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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Tuesday, May 5, secured passage by the House of Representatives of his House Bill 1015, which will help Texas district judges rehabilitate petty criminals while they pay their debts to society.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Texas taxpayers will save money while improving the rehabilitation of tens of thousands of petty criminals every year, many of them serving drug-related sentences, under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which was approved on Tuesday, May 5 by the House of Representatives. House Bill 1015 would require the Texas Department of Corrections, which supervises 19 state jails in Texas, to notify a district judge, about two weeks ahead of time, when a felon sentenced in their court will have been locked up in a state jail for 75 days. Currently after the first 75 days served in state jails, offenders can be bench warranted back into community supervision, yet experts testified that this rarely occurs because judges do not have an adequate mechanism to monitor this benchmark for each offender, according to a 2014 study by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, of which Canales is a member. “State jails are notorious for being more expensive than even state prison, and for offenders who are serious about straightening out their lives, a judge can bring them back home for meaningful rehabilitation programs, diversion treatment, and community supervision, which costs taxpayers a fraction of keeping them in state jails,” Canales said. When the Texas state jail system was first created in 1993, it was intended to remove petty-criminals – many of them convicted of drug-related crimes – from contact with violent offenders as found in the prison system, reduce overcrowding in the prison system, and emphasize treatment and rehabilitation with the goal of reducing the chance those felons would wind up in trouble with the law again, the House committee study noted. But, Canales said, the state jail system – which currently houses around 10,000 “detainees” – is failing because it has is now used for warehousing inmates with no programs to provide rehabilitation. “Right now, no one lets the judge know when an offender who was sentenced in their court can begin the journey to becoming a law-abiding citizen, and instead, they wind up being forgotten for up to two years,” he added. “House Bill 1015 would let our judges take the important steps needed to prepare these offenders to return back to society, as they pay their debt to society.” The reliance on keeping offenders in state jails over community supervision has been criticized for costing taxpayers more money per offender, the House committee noted in its legislative findings, which were published on January 12, 2015. State jails average about $43 per day per offender. This cost is less than prison inmates cost per day, but when one takes into account the higher recidivism rate of state jail offenders, the fact they do not receive meaningful rehabilitation programs, and no parole, the cost is a poor return on taxpayers’ investment; especially for repeat offenders. In comparison, diversion treatment and community supervision costs an average of $10 per day. Therefore, state jails are no longer the backup to community supervision, but are the primary response to state jail felonies with minimal rehabilitation opportunities and maximum sentences served, the legislative committee also concluded. Canales credited Nueces County 117th District Judge Sandra Watts for bringing the issue to light when she testified before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence during its public hearing held in Corpus Christi on Tuesday July 29, 2014. Canales credited Nueces County 117th District Judge Sandra Watts for bringing this and other issues to light when she testified before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence during its public hearing held in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Following House passage of HB 1015, Watts reflected, “This bill is another example that Texas is moving towards a ‘Smart on Crime’ approach and away from the ‘War on Drugs’.” During her testimony last summer before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Watts told lawmakers that when the concept of state jails was first introduced, a key goal was to give nonviolent offenders a wake-up call about the consequences of their actions, then bring them back home on probation and rehabilitation. “Problem number one is you are assuming, or the law assumed, that there was a mechanism in place where judges would have a list of everybody they sent away (to state jails). There is no way,” Watts said. “The statute says that after they have served at least 75 days, the district judge has the ability to bench warrant them back and put them on probation. I’m probably as computer literate as they come, and I have spreadsheets about all my inmates, but I can’t keep up with who I’ve sent or this time period.” To further illustrate the need for HB 1015, Watts noted that in 2011, there were 23,000 detainees who went through the state jail system. “Of those 23,000, only 158 in that calendar year were bench warranted (court-ordered) back and put back into community supervision,” she explained. “The intention was perhaps good but has been underutilized. It is not working as perhaps the Legislature in 1993 thought that it would, mainly because of the masses of detainees or the defendants we deal with. We do not have anyway to track them, keep them in our mind.”

••••••

Texas taxpayers will save money while improving the rehabilitation of petty criminals under Rep. Canales’ measure approved by Texas House

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Texas taxpayers will save money while improving the rehabilitation of tens of thousands of petty criminals every year, many of them serving drug-related sentences, under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which was approved on Tuesday, May 5 by the House of Representatives.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, will carry House Bill 1015 in the Senate.

House Bill 1015 would require the Texas Department of Corrections, which supervises 19 state jails in Texas, to notify a district judge, about two weeks ahead of time, when a felon sentenced in their court will have been locked up in a state jail for 75 days.

Currently after the first 75 days served in state jails, offenders can be bench warranted back into community supervision, yet experts testified that this rarely occurs because judges do not have an adequate mechanism to monitor this benchmark for each offender, according to a 2014 study by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, of which Canales is a member.

“State jails are notorious for being more expensive than even state prison, and for offenders who are serious about straightening out their lives, a judge can bring them back home for meaningful rehabilitation programs, diversion treatment, and community supervision, which cost taxpayers a fraction of keeping them in state jails,” Canales said.

When the Texas state jail system was first created in 1993, it was intended to remove petty-criminals – many of them convicted of drug-related crimes – from contact with violent offenders as found in the prison system, reduce overcrowding in the prison system, and emphasize treatment and rehabilitation with the goal of reducing the chance those felons would wind up in trouble with the law again, the House committee study noted.

But, Canales said, the state jail system – which currently houses around 10,000 “detainees” – is failing because it has is now used for warehousing inmates with no programs to provide rehabilitation.

“Right now, no one lets the judge know when an offender who was sentenced in their court can begin the journey to becoming a law-abiding citizen, and instead, they wind up being forgotten for up to two years,” he added. “House Bill 1015 would let our judges take the important steps needed to prepare these offenders to return back to society, as they pay their debt to society.”

The reliance on keeping offenders in state jails over community supervision has been criticized for costing taxpayers more money per offender, the House committee noted in its legislative findings, which were published on January 12, 2015.

Several of those committee findings showed that state jails average about $43 per day per offender which is less than the cost per day for state prisons, but when one takes into account the higher recidivism rate of state jail offenders, it seems like less of a bargain. When considering the lack of meaningful rehabilitation programs and community supervision, the expense is a poor return on investment, especially for repeat drug offenders.

In comparison, diversion treatment and community supervision costs an average of $10 per day.

Therefore, state jails are no longer the backup to community supervision, but are the primary response to state jail felonies with minimal rehabilitation opportunities and maximum sentences served, the legislative committee also concluded.

NUECES COUNTY DISTRICT JUDGE SANDRA WATTS HELPED INFLUENCE LEGISLATION

Canales credited Nueces County 117th District Judge Sandra Watts for bringing this and other issues to light when she testified before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence during its public hearing held in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

Following House passage of HB 1015, Watts reflected, “This bill is another example that Texas is moving towards a ‘Smart on Crime’ approach and away from the ‘War on Drugs’.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

At the direction of the Attorney General in early 2013, the Justice Department launched a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in order to identify reforms that would ensure federal laws are enforced more fairly and—in an era of reduced budgets—more efficiently. Five goals were identified as a part of this review:

• To ensure finite resources are devoted to the most important law enforcement priorities;
• To promote fairer enforcement of the laws and alleviate disparate impacts of the criminal justice system;
• To ensure just punishments for low-level, nonviolent convictions;
• To bolster prevention and reentry efforts to deter crime and reduce recidivism; and
• To strengthen protections for vulnerable populations.

During her testimony last summer before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Watts told lawmakers that when the concept of state jails was first introduced, a key goal was to give nonviolent offenders a wake-up call about the consequences of their actions, then bring them back home on probation and rehabilitation.

“Problem number one is you are assuming, or the law assumed, that there was a mechanism in place where judges would have a list of everybody they sent away (to state jails). There is no way,” Watts said. “The statute says that after they have served at least 75 days, the district judge has the ability to bench warrant them back and put them on probation. I’m probably as computer literate as they come, and I have spreadsheets about all my inmates, but I can’t keep up with who I’ve sent or this time period.”

To further illustrate the need for HB 1015, Watts noted that in 2011, there were 23,000 detainees who went through the state jail system.

“Of those 23,000, only 158 in that calendar year were bench warranted (court-ordered) back and put back into community supervision,” she explained. “The intention was perhaps good but has been underutilized. It is not working as perhaps the Legislature in 1993 thought that it would, mainly because of the masses of detainees or the defendants we deal with. We do not have anyway to track them, keep them in our mind.”

PUBLIC HEARINGS ON STATE JAIL SYSTEM

According to the legislative panel’s report:

The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence held two public hearings to consider testimony from stakeholders and experts regarding Charge 7, relating to state jail felonies. The hearings were held at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi on July 29, 2014 and at the Texas Capitol, Room E2.016, on Oct. 7, 2014.

The following portion of this report is based largely on the oral and written testimony from those hearings, along with other research.

INTRODUCTION

The committee was charged with examining the utilization of community supervision in state jail felonies and the effectiveness of the state jail in light of its original purpose. The committee heard testimony from stakeholders and experts who discussed the original purpose of state jails, the current condition of state jails, and proposed ways to improve the current state jail system.

BACKGROUND

In 1993, the 73rd Legislative Session passed Senate Bill 532 and Senate Bill 1067, establishing the state jail system and a new class of state jail felonies to alleviate overcrowding in prison and county jails.

Under the new law, state jail felonies were punishable by confinement in a state jail facility for 180 days to 2 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Amendments were made to the Code of Criminal Procedure in conjunction with SB 1067 that mandated judges to immediately suspend a state jail confinement sentence and place the defendant under community supervision for 2-5 years.

If the offender did not comply with the terms of their probation the judge could punish them with confinement in a state jail facility for 30 to 180 days. If the offender’s community service were revoked completely, that person would serve his or her entire sentence in a state jail. State jail sentences were, and still are, served day-for-day, meaning no accrued time for good behavior or parole.

A judge could also require a person convicted of a state jail felony to serve an upfront sentence at a state jail facility prior to probation. An offender with no prior felonies could be sentenced up to 30 days in a county jail or up to 60 days in a state jail; offenders with one prior felony could be sentenced up to 60 days in a county jail or up to 180 days in a state jail; and offenders with two or more prior felony convictions or certain drug offenses could be sentenced up to one year in a state jail prior to being placed on probation.

The ultimate goal of the state jail felony program was to remove low-level criminals from contact with violent offenders as found in the prison system, reduce overcrowding in the prison system, and emphasize treatment and rehabilitation with the goal of reducing recidivism rates for low-level offenders.

State jail offenders were to be referred to as ‘detainees’ rather than ‘inmates’, given different uniforms than inmates in prison facilities, and the state jails themselves were to have intensive work programs, rehabilitation opportunities, and educational opportunities. However, over the next couple of legislative sessions, lawmakers modified the state jail felony system, altering the original intentions of the state jail program.

In 1995, the 74th legislature passed SB 15, which made placement on community supervision for state jail felons with one previous felony conviction discretionary.

The new law modified the maximum amount of ‘upfront’ time in a state jail from 60 to 90 days for a person without a previous felony conviction; from 90 to 180 days for offenders with one previous felony, and would remove the 1-year limit for persons convicted of two or more felonies.

The maximum length of community supervision was also extended from 5 to 10 years for persons previously convicted of two or more felonies.

The goal of SB 15 was to allow judges greater flexibility when sentencing repeat offenders.

In 1997, the 75th Legislature passed SB 663, which removed all mandatory community supervision, allowing direct sentencing to state jail for all state jail felonies. These changes resulted in the direct sentencing to state jails for the majority of state jail felonies.

Beginning in 2003, the legislature passed several bills that rolled back some of the previous changes in state jail felonies.

HB 2558 in the 78th legislative session mandated community supervision for certain first-time drug offenses; HB 1610 in the 80th session provided judges the discretion to lower certain state jail felony convictions to a class A misdemeanor; and HB 2649 in the 82nd session introduced the state jail diligent participation credit, enabling most state jail felons to earn up to 20% of their term in good credit days by completing treatment, vocational, or education programs while in state jail.

While these changes demonstrated a small move back towards the original intention of state jails, the facilities are currently considered less effective than state prisons in rehabilitation, too expensive, and are notorious for high recidivism rates.

DISCUSSION

STATE JAIL POPULATION

As of July 2014, Texas housed a population of 10,616 incarcerated individuals sentenced to state jails in the state’s 19 state jail facilities.

Men comprise 8,226 of the population and 2,390 are female, with an average age of 36.The current population is down from 2008 when it was 13,000.

State jail facilities also act as transfer facilities for inmates who are moving into prison facilities. These transfer inmates are housed separately from the state jail inmates but may interact; in an educational program for example.

Transfer inmates can be held in a state jail facility for 2 years before they must be moved to a state prison.

In 2013, TDCJ received 22,371 offenders into state jails and released 22,601. Of that number, only 118 were released to community supervision.

The average state jail sentence of an offender is one year, with the individual typically spending 8-9 months in the state jail after time spent in county jail. The majority of offenders sentenced to state jails are convicted on property and drug offenses with 50.6% of offenders convicted of property offenses, 36% drug offenses, 12.1% other crimes and just 1.3% violent crimes.

Compared to state prisons that contain 60% offenders convicted of violent offenses and just 12.5% convicted of property offenses.210 State jail offenders typically serve the entirety of their term.

That means a state jail offender serving a two-year sentence will most likely serve more time than an offender in the penitentiary with a similar two year sentence, since the individuals in state prison have the benefits of time accrued for good behavior and parole.

STATE JAIL FACILITIES

Critics of the current state jail system cite the poor environment in state jails for low-level offenders.

Some witnesses testified that during tours of state jail facilities it was apparent the facilities are not built up to the same code as state prisons, with no A/C, the mixing of state jail felons and “transfer” felons, and minimal work/rehabilitation opportunities. This type of environment is not conducive to helping low-level offenders prepare to become law abiding, productive citizens upon release.

RECIDIVISM

Offenders released from state jails have a recidivism rate of 31.1% compared to 22.6% in the state penitentiary. 30.6% of state jail offenders released in 2008 were re-incarcerated, compared with 22.4% of those released from prison in 2008. Those rates were down from 2007 when 62.7% of state jail offenders were re-arrested, compared to 47.2% of offenders released from prison.

This high rate of recidivism is often attributed to the lack of rehabilitation, few work programs and the lack of aftercare or probation for former state jail inmates. These programs were originally the central purpose of state jails, but a lack of funding stripped the programs in the late 1990s.

STATE JAILS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION OPTIONS

The reliance on keeping offenders in state jails over community supervision has been criticized for costing taxpayers more money per offender.

State jails average about $43 per day per offender. This cost is less than prison inmates cost per day, but when one takes into account the higher recidivism rate of state jail offenders, the fact they do not receive meaningful rehabilitation programs, and no parole, the cost is a poor return on taxpayers’ investment; especially for repeat offenders.

In comparison, diversion treatment and community supervision costs an average of $10 per day.

Parole costs $2.46 cents a day per inmate and is cited as an incentive for ex-inmates not to relapse once released.

Critics of the current state jail system argue the state is spending more on warehousing inmates than it is on rehabilitating them, which has a proven track record of lowering recidivism rates.

An often cited divergence from the original purpose of state jails was to use the jail for “shock probation” and to serve as a backup option, used only to support offenders with rehabilitation services if they failed to meet the requirements of their probation.

Community supervision was intended to be judges’ first response to state jail felonies, but over time state jail has become the first choice.

Currently after the first 75 days served in state jails, offenders can be bench warranted back into community supervision, yet experts testified that this rarely occurs because judges do not have an adequate mechanism to monitor this benchmark for each offender.

Therefore, state jails are no longer the backup to community supervision, but are the primary response to state jail felonies with minimal rehabilitation opportunities and maximum sentences served.

Although the original purpose of state jails was not successful in Texas, experts testified that “shock probation” has been successfully implemented in Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation Enforcement or HOPE probation.

The HOPE probation program has received national praise for successfully implementing a program similar to the original purpose of the state jail program. In the HOPE probation program, jail is used as a sanction for offenders who violate their probation. Those offenders, who do not violate their probation, undergo high-intensity community supervision that has resulted in lowered recidivism rates among drug offenders and other low-level offenders. Proponents of returning state jails to their original purpose reference the HOPE probation program as a model for its potential in Texas.

RECOMMENDATIONS

ENCOURAGE JUDGES TO UTILIZE COMMUNITY SUPERVISION

While the 1995 and 1997 revisions to the state jail system significantly increased the ability of judges to directly sentence offenders to state jail facilities, it did not remove their discretion to place those offenders on immediate community supervision.

Proponents of community supervision argue that keeping low-level offenders closer to home and under more intense rehabilitation programs reduces rates of recidivism and is more cost-effective in comparison to the daily cost of housing a state jail offender.

Experts argue that judges should use their discretion during sentencing to place more offenders on community supervision, rather than sending the majority directly to a state jail. A mechanism could be created to notify judges when inmates are eligible for their 20% reduction in time served or when they are eligible for community supervision after 75 days served.

IMPLEMENT A SPLIT-SENTENCING PROGRAM

Split sentencing combines equal stays in state jail facilities and on community supervision to provide more effective punishment and rehabilitation. Judges could decide to suspend an offender’s state jail sentence halfway through and place the individual on community supervision for the remainder of their sentence.

RESTORE FUNDING FOR REHABILITATION AND WORK PROGRAMS

The state jail system was created in large part to provide more intensive opportunities for rehabilitation to those offenders that the state considers easily re-incorporated into society (low-level offenders). Funding for many of these programs has been cut over the years, reducing the value of the state jail system. Restoring funding for drug, alcohol, and other treatment programs aids in reducing rates of recidivism and returns the state jail system to one focused on the rehabilitation and re-incorporation of low-level offenders back into society.

SEPARATE THE TRANSFER INMATE POPULATION FROM THE STATE JAIL POPULATION

While the transfer inmate population has housing separate from that of state jail inmates, critics 50
of the state jails argue that state jail inmates still have substantial and ultimately negatively-affecting interactions with transfer inmates in education programs, during dining, and in other day-to-day operations of the state jail. These critics argue that this interaction is counter-productive, as the goal of the state jail system was to remove low-level offenders from general felons and thus separate them from an influence that arguably encourages an escalation of criminal activity. Complete separation of the transfer inmate population from the state jail inmate population would reduce a factor that may influence rates of recidivism.

ADD A WORK RELEASE OPTION TO OFFENDERS WITH CERTAIN CRIMES

Many state jail offenders, 49.9% of all those received in 2013, are convicted of low-level property crimes. These offenses are often associated with financial difficulty. As such, a work release option would provide infrastructure for those state jail felons convicted of property crimes to help them gain the skills needed to obtain employment.

INSTITUTE POST-RELEASE AFTERCARE AND SUPERVISION PROGRAMS

The current state jail felony system does not mandate parole after a sentence in a state jail facility. As a result, individuals who spend time in a state jail are released without the appropriate support structure to prevent a relapse into criminal behavior. Instituting mandatory supervision and aftercare programs would work to reduce recidivism rates by aiding released offenders with their re-integration into society.

••••••

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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