.

        Moreover, monitored offenders were 89 percent less likely to be revoked for a new offense. Electronic monitoring not only makes sure offenders show up for appointments, but also verifies that they attend work and any court-required treatment program.

        Finally, Texas taxpayers can save by privatizing existing prison facilities. Private prisons cost $36.10 per day, compared to $47.50 for state prisons. Neither figure includes an additional $7.65 per day in health care costs. Private prisons in Texas are contractually required to provide the same conditions of confinement and programming as state-run prisons so the cost savings come without any penalty.

        Taken together, there are significant opportunities to reduce corrections costs to the state without compromising public safety.

        Levin is the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.

        State should take a look at high cost of corrections


        Good judgment

        Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
        Jan. 17, 2009

        This month, Harris County’s criminal district judges voted to create a felony mental health court, the first one in the county’s history to focus exclusively on felony defendants diagnosed with such serious conditions as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression.

        This is a smart move on several levels. Introduced about a decade ago, mental health courts, which now number more than 150 nationwide, seek to provide more humane treatment of the mentally ill through treatment plans and social support services, thereby breaking the cycle of repeat offenses and jail terms, and reducing jail and court costs.

        Only the sixth in Texas, the county’s new court will be in the capable hands of state District Judge Jan Krocker. On the bench since 1995, she initiated a pilot project to put mental health professionals in courtrooms to make assessments and suggest treatment options. It worked so well that mental health professionals are now included in all 22 of the county’s felony courts.

        Although Texas ranks 46th in the nation in per capita funding for the mentally ill, it was the first state to establish an agency within its criminal justice department to address mental health issues, in 1987. Since then, says Dee Wilson, Director of the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments, the agency has helped other states start similar programs.

        To Wilson, the primary benefit of the new court is that it will safeguard the public at large. “It’s not being soft on crime,” she told the Chronicle. “We’re looking at better, more efficient ways to enhance public safety.”

        Newly elected Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos echoed that sentiment, calling the criminal justice system a “last resort” for many mentally ill repeat offenders. “This is a moral issue,” she is quoted as saying. “It’s a dollars-and-cents issue.”

        Those dollars-and-cents issues are weighing particularly heavy on the Texas Legislature, which last session appropriated $82 million for crisis services to the mentally ill. It is already on notice that funds will be down this session, which started last week, to the tune of more than $9 billion.

        But fewer funds need not mean fewer positive outcomes, and funds wisely spent can save much more than their costs, both in dollars and in human capital.

        In Monday’s Chronicle, Bill Murphy, reporting on the new felony court, cited a local program, New Specialized Team of Advocates and Rehabilitation Therapists — New START — which serves mentally ill probationers.

        A study by the county of two courts where most mentally ill probationers participated in the New START program showed that 4 percent of them had their probation revoked over a two-year period. During the same time period, 30 percent of mentally ill probationers who had not participated in the program had their probation revoked.

        New START received state funding of $3 million this year for a program serving 300 former inmates. That runs about $10,000 per person. The county has estimated that treating a mentally ill person in jail and emergency psychiatric wards runs about $80,000 per year, per person.

        Murphy reported that on any given day, almost 20 percent of the Harris County jail’s 11,000 inmates are medicated for mental health issues. In fact, the jail’s mental health facilities and personnel make it Harris County’s largest psychiatric hospital, treating more than 7,700 defendants in 2007.

        Judge Krocker has said she would like to work closely with New START as her court gets under way. Legislators might keep her in mind this session as they ponder how to get the best return on those scarce taxpayer dollars.

        Good judgment


        January 11, 2009

        States reducing inmate numbers to save money: Should Texas?

        AP reports that states are beginning to look at sacred budget cows because of the fiscal crisis and may actually reduce inmate populations to stave off rising costs. ("States look to prisons to save money, including letting some inmates go," Jan. 10):

        "Prior to this fiscal crisis, legislators could tinker around the edges — but we're now well past the tinkering stage," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration.

        "Many political leaders who weren't comfortable enough, politically, to do it before can now — under the guise of fiscal responsibility — implement programs and policies that would be win/win situations, saving money and improving corrections, " Mauer said.

        In California, faced with a projected $42 billion deficit and prison overcrowding that has triggered a federal lawsuit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate parole for all offenders not convicted of violent or sex-related crimes, reducing the parole population by about 70,000. He also wants to divert more petty criminals to county jails and grant early release to more inmates — steps that could trim the prison population by 15,000 over the next 18 months.

        In Kentucky, where the inmate population had been soaring, even some murderers and other violent offenders are benefiting from a temporary cost-saving program that has granted early release to nearly 2,000 inmates.

        Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is proposing early release of about 1,000 inmates. New York Gov. David Paterson wants early release for 1,600 inmates as well as an overhaul of the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on many nonviolent drug offenders.

        "These laws have neither curbed drug use nor enhanced public safety," said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Instead, they have ruined thousands of lives and annually wasted millions of tax dollars in prison costs."

        Policy-makers in Michigan, one of four states that spend more money on prisons than higher education, are awaiting a report later this month from the Council of State Governments' Justice Center on ways to trim fast-rising corrections costs, likely including sentencing and parole modifications.

        "There's a new openness to taking a look," said state Sen. Alan Cropsey, a Republican who in the past has questioned some prison-reform proposals. "What we'll see are changes being made that will have a positive impact four, five, six years down the road."

        Even before the recent financial meltdown, policy-makers in most states were wrestling with ways to contain corrections costs. The Pew Center's Public Safety Performance Project has projected that state and federal prison populations — under current policies — will grow by more than 190,000 by 2011, to about 1.7 million, at a cost to the states of $27.5 billion.

        "Prisons are becoming less and less of a sacred cow," said Adam Gelb, the Pew project's director. "The budget crisis is giving leaders on both sides of the aisle political cover they need to tackle issues that would be too tough to tackle when budgets are flush."

        This development is long overdue. I think most people are unaware of how rapidly prison spending has grown in the last few years. (See good data on the subject from the Council on State Government's Justice Center.) Texas finds itself in a relatively unique position among states, both because our economic base has been hit less hard by the national financial crisis and because the state had already begun significant reforms to stem overcrowding.

        Not long ago, Texas' Legislative Budget Board estimated Texas would need 17,000 adult prison beds and at least three new medium security prisons by 2012. But probation revocations declined in most large counties (Bexar is the notable exception, but their probation director has other worries) thanks in part to $237 million in new probation grants aimed at implementing intermediate sanctions regimens and reducing probation officer caseloads.

        So in many ways, thanks to truly visionary work by Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden, Texas is a lot better off than other states struggling with high prison costs. Even so, the Department of Criminal Justice will ask the Legislature for a more than $1 billion increase in its biennial budget, including for pay hikes designed to stem high turnover and deter corruption among prison staff. That's $1 billion extra just to manage the same number of prisoners. This in part is because Texas' prison costs historically have been artificially low and we've reached the point where it's time for our politicians to pay the piper, having already relished the dance.

        One suggestion I've not heard publicly would be to follow the lead of these other states and at least debate whether to reduce TDCJ inmate populations instead of spending $1 billion more to house the same number.

        After all, roughly two-thirds of TDCJ inmates are already parole eligible.

        How many fewer inmates would TDCJ need, one wonders, to give officers raises, spend what they need to in order to keep prisons secure, and still operate under its current budget?

        TDCJ operates about 112 units statewide, but some are much more expensive to operate than others. Though I've not seen it, at a committee hearing last year the legislature was given a list of the 20 most expensive TDCJ units in terms of per-inmate cost, and the differences were quite staggering. How many inmates would we be talking about to close the most expensive ones? It's worth asking the question.

        In Dallas and Sugar Land, local development interests want the agency to close existing units. Talk so far has been about finding another spot for those units, but what if we just closed them (along with the most expensive facilities) and managed more low-level offenders in the community?

        How could that be done? Shortening probation and parole lengths is part of it, since that reduces revocations and focuses more supervision resources on the most likely offenders. Schwarzenegger' s proposal to eliminate parole is too radical, but reducing its length and making it easier for offenders to earn their way off supervision makes lots of sense from both fiscal and safety perspectives. On the front end, Texas' ten-year probation terms are among the longest in the nation, while most people who re-offend do so in the first 2-3 years (if not the first six months).

        Another idea comes from State Rep. Harold Dutton, who filed a bill that would significantly depopulate state jails (like the one in the way of Dallas' Trinity development) within a two year stretch: HB 287 would reduce the penalty for possession of less than a gram of illegal drugs from a state jail felony to a Class A misdemeanor.

        There are lots of other ways to skin that cat.

        In other states these decisions are being forced down officials' throats because reduced tax revenues are pitting prison expenses directly against schools, health care, and other societal priorities. It looks like Texas may be buttressed temporarily from the harshest of those economic winds, however with oil prices declining, it's likely the gale will be blowing full force by the time the 82nd Legislature meets in 2011.

        I'd rather see legislators pick and choose their policies thoughtfully based on economic and public safety priorities than get backed into a corner as has happened in California and now many other states. Perhaps the debate should start now about what it would take for TDCJ to live within its budget instead of only debating how much more to spend every time the Legislature is in town?

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at Labels: Enhancements, financial crisis, Parole, Probation, TDCJ, Texas Legislature


        Budget woes prompt states to rethink prison policy

        By David Crary
        Ap National Writer
        01/10/2009

        NEW YORK - Their budgets in crisis, governors, legislators and prison officials across the nation are making or considering policy changes that will likely remove tens of thousands of offenders from prisons and parole supervision.

        Collectively, the pending and proposed initiatives could add up to one of biggest shifts ever in corrections policy, putting into place cost-saving reforms that have struggled to win political support in the tough-on-crime climate of recent decades.

        "Prior to this fiscal crisis, legislators could tinker around the edges -- but we're now well past the tinkering stage," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration.

        "Many political leaders who weren't comfortable enough, politically, to do it before can now -- under the guise of fiscal responsibility -- implement programs and policies that would be win/win situations, saving money and improving corrections, " Mauer said.

        In California, faced with a projected $42 billion deficit and prison overcrowding that has triggered a federal lawsuit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate parole for all offenders not convicted of violent or sex-related crimes, reducing the parole population by about 70,000. He also wants to divert more petty criminals to county jails and grant early release to more inmates -- steps that could trim the prison population by 15,000 over the next 18 months.

        In Kentucky, where the inmate population had been soaring, even some murderers and other violent offenders are benefiting from a temporary cost-saving program that has granted early release to nearly 2,000 inmates.

        Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is proposing early release of about 1,000 inmates. New York Gov. David Paterson wants early release for 1,600 inmates as well as an overhaul of the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on many nonviolent drug offenders.

        "These laws have neither curbed drug use nor enhanced public safety," said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Instead, they have ruined thousands of lives and annually wasted millions of tax dollars in prison costs."

        Policy-makers in Michigan, one of four states that spend more money on prisons than higher education, are awaiting a report later this month from the Council of State Governments' Justice Center on ways to trim fast-rising corrections costs, likely including sentencing and parole modifications.

        "There's a new openness to taking a look," said state Sen. Alan Cropsey, a Republican who in the past has questioned some prison- reform proposals. "What we'll see are changes being made that will have a positive impact four, five, six years down the road."

        Even before the recent financial meltdown, policy-makers in most states were wrestling with ways to contain corrections costs. The Pew Center's Public Safety Performance Project has projected that state and federal prison populations -- under current policies -- will grow by more than 190,000 by 2011, to about 1.7 million, at a cost to the states of $27.5 billion.

        "Prisons are becoming less and less of a sacred cow," said Adam Gelb, the Pew project's director. "The budget crisis is giving leaders on both sides of the aisle political cover they need to tackle issues that would be too tough to tackle when budgets are flush."

        In contrast to past economic downturns, Gelb said, states now have better data on how to effectively supervise nonviolent offenders in their communities so prison populations can be reduced without increasing the threat to public safety.

        Safety remains a potent factor. In California, for example, the state correctional officers' union contends Schwarzenegger' s proposals will fuel more crime.

        In Idaho, a combination of budget cuts and prison overcrowding contributed to an uprising Jan. 2 in a former prison workshop that was converted into a temporary cell block. Inmates who engaged in vandalism and arson had been placed there as part of a cost-cutting effort to move other prisoners back to Idaho from more expensive quarters at a private prison in Oklahoma.

        Thomas Sneddon, a former Santa Barbara, Calif., prosecutor who is now executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, said he and his colleagues support reappraisals of corrections policies yet worry constantly that dangerous criminals will be released unwisely.

        "I don't think the public at large has any idea of who's in these prisons," Sneddon said. "If they went and visited, they'd say 'My God, don't let any of these people out.'"

        He noted that many states are seeking to send fewer offenders back to prison for technical violations of parole conditions. Some of these violations are indeed relatively minor, Sneddon said, but often they are accompanied by more serious criminal behavior that warrants a return to prison.

        As budgetary pressures worsen, some advocacy groups are concerned that spending cuts will target the very programs needed to help inmates avoid re-offending after release -- education, vocational and drug-treatment programs.

        "The idea that we'd cut programs and then release inmates early is a toxic combination, " said Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship. "Just opening prison doors and letting people out with no preparation -- that's cruel to the offender and dangerous to public." However, Nolan, a former California legislator who served time in a federal prison on a racketeering charge, sees the current climate as ripe for the kind of reforms Prison Fellowship has advocated with its Christian-based outreach programs.

        "It's forcing the legislators to see the actual costs of imprisonment, because it's coming out of the budget for schools, roads, hospitals," he said.

        The Council of State Government's Justice Center has been working with 10 states to develop options for curbing prison populations without jeopardizing public safety.

        Tactics used in Texas and Kansas have included early release for inmates who complete specified programs, more sophisticated community supervision of offenders, and expanded treatment and diversion programs.

        "There's an unprecedented level of interest in this kind of thinking," said the Justice Center's director, Michael Thompson. "It's a combination of fiscal pressure and a certain fatigue of doing the same thing as 20 years ago and getting the same return."

        In Florida, where prisons are so crowded that the state has acquired tents for possible use to house inmates, officials say 19 new prisons may be needed over the next five years. As an alternative, Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil told lawmakers they should re- evaluate the state's hard-line sentencing policies and look at ways to help released inmates avoid returning to prison.

        One important variable is the role of private prisons, which some advocacy groups consider less accountable that state-run prisons. Elizabeth Alexander of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project expressed concern that fiscally struggling states would rely increasingly on private operators.

        The largest private prison firm, Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America, operates in 20 states and says some of them have asked if CCA can expand its capacity so more beds don't need to be added to the state-run system.

        "Of the states we do business with, none have made prison construction a priority in this economic environment, " said Tony Grande, CCA's executive vice president. "Our partnership with the states will become even stronger.
        ...We want to be a part of their financial solution."

        Budget woes prompt states to rethink prison policy


        2008:


        Prisons unveil $65.8 million plan to curb contraband

        By Mike Ward
        December 3, 2008

        Moving to bolster security, state prison officials this morning unveiled a massive $65.8 million plan to curb an epidemic of smuggled cell phones and other contraband in Texas’ lockups. The new plan was more than twice as costly as plans for beefed-up security in prisons that were proposed months ago, mostly involving surveillance cameras at some prisons.

        It was also one of the largest such requests in decades for Texas’ corrections system, larger than several past programs to build new prisons. The plans include walk-through metal detectors, electronic parcel screening gear and video surveillance cameras at 19 maximum-security prisons and surveillance gear at the rest of Texas’ 112 prisons.

        The plan also includes surveillance cameras for the Polunsky Unit, which houses Texas’ death row and where at least 16 cell phones have been found in the past month. A cell phone was seized from death row inmate Richard Lee Tabler. Tabler, upset about the arrests of his mother and his sister in connection with an investigation into how he obtained the phone, last month threatened to kill Sen. John Whitmire and this reporter, who broke the story.

        Officials say that highlights the danger from smuggled cell phones: that convicts could order crimes from behind bars. Two mobile contraband screening units would also be purchased for random, surprise searches. Officials said six dogs have been purchased that are specially trained to sniff out cell phones. Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the funding will be sought immediately, through special approval of state leaders, instead of waiting for legislative approval next year.

        “We have a responsibility to Texans to stop this … right now and right here,” Livingston told the nine-member Board of Criminal Justice, which is meeting at an Austin hotel. Added Board Chairman Oliver Bell: “The games are over. We’ve just given everyone 66 million reasons about why we’re very serious about this.”

        Today’s move is the latest to address a controversy that erupted in October, when a prisoner on Texas’ death row — arguably the most secure part of the state prison system — used a smuggled phone to call a state senator and a reporter, among more than 2,800 calls that were made from the phone in just one month.

        As a result, Gov. Rick Perry ordered a rare lockdown of all state prisons and zero-tolerance on all contraband. Some 144 cell phones during a subsequent searches were found along with weapons, drugs and other illegal items.

        Prisons unveil $65.8 million plan


        One way to cut prison costs

        "Drug courts" could be an alternative to mandatory minimum sentences.

        State general-fund spending on corrections has risen 127 percent in two decades, according to a recent report.

        The Monitor's Editorial Board
        From the October 20, 2008 edition

        The expanding number of adults in prisons and jails in the US is nearing 2.5 million – more than 1 in 100 adults – the world's highest incarceration rate. As federal and state lawmakers try to downsize budgets, they should reconsider some of the tough-on-crime laws that have helped swell the prison population.

        That's what the US Sentencing Commission is doing. It's reviewing ways to ease federal mandatory minimum sentences passed by Congress in the mid-1980s. The minimums for first-time offenders apply mostly to drug crimes. The commission is considering recommendations that, if approved by lawmakers, could have nonviolent drug users opt for treatment instead of time behind bars.

        States, which have mandatory minimum laws of their own, would do well to watch closely, because prisons account for a large part of their budgets. In 20 years, state general-fund spending on corrections has risen 127 percent, adjusted for inflation, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States. Nationwide, the annual cost of incarceration is an average $24,000 per inmate.

        The Sentencing Commission is considering drug courts and treatment as a far less expensive alternative – between $1,500 and $11,000 per offender.

        Drug courts are increasingly popular, though they handle only a fraction of the 1.5 million drug offenders who are arrested and charged with a crime each year. Since the first drug court opened in Miami in 1989, they've spread to every state and now total about about 2,100.

        In drug court, offenders can either choose imprisonment or undergo treatment supervised by a judge. Depending on the court, programs last from about nine to 18 months or longer, and include random testing for drug use, group therapy, and attendance at mandatory sobriety meetings. Participants find these programs can be much more challenging than prison, but the payoff can also be a life changed for the better.

        Drug courts have their own challenges – and these need to be addressed if the nation is to use them more. They do not all apply the same standards of rigor or have judges who are skilled at overseeing a rehab regimen. This is one reason why costs vary – as do recidivism rates.

        The Sentencing Commission is looking at drug courts in the hope that they will lower the recidivism rate of 67 percent for addicted offenders.

        Indeed, studies show drug courts improve that rate by 10 to 20 percent – again, depending on the quality of the program.

        In Texas, even minor drug offenders were required to serve a minimum of two years. Now Texas drug courts are open to offenders with no felony records or histories of violence, and those courts have seen recidivism drop by 68 percent.

        The majority of Americans oppose minimum mandatory sentencing for nonviolent crimes, according to a recent poll by Families Against Mandatory Minimums. The group's research shows that over 20 years, minimum sentences have not discouraged drug use or trafficking, but they have added to incarceration costs.

        The Sentencing Commission is right to consider drug courts as a logical alternative.

        Find this article at:
        Cutting Prison Cost


        September 13, 2008

        LBB: Texas' prison population will dip next year for the first time in decades before rising further

        Ever since the Governor fired Dr. Tony Fabelo and abolished the state's independent criminal justice number crunchers, the Texas Legislative Budget Board assumed responsibility for issuing population projections for the adult and criminal justice systems.

        These are the official data on which state agencies base their budget requests and legislative budget writers authorized the expenditure of tax dollars for the Department of Criminal Justice and the Youth Commission.

        See the latest projections here (pdf - June 2008). To me this is a fascinating and useful document, and a truly interdisciplinary one.

        LBB has to pull data from all sorts of different agencies and sources to produce these estimates, and the methodology sections are essentially a prose description of the mathematical reasoning contained in the main section.

        Prior to the 80th Legislature, LBB projected the adult system might be as much as 17,000 beds short by 2012, prompting an aggressive commitment of new funds by the Lege to divert offenders away from prison and stave off new prison building, especially since the state cannot adequately staff the facilities we've got. According to the June 2008 analysis, Texas' total prison population will actually decline slightly next year (!) for the first time in many moons because of the 2007 probation/diversion reforms, eliminating the short-term need for expensive new prison building. The total will then begin to creep back up slightly, said LBB, which projects Texas will exceed current capacity by .6% in 2013 if nothing changes, needing to find 942 more beds instead of 17,000.

        (Thanks Jerry Madden and John Whitmire!)

        Both parole and probation revocations are down thanks the the Legislature' s expansion of treatment options and intermediate sanctions facilities, LBB reports. Statewide, in FY 2007, 7.5% of felony probationers and 9.7% of parolees were revoked back to prison, which compares favorably, e.g., to revocation rates of 8.8% and 14.8%, respectively, in 2004. (Regular readers know, of course, that such gains vary widely from county to county.)

        Interestingly among LBB's assumptions, just 50% of those placed in new diversion beds are assumed to be people who'd otherwise be revoked to prison. That means the Lege has created a true intermediate sanction. It's not just a program that's LESS harsh than prison, for half of those using diversion beds it's actually a HARSHER sanction than would otherwise be available.

        So where does the upward pressure on incarceration come from in Texas' adult prison system? For starters, Texas recently has averaged a 6% annual growth rate recently in direct court commitments to prison, said LBB, this compared to about 2.5% annual population growth statewide over the same period. LBB's numbers assume that high rate of increase will continue. This is true, they say, even though "The crime rate declined from its peak in 1988 and has remained steady at a lower level since 2000."

        Another big driver of Texas'expanding prison population is the oxymoronically named "Discretionary Mandatory Supervision" statute, which requires just a bit of explanation for the uninitiated. Prior to 1996, offenders were automatically released when their served time and good time added together equalled their sentence. The Lege eliminated mandatory release, creating the bizarrely named DMS system that still requires a parole panel to approve offenders' release.

        These offenders - who prior to 1996 would have all been out the door - today are released only 52.2% of the time a parole panel considers them. That means almost half of offenders who would earlier have been eligible for mandatory release are today kept in prison by the parole board.

        Overall, the parole approval rate averaged over the last 5 years was 28.7%, though in FY 2009 that ticked up to 29.9%. However a bigger factor has been a slow but significant increase in the number of parolees considered for approval - with that expansion, the number of approved paroles has increased slightly, said LBB, even though the overall approval rates didn't rise that much.

        In the past, LBB's projections were used like a hammer to demand approving construction of unnecessary new prison beds. These projections won't have the same usefulness to prison builders. They show diversion programs worked, that investing in them reduced reliance on prisons and created meaningful alternatives that courts are actually using.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at;
        Labels: LBB, TDCJ


        On Top of Jail Time,
        Prisoners Now Face Fees and Surcharges

        By Emily Jane Goodman,
        The Nation
        Posted on September 6, 2008

        Paying a debt to society now means more than doing time.

        In addition to prison sentences or alternatives to incarceration such as drug programs, fees and surcharges are being imposed on criminal offenders throughout the country.

        In some states, offender-based revenues start to accumulate upon arrest, without a wait for conviction. These charges are in addition to any fines and restitution they may be required to pay.

        Surcharges and fees are mandatory in all New York criminal cases. A felony conviction for drugs, larceny or burglary, for example, costs the defendant a statutory $300 fee plus $25 to a victims' fund.

        Judges have no discretion to waive them despite the defendant's likely indigence. As New York State Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach says, "The imposition of mandatory surcharges, like mandatory sentencing, erodes judicial independence by tying the judges' hands even when they think that justice requires a different result."

        "It is fiscal gimmickry used to close budget gaps," says Brooklyn Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries. "No one thinks it's anything but a barrier to successful re-entry into society, because people with low or no income will owe significant amounts of money." Alan Rosenthal, director of justice strategies for the Center for Community Alternatives, adds, "It is not a public safety issue, and there are almost no proponents of these financial consequences for any reason other than the revenue streams."

        Bobby, 26, who admits to having "a bad record," recently served eighteen and a half months in Virginia. He's out now and working part time but says he owes more than $9,000 in court fees and another $10,000 in accrued interest and penalties. His prison balance sheet had hourly wages of 42 cents, from which he paid a dollar a day for his lodging and medical attention. Bobby, who is on "intensified parole," says, "I can never get out of it, and once you get into that Catch-22, you might as well live it up until you get locked up again."

        But "recidivism is what nobody talks about," according to David Udell, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The biggest problem, he explains, is that there is no meaningful thought or dialogue on the implications of the entire surcharge/fee phenomenon. "You are loading debt onto people who are in the system in the first place due to lack of financial resources," Udell says. In fact, 80 percent of people facing felony prosecutions are indigent, and 60 percent of men and women released from prison are still unemployed a year later.

        Whether there's an arrest on new charges, and a whole new case with new surcharges and fees, or violations of parole and probation for nonpayment, "the ability to stay out of prison depends on making payments," Udell explains. At the same time, civil judgments are routinely entered against the debtors. On top of a criminal record, this results in bad credit, garnishment of salaries and inability to gain employment, housing or education.

        In Washington, as well as other states, unpaid court debt can end voting rights.

        Private collection agencies are widely used, but the surest collections are from inmates because their prison earnings as well as commissary money sent by families, while usually insufficient to cover the debt, are seized by the state.

        In the meantime, there are arrest fees (Texas), booking fees (Colorado) and DNA bank fees (New York). Michigan bills for the services of court-appointed lawyers, creating an incentive to waive counsel or to plead guilty at an early stage before legal costs escalate. Eighteen percent of Rhode Island inmates are in custody in connection with court-imposed financial obligations.

        An open court debt in Florida leads to a suspended driver's license, which in turn can lead to loss of job or re-arrest for driving with a suspended license. Alabama judges can increase fees from $600 to $10,000. There are special fees for particular offenses such as sex crimes, abuse of children or the elderly and, especially, driving while intoxicated.

        Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who does not believe that surcharges and fees deter crime, says, "The true benefit of court-mandated fees is that they require criminals to financially support the operation of the criminal justice system they have violated as well as to benefit programs targeting violence and substance abuse."

        Yet the surcharges and fees are not earmarked for criminal justice, the courts or victims but go instead to the state treasury. David Bookstaver, communications director for the New York State Unified Court System, says he does not know how much revenue the courts generate or where the money goes.

        However, he does know, "We do not keep the money here."

        The spokesperson for another prosecutor sums it up: "I always found it kind of strange to sentence a guy to ten years, and then say, Oh, by the way, you also owe $1,000."

        Emily Jane Goodman is a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court.

        View this story online at: Prisoners Now Face Fees

        © 2008 The Nation All rights reserved.


        Defendant's size presents problem in murder case

        August 24, 2008
        The Associated Press

        HOUSTON – How do you arrest, jail and prosecute a woman who weighs almost half a ton?

        Hidalgo County authorities are struggling to answer these questions in connection with Mayra Rosales. The 27-year-old woman has remained under house arrest since she was charged in March with beating her 2-year-old nephew to death. Ms. Rosales could face the death penalty if she is found guilty of capital murder.

        "We're struggling to find a place where she can be kept under lock and key," Rene Guerra, the Hidalgo County district attorney, told The Monitor in McAllen.

        The Hidalgo County Jail is not equipped to handle an inmate who weighs nearly 1,000 pounds, Sheriff Lupe Trevino said.

        Even if his office found a cell and a bed large enough for her, deputies are unsure whether the jail doctor is qualified to handle her medical needs. The cost could reach as high as $5,000 a day, according to the district attorney's office.

        Sheriff Trevino suggested Friday that the court allow Ms. Rosales to remain under house arrest and be monitored using a global positioning system.

        Once she is summoned to court, there's a new set of problems.

        Accommodating her in the cramped courtrooms in the Hidalgo County Courthouse could prove impossible.

        State law requires that all district court business take place in the county seat – in this case Edinburg. But court hearings could be moved to another building within city limits.

        "You could turn a gym into a courtroom if you needed to," Sheriff Trevino said.

        Ms. Rosales has refused to comment since her arrest in connection with the death of 2-year-old Eliseo Gonzalez Jr.

        Ms. Rosales' 20-year-old sister, Jamie Lee Rosales, the boy's mother, was indicted Thursday on one felony count of injury to a child. She knew the obese aunt could not care for the child, prosecutors charge.

        A prison sentence of any length for the elder Rosales is likely to raise a whole new set of questions.

        "The cost may be astronomical, " the sheriff said. "But you can't put a price on justice."

        The Associated Press

        Defendant's size presents problem


        Texas has long boasted among the lowest per-inmate costs in the nation for housing inmates in both state prisons and local jails, but those costs are starting to rise thanks in part to.

        While salaries remain the largest cost driver, with health-care costs trailing as a significant but distant second, increased costs for gasoline and water represent a significant and growing portion of operating budgets at prisons and jails. Just as average consumers struggle with rising utility costs, corrections facilities have been blindsided by the basic costs of keeping the water running, the lights on, and transporting prisoners and supplies.

        While my family has been driving less in the face of $4 per gallon gas, that's not an option for county jails or the state prison system, which have base transportation needs that cannot be short- changed. That's particularly true of local law enforcement who perform neighborhood patrols and must transport defendants pretrial to and from the jail. The Austin Statesman reported today ("Travis targets fuel costs for 1200 vehicles," July 22) that:

        "This discussion is happening in every county in Texas," said Elna Christopher, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association of Counties.

        Travis County had budgeted about $1.5 million to fuel its 1,200 vehicles this year. But prices have risen so sharply that the county is having to find an additional $950,000 to keep its vehicles fueled through the fiscal year's end in September. The commissioners have already approved pulling about half of the needed money from the county's $3 million general reserve. The other half will probably come from cuts to individual departments.

        To deal with next year's expected fuel costs, the commissioners will discuss a broad range of proposals.

        "If you have as many employees and vehicles as we do," Biscoe said, "you can do some little things that can add up to big savings."

        Christopher said ideas for finding those savings vary widely. Angelina County in East Texas, for example, may install video arraignment systems so that jail personnel don't have to drive prisoners to the courthouse.

        The Travis County sheriff's department, which accounts for about 60 percent of county fuel use, is already putting changes in place that may be mimicked by other county departments. Sheriff Greg Hamilton hopes that steps such as cutting the amount of time vehicles spend idling and having more deputies patrol near their homes will add up to significant savings.

        The sheriff's department also is putting more employees on a four-day workweek. Many patrol deputies have had 10-hour shifts for years, saving a day's worth of commuting in their patrol cars.

        Moving more employees to a four-day week could allow some county buildings to be closed for an extra day, saving on utility costs, Christopher said. Ten-hour days could also allow some offices to stay open long enough for people to stop by before or after work, Biscoe said.

        But he and Hamilton said they would not approve changes that made services more difficult to get.

        Rising gasoline costs were also a big reason the Travis County Sheriff began giving officers discretion to use citations for low- level misdemeanors instead of driving violators to jail. The policy not only saves gas costs but keeps deputies on patrol and available to respond to more urgent matters.

        TDCJ is considering changing its longstanding policy of transferring every prisoner to Huntsville before release because of high gas prices. They may soon shift either to releasing inmates directly from the unit where they're held or using "regional release centers" that would require less intra-prison driving time.

        Meanwhile, from East Texas comes news of the Rusk County Commissioners Court seeking to raise water rates on TDCJ facilities in order to generate new revenue. According to the Jacksonville Daily Progress ("Rates to increase on TDCJ water use," July 21)

        The city of Rusk offered discounted water and wastewater services as an incentive to get the state to build the Skyview and Hodge units in Rusk in the 1980s. The increase, according to city officials, brings the prisons' rates closer to regular residential rates.

        I understand the impetus for raising rates, though it's pretty outrageous to hope that TDCJ will pay residential rates for water while large commercial users pay less. It's reasonable, though, to ask them to pay the going commercial rates. A lot of rural areas offered economic development packages hoping to attract prison units in the past that included subsidies on water, electricity, etc., that no longer make economic sense in a period of sagging property tax revenue.

        It wouldn't surprise me if we see more locals hoping to increase those rates now that the prisons have long since ceased to be viewed as economic boons.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
        Labels: County jails, TDCJ


        Our Prisons Are No Bargain

        June 26, 2008; A18

        Imprisonment is the punishment that fits the crimes of many lawbreakers -- those who are violent and repeat offenders who must be separated from society to keep us safe. But in arguing that prisons are a bargain ["More Prisoners, Less Crime," op-ed, June 22], George F. Will ignored other public safety strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers.

        Prisons
        have helped cut crime. But rigorous studies show that increased imprisonment can claim credit for only 25 percent of the nation's crime drop over the past 15 years. The other 75 percent comes from a wide variety of factors, inside and outside the criminal justice system.

        Years ago, James Q. Wilson, whom Mr. Will quoted in his op-ed, acknowledged that the nation had probably reached a point of diminishing returns beyond which each additional prison cell would bring less and less benefit in public safety.The cost of keeping more than one in 100 American adults behind bars is crowding out state funding for other priorities, such as health care, education and long-term crime prevention.

        State leaders from both major political parties are finding more-effective solutions to advance public safety -- ensuring sufficient space for dangerous offenders while putting low-risk violators in community corrections programs that can reduce recidivism and cut the number of new victims.

        Reported By; SUSAN K. URAHN
        Managing Director
        Pew Center on the States
        Philadelphia, PA

        No Bargain


        TDCJ working to reduce fuel usage through energy savings program

        The Texas Department of Criminal Justice puts a lot of energy into saving energy. For several years, in fact, the agency has had initiatives in place to reduce the consumption of electricity, natural gas, water, and gasoline.

        Still, with rising energy prices, TDCJ’s utility bills are expected to exceed $120 million this year, accounting for more than two dollars of what it costs on average to house an offender each day. That’s a big reason why the agency puts a lot of energy into its energy-saving initiatives. Reducing consumption reduces costs.

        “Besides that, it’s just the right thing to do,” said Brenda Jordy, manager of planning and programming for TDCJ’s Facilities Division.

        Jordy and Lee Struble, manager of the Program Administration Department within the Facilities Division, are enthusiastic about energy conservation and regularly make presentations to regional directors and wardens within the Correctional Institutional Division. And to make sure that rank-and-file employees get the message, they have produced an energy awareness pamphlet that includes an energy quiz and tips for cutting consumption. The pamphlet ends with a poignant message: “In the time it took you to read this pamphlet, the TDCJ cost for utility consumption was $764.”

        Hot and cold weather, of course, affects energy consumption. Cold snaps generally cause natural gas consumption to rise because of the increased demand for heating and hot water, said Struble. Hot weather, on the other hand, tends to drive up electricity consumption because of the use of air conditioning in certain areas of a facility.

        “If natural gas usage is high, electricity typically runs a little low, and visa versa,” Struble said. “Electricity drives air conditioning, primarily, and lighting. The primary driver for natural gas is hot water production for kitchens, laundries and offender showers. In the wintertime, its’ heating. Our offender count is high right now. The more offenders you have, the more showers you’re taking, the more food you’ve got to prepare, and the more laundry you’ve got to do. That drives some of our consumption data for both electricity and natural gas.”

        Struble said TDCJ facilities can save energy much the same way households do. Turning off perimeter lights when not needed, limiting the times of day offenders can shower, and doing the unit laundry during off-peak hours are just a few of the practices recommended.

        In an effort to further reduce energy consumption, the agency is now conducting preliminary energy audits at all its facilities and incorporating energy efficient products into repair and renovation project designs. A performance contract has been signed with a firm to conduct detailed utility audits at several units and to recommend cost-cutting measures.

        In the meantime, Struble said TDCJ maintenance employees regularly replace worn equipment with modern models.

        “Water heaters have become so efficient that we have removed boilers as they’ve failed and replaced them with water heaters,” he said. “They can produce hot water efficiently and quickly enough to replace the boiler. We’re doing that throughout the system.”

        TDCJ also scrutinizes its utility bills in an effort to identify areas of high usage and to formulate corrective measures. And sometimes the bills themselves need to be corrected. While identifying billing errors may not reduce consumption, it does reduce energy costs.

        Manufacturing & Logistics Division Director Rick Thaler said the high cost of gasoline makes it imperative that employees throughout the agency are of a mindset to practice energy conservation. Simple things like carpooling and performing multiple tasks during a single trip can make a big difference, he said.

        “Gasoline consumption for the year is down, and that tells me that people are attempting to make good decisions out there in the field,” said Thaler, who oversees the agency’s fleet of approximately 2,100 vehicles, most of which are gasoline-powered. “Looking across the board, fuel consumption is down in about every division. So I think that overall, the support service divisions do a good job of trying to carpool when they go out to the facilities.”

        Struble and Jordy said each TDCJ employee can make a difference in the agency’s efforts to conserve energy.

        “There are a lot more men and women out there who are trying to do the right thing in reducing consumption,” Struble said. “Again, it comes back to employee awareness. Without the help of the employees within this agency, we’re never going to have any real success in reducing energy consumption.”


        Will Budget Conferees Build New State Prisons?

        April 26, 2007

        Will Texas build three new medium-security prisons? The Senate said "yes" and proposed taking the money from blind children. The House said "no," relying on expanding treatment capacity and approving new alternatives to incarceration. (The Senate also approved new treatment money, but wants to build prisons, too.)

        Now ten conference committee members - five each from the House and Senate - will decide whether Texas invests in new prisons or in treatment alternatives. Here's the list of conferees:

        House:
        Chisum, Gattis, Turner, Guillen, and Kolkhorst

        Senate:
        Ogden, Zaffirini, Whitmire, Duncan, and Williams

        On the House side, Appropriations Chair Warren Chisum has made clear that chamber doesn't support new prison building when Texas can't afford to staff and safely operate the ones we have now. Reps Turner and Kolkhorst are both extremely knowledgable on Corrections topics and have been key backers of the Whitmire-Madden plan to create new alternatives to incarceration. Guillen's history offers less guidance as to how he might vote on prisons, but I'd hope he'd follow Rep. Turner's lead.

        Some I've talked to assume Rep. Gattis, a former Williamson County prosecutor, will automatically back more prisons because his old boss is DA John Bradley, who's leading the DA lobby effort to reject drug treatment and stronger probation and build more lockups. But Gattis is a smart fellow, and his own man. It wouldn't surprise me if he backed the Madden-Whitmire proposal once he's looked at the facts.

        If the House conferees stand firm, then Senators Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Duncan (R-Lubbock) appear to be the key swing votes on prison building. Sen. Williams is an ardent backer of prison building, while Steve Ogden has said he believes they should be built as a "contingency. " Whitmire was strong-armed into agreeing to new prisons and has repeatedly said he prefers the approach he crafted with House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, which is basically the House proposal.

        If those positions hold, then the Senate's final stance on new prison building comes down to whether Duncan and Zaffirini support issuing a quarter-billion dollars in bonds and committing to more than $100 million in new annual debt and operating costs. In the end, I bet both of them can think of lots of things on which they'd rather spend the money. At least, I certainly hope so. Even corrections officers oppose new prison building.

        The truth is, we don't need new prisons nearly as badly as we need better policies. As Grits calculated previously:

        Lt. Governor David Dewhurst says we need more prisons because of "population growth." But from 1978 until 2004, the Texas prison population increased 573% (from 22,439 to 151,059), while the state's total population increased just 67% (from 13.5 million to 22.5 million).

        So between 1978 and 2004, Texas prison growth outstripped population growth by a factor of 8.5 to one! And yet, crime declined less here than it did in states with much lower incarceration rates. With Texas' population booming, it's impossible to sustain a growth rate in incarceration 8 times higher, especially since Texas can't staff the prisons we have now.

        Something's got to give.

        Build New State Prisons?


        Plan to revive Criminal Justice Policy Council

        House leader asks Perry to sanction move, to give planning assist

        By Mike Ward
        AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
        Wednesday, June 07, 2006

        Legislative leaders called Tuesday for Gov. Rick Perry to revive the state Criminal Justice Policy Council, an agency that Perry slashed from the budget and shuttered three years ago, to help Texas plan for its growing population of convicted criminals.

        Since the council disappeared, prisons are full again, with almost 152,000 inmates, leading some officials to wonder whether they could have been better prepared.

        "There's a lot of information we don't have now that we used to have when the policy council was around," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson. "We need a study group that will help us better project future growth."

        Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, agreed. "We badly need it. Bringing it back is a super idea."

        Perry aides were noncommittal.

        "The governor is certainly willing to listen to Chairman Madden's ideas on this issue," Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said.

        In 2003, Perry vetoed the $1.2 million annual budget for the council in a move touted as necessary to cinch up a bare-bones state budget. Its duties were assumed by the Legislative Budget Board, an arm of the Legislature that provides statistical and budget guidance for lawmakers.

        But in the years since, lawmakers have increasingly voiced consternation about a lack of the analyses and planning reports on criminal justice trends that they said were essential to keeping ahead of the prison crowding that plagued Texas two decades ago.

        Although the Legislative Budget Board has provided the statistical basics such as prison population numbers and trends, Madden and Whitmire said it has been unable to review and analyze how well specific corrections programs are working and what other programs and initiatives might be needed.

        It was in that role that the council's former director, Tony Fabelo, became a well-known Capitol fixture during the past decade.

        "The policy council used to have 25 people. The LBB has four. They can't track everything that used to be tracked," Whitmire said. "The LBB people are not criminal justice experts. The council people were."

        In a letter to Perry, Madden proposed that the council be reactivated in some form - as a state agency, through a contract with a university or through a "statistical gathering group" - either as a for-profit or nonprofit entity.

        Madden wrote: "We could rely on this group for information to guide state policies on such issues as the need for prison construction, criminal sentencing and its impact on prison population, and rehabilitation programs for inmates, probationers and parolees and their effectiveness in reducing recidivism. Without such an agency, we as lawmakers are relying on incomplete information and forecasts."

        Whitmire, who said he has not talked to Perry about the proposal, echoed the sentiment. "Many of the good ideas we came up with during the past 10 years (in criminal justice) came from the things the council looked at," he said. "The time is ripe for us to have that kind of information again."

        ; 445-1712


        Before Texas Spends More On Prisons,
        Let's Think...

        Molly Ivans 31.aug.00

        AUSTIN, Texas -- The people of Texas should be gearing up to pitch a fit come January.

        They want us pay for more prisons. MORE prisons. We just finished the biggest prison-spending spree in history. Starting in 1991, we spent billions to more than double the number of beds in the system. They promised us that we wouldn't have to build another prison for at least a generation. And now they want more.

        And there's one other point. This. Is. Not. Working.

        The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that Texas has more of its people imprisoned than any other state -- 163,190. That's more than California, which has 13 million more people than Texas does.

        The study, released this week by the Justice Policy Institute, not only finds Texas with the highest incarceration rate in the country -- it also finds the incarceration rate among young African-American men 63 percent higher than the national average. Nearly one out of three young black men is under some form of criminal justice control in Texas.

        BUT -- our crime rate has NOT dropped proportionately to crime in other states that did not expand their prisons and that incarcerate far fewer people.

        We're spending more money, imposing far harsher punishment and getting worse results. This. Is. Not. Working.

        The Justice Policy Institute says Texas has led the nation since 1990 with an annual average prison growth rate of 11.8 percent at a time when crimes in all categories are going down. Nearly one in five new prisoners (18 percent) added to the nation's prisons were in Texas.

        No one comes remotely close to our record on the death penalty -- 227 dead so far since 1982 -- more than the total of the next five death-penalty states combined. If this were working, Texas would have the lowest crime rate in the nation.

        "As of the end of the year 1999, there were 706,600 Texans in prison, jail, parole or on probation, five percent of all adult Texans, one out of 20 are under some form of criminal justice supervision," says the Institute report. "The scale of what is happening in Texas is so huge, it is difficult to contrast the size of its criminal justice system to the other states it dwarfs. There are more Texans under criminal justice control than the entire populations of some states, including Vermont, Wyoming and Alaska."

        The majority of Texas prisoners are serving sentences for non-violent offenses. They never hurt anyone. "Just by itself, Texas' non-violent prison population is the second-largest prison population in the country, after California," according to the report called "Texas Tough."

        Our prison population has tripled since 1990, rising more than 60 percent in the past five years. Between 1995 and 1998, the percentage drop in the overall number of index crimes in Texas was half the percentage drop in the number of index crimes nationally, and the lowest of the five largest states. The Texas crime rate also had a slightly lower percentage decline than the national average and was again the lowest of the five largest states.

        "Texas Tough" compares Texas to New York because the state's populations are relatively well-matched. While Texas had the fastest-growing prison system in the '90s, New York had the third slowest-growing prisoner population. Through the decade, Texas added five times as many prisoners as New York -- more than New York's entire prison population. Since 1995, the percentage decline in overall crime in New York was four times greater than the drop in Texas, and New York's crime rate dropped twice as much as Texas'.

        This is a question of where the state is going to put its resources. We know what conditions produce crime. Texas has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the country -- we could put some money there.

        Steve J. Martin, former general counsel for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and probably our most respected prison expert (author of "Texas Prisons: The Walls Came Tumbling Down"), uses even more telling statistics. There are twice as many blacks in Texas prisons as are enrolled in our public universities. In contrast, the ratio for Anglos is five university students for every prisoner.

        Suppose we just set as a goal to reverse the statistic for blacks. Because unless we start spending smarter, this is going to get nothing but worse. Columnist William Raspberry, writing about this same study, said: "Too-quick reliance on incarceration not only turns out to be bad criminal justice policy, but it also has a devastating impact on minority communities, exacerbating the very problems -- of poverty, rage, joblessness, family breakdown and societal disaffection -- that produce a lot of the crime to begin with."

        The single greatest predictor of who will wind up in prison is whether his father was in prison. We will have to trample out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.

        Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


        Other TDCJ Statistics:
        ·There are approximately 148,000 inmates
        in 105 facilities statewide, including prisons and state jails (state and privately- operated), pre-release facilities, medical facilities, psychiatric facilities and substance abuse facilities (state and privately- operated).

        ·It costs $44.01 per day to house an offender in Texas.

        Please Note:
        If the State of Texas pays $44.01 each day for an inmate and there is 148,000 inmates in TDCJ, this is how much the State pays TDCJ-CID in one year...
        ~~~ $237,444,202.00 ~~

        DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM HERE???


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