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<Dennis Foster>
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I remember a couple months ago seeing a discussion thread regarding proposed probation reforms. Some of the more vocal critics of this reform felt that criminals would be running rampant, committing crimes and hurting people. Here is a Dallas Morning News article which seems to clearly show just how wrong those critics are!

What do the rest of you think??


COUNTY LOSING TRACK OF CROOKS

Exclusive: Dallas County can't account for 10,000 probationers


11:51 AM CDT on Sunday, August 7, 2005


By BROOKS EGERTON / The Dallas Morning News


It's 10 p.m. Do we know where our criminals are?

Dallas County probation officials increasingly don't. They lost track last year of more than 10,000 people they were supposed to be supervising, according to a new study obtained by The Dallas Morning News. Half of them had committed felonies.

The number of probationers who are unaccounted for is up 65 percent since 2000. It also represents roughly a quarter of all people in the county who were on probation in 2004 � one of the worst rates in Texas, although other big counties have nothing to brag about.

"This is a law and order story," said probation officer Kurt Kuehl. "Everybody's at risk."

Dallas County's 15 felony court judges oversee the probation department and commissioned the study. Presiding Judge John Creuzot said they would have no comment on it until after a meeting Thursday.

"We're going to develop a direction that we would like to see the department go in," he said.

The study does not lay specific blame. Rather, it paints a broad picture of an overloaded, fragmented system.

Managing probationers is key to preventing more crime, experts say. About one-third of all people arrested in Texas are on probation at the time police detain them, according to the most recent numbers a study co-author was familiar with.

Such statistics feed the concerns of people like Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle. He says his department cannot, by itself, slash the city's crime rate � which is the highest among the nation's cities with more than 1 million residents.

"We're arresting people to the point that all the jails and detention centers are full," the chief said. "All parts of the criminal justice system are going to have to work as efficiently as possible."

Budget constraints mean Dallas County's caseloads are high and getting higher. Probation officers typically are assigned to supervise about 140 people apiece, said Dr. Jim Mills, the Community Supervision and Corrections Department's interim director. The goal, according to the study, should be 60.

By The Numbers

40,481: People Dallas County probation officers were supposed to supervise last year

10,249: People who went missing

5,240: Missing people who were on probation for felonies

140: People each officer is assigned to supervise, on average

420,000: People on probation in Texas

151,000: Texas prison population

SOURCES: Texas Department of Criminal Justice; Dallas Morning News research

The volume of work keeps most officers stuck at their desks. That's the only place they see most probationers. There's little surveillance of the places the offenders say they live and work.

And those desks? There aren't enough to go around, so some officers do computer work at home two days a week.

The study says the judges, despite their management responsibility, don't function as a team. They have a jumble of policies for monitoring the people they sentence, records show.

One major area of difference is judges' response to offenders who fail to check in at probation offices. Several jurists tell officers not to file a violation report if someone fails to report once. Some say to wait until there have been three straight failures.

Probation officers generally don't hunt for the absconders. Instead, the violation report can lead a judge to issue an arrest warrant, which becomes the sheriff's problem.

The sheriff's warrant division has a staff of 60 and about 170,000 pending warrants of all types, Sgt. Don Peritz said.

How many of the unaccounted-for probationers were caught last year? If caught, were they locked up or just put back on probation? How many committed new crimes while on the lam?

The study doesn't address these questions. State and local officials said they didn't know the answers.

But the problem of absconders is a long-standing one, stressed Dr. Mills, who became the county's interim director several months ago after longtime head Ron Goethals retired.

"We've got drawers full of people that absconded years ago," Dr. Mills said. He declined to comment on the study until the judges had.


The study

MGT of America, a Florida-based consulting firm that focuses on public-sector clients, compiled the study based on government records and extensive interviews in Dallas. Head consultants were Dr. Tony Fabelo, who was executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council under the Perry, Bush and Richards administrations; and Ken McGinnis, former director of prison systems in Michigan and Illinois.

Probation is a huge and historically neglected piece of the criminal justice system, Dr. Fabelo and current officials said. They described Dallas County's problems as similar to � if somewhat worse than � those around the state.

"You're always triaging," said Bonita White, a former West Texas probation officer who now runs the state's Community Justice Assistance Division. "There's not enough time to do what you really need to do."

Texas has about 420,000 people on probation. That's almost twice the number of all state prisoners and parolees combined.

Chief Kunkle said he knew little about the probation system and didn't think his department worked closely with it. Such coordination could pay off, the new study suggests.

"More than 50 percent of felony probationers with addresses in the city of Dallas reside in less than 5 percent of the city's neighborhood areas," it says. Further study, it adds, could lead probation officers to target these areas, working with law enforcement, other government agencies and community groups.

Texas law requires the judges to create a team that monitors the probation department's effectiveness and gives policy guidance. The team should include representatives from the Dallas Police Department, the City Council, county commissioners, state legislators, the sheriff's office and the school district.

But such a group "has not met in at least three years to develop a meaningful plan," the study concludes.


Budgets

Dr. Fabelo said the pressure on probation departments will only grow as judges, responding to the prison space crunch, sentence more high-risk offenders to supervision outside lockups. But do the departments have the money to cope?

About half of their budgets come from fees probationers pay. Most of the rest comes from the state � and until this year, Ms. White said, legislators had not increased probation funding for a decade. There also had been a decline in programs, such as inpatient drug treatment, that can help people complete probation successfully.

Legislators recently approved increases that should begin turning things around, Ms. White said. Departments that receive the funds, she said, will be required to reduce caseloads and make other changes.

Dallas County's department managers decided last year to move from a narrow emphasis on enforcement to a broader goal of rehabilitation, using research-tested strategies.

But it isn't clear whether judges support the idea, the study says, and the department "is not organizationally prepared to make this shift."

A PROBATION PRIMER

How people get put on probation, which is technically called community supervision:

1. The defendant is convicted of a crime and sentenced to 10 years or less of incarceration. The judge suspends the sentence and places the person under community supervision for the same period of time. The judge attaches various conditions, such as not committing new crimes, not using drugs, submitting to urine tests and regularly visiting a probation officer. Judges can send defendants to jail or prison if they violate the conditions.

OR
2. A judge finds that there is ample evidence to convict but doesn't do so. This is commonly called "deferred adjudication." The defendant is placed under community supervision, as above, and ends up with no criminal record if he or she completes the term successfully.

NOTE: People convicted of certain felonies, such as murder and aggravated sexual assault, are not eligible for probation. There are fewer limitations on whom a judge may sentence to deferred-adjudication probation.

Definitions
Felonies � the most serious crimes, such as murder or aggravated sexual assault, with the shortest prison sentence being 180 days in a state jail.

Misdemeanors � less serious crimes, such as traffic tickets, many of which are punished with fines only or short county jail terms; the maximum punishment is a year in jail

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research
 
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Sounds like more of a FUBAR than a SNAFU.
 
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Let me get this straight: the fact that one supervision office has "lost" thousands of probationers proves that folks who argue against weakening the terms, duration and condtions of probation are wrong?
__________________________________________________
The study says the judges, despite their management responsibility, don't function as a team. They have a jumble of policies for monitoring the people they sentence, records show.

One major area of difference is judges' response to offenders who fail to check in at probation offices. Several jurists tell officers not to file a violation report if someone fails to report once. Some say to wait until there have been three straight failures.
__________________________________________________

It seems the study makes exactly the opposite point the poster intends.
 
Posts: 723 | Location: Fort Worth, TX, USA | Registered: July 30, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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A probationer who is released early from probation due to "probation reform" is just as free to "run wild" as a probationer who abscounds from probation--so how is the public better protected by early release from probation?

In fact, however, the abscounding probationer is not as free to run wild as the probationer who is no longer on probation. An abscounder runs the risk of being stopped by police--for example for a simple traffic problem--and being sent back to jail. The crook let off probation early has nothing to worry about.

Of course, those ignorant of how probation works might argue: probation reform was intended to only release early those probationers who had been model probationers and had finished all their conditions of probation (except for restitution). If probation officers didn't have this unneccessary caseload, they would have time to concentrate on their problem probationers.

In fact, model probationers do not take up much probation dept. time, because such probationers usually only report 4 times a year, and then their visits are very brief. What such model probationers do, is help pay for probation with P.O. fees, which the article says accounts for half of probation department income. If "Probation Reform" had been signed into law, Dallas Probations problems would be even more dire.

Real probation reform would have meant the legislature coming up with more money for probation, and more money to build more prisons, so that those who violate probation can be sent where they belong. If probationers know that they are going to the joint if they don't obey probation conditions,you'd probably have fewer abscounders, and more protection for the public. Smile
 
Posts: 686 | Location: Beeville, Texas, U.S.A. | Registered: March 22, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I don't know why we worry about these "technical
violators"

Missing an appointment is a "technical violation"

We need to spend less time supervising
these "technical violators" and focus our
resources more on those that need the help.

Please. What planet are these people on?
 
Posts: 34 | Location: Canyon, TX | Registered: December 11, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
<Dennis Foster>
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One thing I would point out is that I doubt that the Dallas situation is any different than what is going on in most counties to a greater or lessor extent.

I believe this because the people that are working in Dallas are no different than people that are working in Harris County, Pecos County, Bexar County, or even Williamson County. People are people. And the resources that they have available, and how they use those resources, are probably no different from one county to the next. The scale involved is just different.

I think that if you look closely at your own counties you would probably find a similar situation -- 25% or so of the probationers being unaccounted for with a miss-mash of policies or regulations (of course, in a small county with, say less than ten judges, it is much easier to coordinate policies and expectations so you have uniformity).

But the point that I am trying to make, and what the article touched on, is that the system, as it is being run now, is broken. While the probation reform bill was not a magic wand, it did seem to have the support of many people in the probation community, as well as those in the criminal justice academic community that have done studies and looked at what other states are doing.
 
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You make some amazing generalizations. Perhaps as a law student you still have the luxury of assuming everyone is the same everywhere. Do you feel the same way about all the students in your class? Why, then, is it that not everyone will be graduating?

Did you ever actually read the "reform" bill or did you form your conclusions based on who you thought was supporting it? I hope that your ongoing legal education includes some critical thinking lessons.
 
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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It seemed to have the support of many in the "probation community"? My "probation community" which I presume refers to people who actually work in the field, were scared to death of the bill. Some of them were going to lose their jobs because the bill would have ultimately caused a decrease in funding for probation departments due to reduced probation fees. The people who supported this WERE THE ACLU for God's sake!!!! What does that tell you?
 
Posts: 283 | Location: Montague, Texas, USA | Registered: January 26, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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No one that I personally know in the probation field supported the probation reform bill and the problem with absconders is not the probation systems fault. The probation reform bill would likely have had little or no impact on the absconder problem. No matter how good, well thought out, well funded, planned, implemented, or whatever attributes of any system of supervision, it all comes down to the individual on supervision. The problem is a societal problem whereby individuals are no longer deemed responsible for their own actions. It has to be someone or some things fault. The true problem in my humble opinion is the criminal justice systems inability to closely relate in time offense/violation to punishment. There is a way to eliminate absconders altogether, GPS. Wink
 
Posts: 8 | Location: Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas, USA | Registered: December 09, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I don't know of a single person with our probation office here that supported the probation "reform" bill either. Now's a good time to thank the governor for killing this and a few other anti-law enforcement bills that, somehow, managed to pass through the house and senate.
 
Posts: 280 | Location: Weatherford, Texas | Registered: March 25, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Probation Problems: Give officials freedom to do necessary job

Monday, August 8, 2005

At face value, the numbers cause a quick intake of air through pursed lips, indicating serious concern. But look deeper, and don't let all that air seep back out in a resigned sigh.

A study reveals Dallas County's probation department, supervised by 15 felony court judges, is understaffed and overworked, losing track of probationers at a dizzying rate, a weak link in an increasingly stressed criminal justice system. Department insiders contend the truth is closer to Mark Twain's lies, damn lies and statistics.

Our point here is not to quibble with MGT of America, a Florida-based consulting firm that produced the study at the behest of the 15 supervising judges, or with how it arrived at its conclusions. Even probation officials concede the department could do more and better.

Instead, we seek solutions.

One, ironically, is more freedom � to allocate resources more effectively.

A decade of flat state funding of probation departments caused cutbacks in needed rehabilitation programs and caseloads out of whack with realistic expectations. That should change.

The state, in fact, has as much as $2.1 million available for Dallas County. But only if it spends the money on new probation officers to reduce caseloads, provides a progressive sanctions program and agrees to reduce technical violations that take up prison space by 10 percent.

All of that sounds reasonable enough, until you consider that the county's starting annual salary for probation officers has been whittled to $28,500. That's less than schoolteachers or rookie community college police officers earn. That kind of money won't attract the quality of candidate this department needs.

Would it not make more sense for the better probation officers � the ones who, ostensibly, should handle the more difficult cases � to earn salaries that would encourage them to stay in the department? And there are other ways we could untie officials' hands.

Could the department not make more extensive use of automated check-in procedures for probationers deemed low-risk? Machines that ask the same routine questions as human officers could handle hundreds of people, freeing the humans to focus on the cases that present true public danger.

Should the supervising judges not have a more coordinated approach to their supervising? Their answer to this and other questions could go a long way toward shoring up this system.
 
Posts: 2406 | Location: TDCAA | Registered: March 08, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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II just have to add that I knew of no one in our CS/CD that approved of the bill. They were more apprehensive than the judges or prosecutors. In the early days of summer, when all the steam was behind the bill, I actually had a couple of defense attorneys put off pleas expecting to get the shorter probationary term for their clients.
 
Posts: 723 | Location: Fort Worth, TX, USA | Registered: July 30, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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We all know things can happen quickly in a special session. My boss got a question about this. Has anyone heard any rumblings about ressurecting some part or all of the vetoed probation legislation (in light of this article or otherwise)?
 
Posts: 21 | Location: Longview, Texas | Registered: March 11, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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House Bill 69.
 
Posts: 8 | Location: Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas, USA | Registered: December 09, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Never say never (of course), but since probation changes have not been added to the call of this special session, any bill on that topic is subject to a point of order on the floor or either chamber that would kill it in its tracks. Therefore, it is highly unlikely the legislature will revisit this issue during a special session. However, I would expect the topic to continue to be discussed during the interim (whenever that starts!), perhaps as interim studies, etc.
 
Posts: 2406 | Location: TDCAA | Registered: March 08, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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My boss, Mike Sheppard, came up with a brillant idea for the legislature which will save tons of bucks, and won't involve lots of arguments about watering down probation.

His idea is to pass a statute limiting the police to working criminal cases from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon. through Fri. With an hour off for lunch, of course.

If this "Reform" idea was passed, there would be no need to build any more prisons, or hamper probation in any way. State govt. could save millions of dollars. Indeed local govts. would save tons of bucks as well since they could reduce the number of cops working after-hours and on weekends to just enough to work traffic accidents. (Admittedly, saving local government money is of no concern to state legislators, but it does have that happy effect.)

Mike's Reform Idea would have exactly the same effect as Probation Reform, but it has this one advantage: it is completely honest with the public, and doesn't falsely claim that it will help law enforcement. Smile
 
Posts: 686 | Location: Beeville, Texas, U.S.A. | Registered: March 22, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Along those same lines, we could have school reform. Cut the class size in half by making high school only two years long. Declare all sophomores to be seniors. As they say in criminal defense talk, Shazaam.
 
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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