Perhaps the legislature considers that a person who has committed serious crimes in the past, but who now has committed an offense which is only a state jail felony, has at least partially rehabilitated? I mean really, you can't expect these guys to come out of prison or felony probation and just quit crime cold turkey. We have to ease them back towards a law abiding life. Before too long he'll just be committing misdemeanor assaults and writing bad checks. Then it's just a small step to canonization.
John, what is the rationale, other a legislative mistake, for being able to enhance a SJF with two non-sequential SJF priors but not two non-sequential non-SJF priors?
Forget logic, consistency, or public policy -- this idea won't get off the ground unless the fiscal impact is neutral or very, very small.
Tim, you ask an excellent question about the costs of SJF vs. TDCJ-ID time. I have a call in to the LBB (Legislative Budget Board) to ask how they determine such impacts and how parole factors into that equation.
I will update this post when I learn more.
As part of this whole mess, there ought to be some way to show them that capacity needs to increase in proportion to the state's continued population growth. Seems like, with the requirement that they pay the counties for state prisoners awaiting transfer to tdcj, that it can show a positive fiscal note. After all, we build more roads as traffic increases. Similarly, there should be incremental increases in SAFP and other treatment beds.
The general idea was you could graduate out of SJF only if you were violent or had a criminal history showing that a state jail wasn't changing you.
You have to remember that the original SJF required probation for everyone, regardless of criminal history. That changed the following session to automatic probation unless you had a prior felony conviction. A little later, that changed to make it entirely discretionary. Last session, that changed back to automatic probation for certain drug possession offenses.
Is it any wonder that the enhancements don't make so much sense anymore?
To paraphrase, here's how LBB would calculate the fiscal impact of changing certain offenders' punishment from a SJF to a 3F:
(a) estimate the number of people affected
(b) determine how future SJF and ID bed capacity would be impacted by the change based on statistical models using average lengths of stay for each type of facility
(c) factor in releasees from ID (parole, mandatory, etc.)
The fiscal note would reflect the housing difference of ID vs. SJF, and the fiscal note would include the cost of parole supervision for those released to parole. The criminal justice impact statement would indicate the reduction in the state jail population, the increase in the prison population, and the increase in the parole supervision population.
In sum ... there's no telling what the numbers would be, you just have to file a bill and then wait and see. However, I do know that past criminal justice models have favored SJFs over ID felonies because average lengths of stay in SJFs have been shorter. Whether that still holds true in this new era of increased parole is unknown to me at this time.
So is it cheaper to house someone in state jail for two years, as opposed to two years in prison? Sounds to me like they may be throwing a bunch of stuff in there to make sure that it costs more, at least on paper. For example, how can you attribute the cost of a parole officer to a single parolee. Just like a probation officer, they see a lot of clients. The system is already in place to supervise them so no new programs have to be developed. I also think the effect of this change would not be significant. The only offenders who would be moved from SJ to ID are offenders who have committed a new SJF, who have non-sequential prior offenses which are not SJ felonies. There simply can't be that many of these. I can recall seeing only two in my office since the SJF law took effect. And therein lies my ultimate opinion on this issue: I think it's illogical and unfair to allow enhancement to ID with prior SJF offenses but not other felony offenses, BUT we got a lot of other things to worry about next session that are more important. I wouldn't mind seeing someone propose this, however, just to see how the fiscal note comes out. I don't see this as a major overhaul, but rather, just a minor tweaking.
Actually, I think the daily costs of housing in SJFs are higher than in the ID. However, I also think that they compare the average SJF stay vs. the average stay for a 3F (or 2F, etc.), and historically, SJF sentences have been much shorter than 3F sentences, even discounting parole. Since they don't take into account the fact that a first-time SJF is going to do less time than a habitual SJF, or that many inmates doing 3F time have high sentences because they were originally charged w/ a higher offense, those numbers have always favored SJFs over ID crimes, even though it may not match reality.
Welcome to the jungle, folks ...
Shannon, are you having some trouble with the enter button?
I don't know why my posts are entering twice. I've deleted the other duplicates -- let's see what happens with this one ...
You wouldn't be doing that to get your posting numbers up, would you?
Don't worry Shannon, only penalty on this board is for double drivel, and even that one isn't enforced.
Double "drivel" -- love it.
(and yes, John, THIS post is just to drive up my numbers ... )
Clearly the enhancement law for SJF's needs to be rationalized. There is a real value in simplicity and rationality in the law. The SJF has been modified so many times, it is a mess. But, then, its always been a mess.
The biggest problem with SJ's is that the lege removed the two biggest tools the TDC has to keep order in a prison, namely good-time and the ability to move an inmate to a prison for security reasons. From what I can tell, State Jails are extremely dangerous places, much more so than the I.D. An inmate doing 2 years SJ will do 2 years regardless of whether he is a model inmate or a completely disruptive inmate. A SJ inmate who is dangerous, and a gang member, cannot be sent to the I.D., he must do his time in SJ. The result of these policies is that non-violent, low level criminals (the kind the lege created the SJ's for) are at the mercy of dangerous gang members. The SJ's are not merely recruiting grounds for prison gangs, they are impressment centers for prison gangs. When you arrive at a SJ, you either join or affiliate with a gang, or else.
This has the terrible effect of turning mild, low level criminals into far more dangerous gang members once they leave SJ. Understand that a prison gang member does not cease to be a member of the gang upon release from the joint. When he's released, he has a certain number of days to report to the gang's "lieutenant" in the town he is from, to get instruction on crimes he is to carry out.
The solution, I believe, is to double the minimum and maximum times one can receive for a SJF, then have automatic 50% good-time. An inmate sentenced to 4 years SJ, who does what he is told, will get out in 2 years. Those who cause problems will have to stay longer. But they should stay longer--they are clearly dangerous to society, and they belong in prison.
Those who get out early should have to report to a parole officer, and should be at risk to return to the joint, if they do not abide by parole rules. This encourages those who get out early to stay on the right side of the law.
The second part of the solution is to give TDC the authority to classify an inmate out of SJ's and into the ID. Just because an inmate was sentenced to SJ doesn't mean he should be allowed the privileges of living in what is supposed to be a minimum security prison, if in fact he is violent or disruptive. Moreover, TDC should have the authority to classify ID prisoners who are non-violent and non-disruptive, to SJ's where they can be protected from the preditors.
I am certain that these reforms will cost more money. But so what? The only inmates who will not get out in half the time assessed will be those who prove to be disruptive in a prison environment. Such people will assuredly continue to be dangerous to the general public if they are released too soon.
Legislators who complain that this will cost too much money need to be reminded that the first purpose of government is not education, or providing welfare, or even building roads--as important as all that is. The very first purpose of government is to protect its citizens from enemies, both foreign and domestic, and our domestic enemies are criminals. Maintaining law and order is of primary importance. Only 6.8% of the 2004-05 state budget is spent on public safety and criminal justice. Agencies of education got 42.7%, while health and human services got 33.9%. Even business and economic development gets 12% of the budget--almost double the bucks as protecting the citizens from the crooks.
So far as I can determine, the only bill addressing this issue (and some other perceived difficulties with Sec. 12.42*) has now been introduced as HB3018. I especially invite your attention to subsection (b) which would essentially overrule the poorly-reasoned decisions in Arbuckle, Spiers, Beal, and Langley concerning the meaning of "convicted". I believe this legislation would greatly improve our ability to plea-bargain with repeat offenders and eliminate a lot of frivolous appeals by persons who have more than one pending case. If you have suggestions for improvements in this legislation, please let me know. If you like what you see, may I encourage you to contact your legislator.
*Currently Sec. 12.42 uses prior state jail felony convictions only for the purpose of enhancing a third state jail felony offense or a third degree felony offense. See Cupit v. State, 122 S.W.3d 243. The punishment for other felony offenses is not increased regardless of the number of prior state jail felony offenses. See Campbell v. State, 49 S.W.3d 874. Nor is the punishment for any felony necessarily increased by virtue of a single previous state jail felony conviction. Nor is the punishment for a state-jail felony increased by virtue of more serious previous felony convictions unless the defendant has been convicted of two sequential felonies, which is inconsistent with current subsection (a)(1).
I always thought that the best aspect of SJF was the day for day no parole no good time aspect. That does put fear in the hearts of crooks. I have had their attorneys beg me to enhance for a property crime, when I felt they would do more time in the state jail than with a significantly longer TDCJ sentence, with good time and parole.
Why not just extend the sentencing range of the State Jail Felony to five years and have a real effective incarceration facility. No enhancement necessary, the legislature just amends that portion of the statute from 2 years to 5 years, and then buy some tents or build some warehouses to keep them in. Humanely, but confined for the safety of society.
Crooks do not like the day for day aspect of State Jails. We should capitalize on that!
Crooks may not like straight time, but neither do the wardens and C.O.s who have to manage the crooks in SJ. How do you effectively punish an inmate if he misbehaves, if you can't give him more prison time?
Our SJ's are chaotic hell-holes precisely because there is no distinction made between the good and the bad inmates. This encourages more criminal behavior rather than rehabilitation.
Well, perhaps the prison system should consider the teachings of BF Skinner, and if positive reinforcement doesn't work, then maybe negative reinforcement like removal of priviledges and isolation might work.
If deterrence from crime works for the law abiding folks, and in some degree that has to be premised upon an extreme fear of prison (in addition to upstanding morals, etc), why can't we make that work for the cons. If their existence in the state jail is hellish, is there not some hope that the next time the crooks think about criminality that perhaps the thought of returning to the state jail could act as a deterrent? I'm not naive about deterrence in crooks, but after multiple attempts at rehab have failed (i.e. positive reinforcement), where else are we to look?
Don't you think that a 5 year hitch for a habitual financial criminal (cca, fraudulent use of ID info, counterfeiters, etc) might be a little more frightning than a 2 year hitch? Because I know I have lots of my caseload's lawyers wanting enhancement because of the overcrowding situation in TDCJ meaning their client will do less time on a greater number of years in TDCJ so long as it is a non-violent crime. And the lawyers swear the cons know this, that the lawyers are not suggesting it.
I know that the CO's and Wardens have a hard row to hoe. Taking that thought to heart, perhaps our legislature could give them tools (work crews, farms) to help them better manage the population. I know some of the old wardens and guards from TDC days say that when the population was working all day in the fields, growing their own food with enough surplus to sell and make the State money, that the inmates were too tired for much foolishness at the end of the day.
Maybe if the cons dreaded the thought of having to actually work for a living (in a prison setting), they might move to another state where their criminality is not so harshly punished.
I don't portend to know the answer, but I know that our system, particularly the State Jail, is not working. There may be no answer. But cutting prisons, sentences and rehabilitation programs is not the answer either, so I may not the only clueless one out there.
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