Promote Innovative Community Criminal Justice Plans

The State should actively work with Travis County to pursue its plan to have local corrections assume a greater offender burden with state reimbursement.

Jail and prison overcrowding across America has promoted innovative approaches to dealing with criminal offenders; in particular, the crisis has placed more emphasis on community-based correction s. This has been especially true in Texas.

In 1989, the Legislature established the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). CJAD was intended to increase community involvement in the development of alternative sentencing programs for felony o ffenders as, well as to promote efficiency and economy in community-based correctional programs.

CJAD is responsible for the state s role in the adult probation and community corrections system. 1 CJAD sets standards for community correctional programs, application criteria and reporting formats and audits community operations. 2

Texas has 119 community supervision and corrections departments (CSCDs) supervising adult probationers. CSCDs are organized by judicial district and are under the authority of the local district judge(s). Each CSCD has a director appointed by the judge(s) who employs probation officers. Facilities, utilities and equipment are provided by the counties. A CSCD is eligible for state funding if it meets standards of operation and planning set out by CJAD. 3

About 2,750 officers supervised Texas adult probationers in fiscal 1991 at a statewide average cost per felony probationer of $1.62 per day. 4

A department, county, municipality or any combination of those entities may establish community correction facilities, including restitution centers, resi dential treatment centers, substance abuse treatment facilities or boot camps. Prior to establishing such a facility, the district judge(s) must est ablish a community justice council. This council provides continuing policy guidance and direction for the development of criminal justice plans and community corrections facilities and programs. 5

Members of community justice councils are all elected officials with jobs related to public safety. 6 In fiscal 1991, Texas had 38 active community justice councils recognized by CJAD. These councils must receive CJAD recognition as a properly formed council each year. 7

Community justice councils may appoint community justice task forces to provide support staff for developing community justice plans. Non-elected, appointed officials with jobs pertaining to public safety serve on these task forces. 8

Each criminal justice council must prepare a community justice plan and submit it to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice by March 1 of each year. The plan outlines the community s objectives and commitment to a continuum of community-based criminal justice sanctions. These community justice plans must be approved by the applicable district judges. 9

Travis County s Plan
In an effort to provide for more community involvement in its own public safety programs, Travis County added a structure for citizen input to its criminal justice planning process called the Neighborhood Protection Action Committee. This committee, which has been meeting for more than a year, consists of public members who do not work or hold elective office in the criminal justice system. The county plans to add three additional Community Justice Action Committees focusing on other areas of public concern family support, economic stability and public health. Travis County s criminal justice planning process ultimately will include elected officials serving on the Community Justice Council, appointed officials on the Community Justice Task Force and the members of the Community Justice Action Committees. 10

These organizations decided to develop a local justice proposal, based on the premise that community action may be more effective in altering offenders behavior than state programs. Travis County has an increasingly sophisticated corrections infrastructure, including the local CSCD, the Travis County Sheriff s Office and the Juvenile Court, which can be used to develop a continuum of sanctions for l ocal offenders. As the community justice organizations came to more fully understand the dynamics of community justice, they decided to keep and punish more offenders locally. 11

An integral component of the local justice concept is aftercare continuing co rrectional support within the community. If offenders are to be integrated successfully into the community after release, they need support systems to build upon and reinforce the life-skills learning begun during their sentences. This process is the ultim ate key to changing behavior, which leads to reduced recidivism.

Aftercare provides an opportunity to integrate community institutions within the local corrections concept. Churches, schools, employers and volunteer networks could be called upon to assist in aftercare. 12

The local justice proposal focuses on a target population of offenders convicted for non-aggravated offenses (basically, offenses not involving violence or a threat of violence). These offenders would remain in local facilities or programs. Violent habitua l offenders and offenders sentenced to death or life imprisonment would continue to be handled by the state, as would medically or mentally impaired inmates. 13

In fiscal 1992, 1,237 inmates from Travis County were transferred to the Inst itutional Division of TDCJ. About 90 percent of them were convicted of non-aggravated offenses; only 10 percent had committed aggravated offenses. None of the 1,237 inmates carried death sentences. As of November 23, 1992, there were 2,119 inmates from Tra vis County housed in state prisons. 14

Travis County s community justice organizations envision that a local corrections program would be funded through a mutually agreed-upon formula involving state and local funds. A local justice system for Travis Count y may not produce short-term savings for the state. In the short term, the local program might cost more to operate than the current state system, since innovative programs may take longer than current offerings in state facilities and increase the total n umber of days offenders spend in a program or institution. Construction and start-up costs for housing offenders also might produce a one-time cost to the state. Of course, success in reducing recidivism also would reduce both city and county expenses for police and prosecution. 15

Travis County decided to seek legislative approval to operate a pilot project. Various funding options have been proposed. All assume some state funding, at least initially, to create the necessary additional infrastructure. Moreover, since Travis County w ould assume responsibility for dealing with its own offenders, county authorities would require some autonomy in operating the local system. 16

The Legislature should allow Travis County to conduct a pilot projec t on local justice. The county and the state should establish mutually acceptable accountability and funding formulas and long-term goals for the project.

The funding formulas should consider prison diversions from TDCJ, diversions from the jail backlog for which TDCJ pays, parole levels, probation referrals and juvenile referrals to the Texas Youth Commission.

Infrastructure needed to accommodate an increased population of offenders who would be served locally under this system must be included in the formulas as well.

Travis County and the state could benefit in several ways. The greatest anticipated impact would be a reduction in recidivism. Offenders would receive individualized needs assessments and a comprehensive and innovative continuum of sanctions.

The community would have a direct stake in ensuring offenders successfully complete their program and are integrated back into the community upon release. Family, neighbors, churches, schools, friends and volunteers would be available to assist in this process. Offenders could be placed in work programs, allowing the community to benefit from their labor. Inmates would be assured of receiving a continuum of services to provide them with the tools they need to become productive citizens an d taxpayers.

The community would have local oversight and discretion in dealing with its own offender population. Increased accountability would also follow, since decisions would be made on the local level. The community would have more control over the system since individuals making the decisions are subject to re-election or employment decisions on a local basis.

The state would benefit from lower recidivism rates, which in turn would impact funding formulas; in the long run the state should realize a significant savings. If the pilot project is successful, the state could realize further savings by allowing other local entities to pursue similar actions.

Fiscal Impact
Short-term costs to the state to fund the recommended pilot project would depend o n the development of mutually acceptable accountability and funding formulas and cannot be estimated. Over time, this program, if workable, should reduce the cost of the prison system to the state. The Comptroller s office will be working with Travis Count y officials, the Criminal Justice Policy Council, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and other state agencies and officials to develop a pilot project. This pilot may require a subsequent new appropriation or a reallocation of existing funding from t he 73rd Legislature; however, it is too early in the process for it to be determined at this time.

1 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Annual Report, 1991 (Huntsville, Texas, 1992), p. 7.
2 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 42.12 (Vernon Supplement 1992).
3 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Annual Report, 1991, p. 7.
4 Ibid.
5 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 42.12 (Vernon Supplement 1992).
6 Ibid.
7 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Annual Report, 1991, p. 10.
8 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 42.12 (Vernon Supplement 1992).
9 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Annual Report, 1991, p. 10; and Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 42.12.
10 Interview with Ronnie Earle, District Attorney, Austin, Texas, January 5, 1993.
11 Travis County District Attorney s Office, Community Justice for Travis County, by Ronnie Earle (Austin, Texas, January 8, 1993).
12 Ibid.
13 Memorandum from Natacha Pelaez-Wagner, Facilitator, Community Justice Council, Community Supervision and Corrections Department for Travis County, to Ronnie Earle, Travis County District Attorney, December 7, 1992.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.