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probation

The next frontier in criminal justice reform

We need to lock up fewer kids for bad reasons.

Hundreds of juveniles are jailed in Harris County often for weeks at a time for infractions as minor as failing drugs tests, violating curfews, running away or failing to attend school classes or rehabilitative programs, according to county records.

The records show a “pattern and practice” of detaining juveniles for technical violations that should instead be handled through the probation system, according to attorneys and juvenile justice advocates.

“You’re not complying with the terms of probation, but you’re not actually a risk to public safety,” said Elizabeth Henneke, an attorney with the Lone Star Justice Alliance, which advocates against incarcerating juvenile offenders.

“You never want to have a technical violation, especially for a kid, result in detention, because we know the negative effects,” she said. “Even a short amount of time can be problematic for kids, but long, protracted, weeks out of school, weeks out of your home environment – that can have really big consequences for them.”

Of the 1,055 juveniles cited for a probation violation in 2016, nearly 73 percent were detained, a proportion Henneke said is alarming, particularly in a county where the 250-capacity juvenile justice center has faced recurrent overcrowding problems for several years.

It is the largest percentage of juveniles ordered detained on probation violations since at least 2003, when 69 percent of 1,502 juveniles were detained, according to data from the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department.

The most recent 2017 data, which goes through Oct. 15, shows that 73 percent of juveniles continued to be jailed for probation violations – an average of 55 kids each day.

The average length of time spent behind bars on the violations ranged from nine days for leaving the county without permission to 30 days for violating special probationary terms, which can include specific judge-ordered requirements such as routine drug assessments or compliance with taking medication.

The Trib then went and wrote an even longer story on the same topic.

“Harris County is bucking the trend,” said Michele Deitch, an attorney and senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in Texas juvenile justice policy. “All around the country, and certainly all around the state, the numbers are down in detention.

“The need for the beds just isn’t there anymore,” Deitch said. “So the idea that this one county is experiencing an increase … that should raise a lot of questions.”

The overcrowding affects kids and families far beyond the Houston area: It is one reason lawmakers decided not to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 last year. Seventeen-year-olds accused of crimes in Texas are usually sent to an adult county jail; the “raise the age” bill would have made them part of the juvenile justice system instead.

Harris County’s juvenile probation chief, Tom Brooks, said the detention center’s overcrowding is mostly due to “a high number of egregious offenders” — kids accused of crimes like armed robbery and assault — who often stay in detention longer.

Brooks added that the county has worked hard to stop unnecessarily locking up kids. Last year, nearly 2,000 fewer kids were booked into detention compared to 2010, according to county data. The ones that are left “actually are here for a legitimate reason, and their due process takes longer,” Brooks said.

But data obtained by The Texas Tribune — along with interviews with experts, parents and advocates — suggest there’s more to the story. Local officials might blame the overcrowding on bad kids, but experts say it’s more about a bad system in Harris County, where local officials plan to build a new juvenile detention center at an estimated cost of $65-70 million.

The data from Harris County’s juvenile probation department shows:

  • The average number of kids held in the detention center charged with minor offenses such as trespass, theft and violating probation — things that some experts say shouldn’t land kids behind bars at all — increased by 64 percent from 2010 to 2017. Meanwhile, the average number held for violent crimes like armed robbery and rape, called “felonies against persons,” increased by about 46 percent.
  • Minor offenders were locked up in the detention center for an average of nearly three weeks in 2017, twice as long as in 2010.
  • From 2010 to 2017, the average number of African-American youth held in the juvenile detention center more than doubled, and the number detained despite being labeled “low risk” has increased by 75 percent.

Experts say this is an unusual trend when it comes to juvenile justice. It’s becoming widely accepted that imprisoning kids — and even adults — for low-level crimes is probably doing more harm than good. Taking someone away from their home and school for a minor offense like shoplifting, and placing them alongside those accused of far more serious crimes, is bad for the child and for society, they say.

“Anytime you disrupt the kids’ routine, you take them out of the home, away from whatever stable influences they have … It’s not a good situation,” Deitch said. She added that the Harris County data suggests “there’s something very punitive going on.”

Michael Schneider, one of the judges who handles juvenile delinquency cases in Harris County, expressed concern after seeing the data. “Why is the increase in detention greater than the increase in violent crime?” he asked.

Paul Holland, an associate law professor at Seattle University who studies national juvenile justice policy, called what’s happening in Harris County “alarming.” He said the trend in detention there can’t just be blamed on an increase in violent crime; local decisions are probably having an impact, too.

“It really does seem like it’s a system thing and not a kid thing,” Holland said.

There’s a whole lot more, go read it. So just to review:

1) These kids were on probation, meaning they had committed lesser offenses to begin with.
2) They were put in jail for breaking a rule, not a law. Kids do break rules sometimes. It’s what kids do.
3) Putting kids in jail leads to all kinds of bad effects, from missed school to exposing them to real criminals to endangering their safety.
4) It costs money to detain and guard these kids, and detaining them does nothing to further the rehabilitative efforts that probation was supposed to foster.
5) Anyone want to bet that the kids who do get detained for probation violations will turn out to be disproportionately black and Latino?

Let’s do less of this, okay? And if you’re looking for a political solution, remember the names of Juvenile Court Judges Glenn Devlin and John Phillips, both Republicans and both on the ballot this year. Different judges will be our best shot at getting different results.

Video fraudsters to go to trial

All righty then.

Right there with them

Right there with them

David Robert Daleiden, 27, and his colleague, Sandra Susan Merritt, 63, both of California, have rejected a plea deal that would have effectively put an end to the criminal charges against them, their lawyers confirmed Friday.

“I don’t advise my clients to accept responsibility for cases that they haven’t done anything wrong in,” said Dan Cogdell, Merritt’s attorney.

The pair were charged in January with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge of attempting to buy human organs.

After a brief status hearing Friday, attorneys said they will not accept offers of pretrial diversion, a low-level probation that would have allowed the charges against them to be dismissed if they did not break the law for a year. It’s commonly offered by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to first-time offenders with minor charges such as shoplifting.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Daleiden filed motions to quash the indictments against him, arguing that the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

See here and here for the background. The defense has alleged that DA Devon Anderson is in cahoots with Planned Parenthood, the defendants are utterly convinced of their righteousness and are prepared to martyr themselves for their cause. This will be…interesting. There’s no mention of a court date, so we’ll just have to be patient.

Video fraudsters offered probation

First the one, on Wednesday.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A California woman charged last week for her role in the production of undercover videos at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic will be offered probation, a Harris County prosecutor said in court.

Sandra Susan Merritt, of San Jose, Calif., appeared in court Wednesday morning on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony which carried a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

[…]

On Wednesday, Merritt made her bail, was processed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and turned herself in to state District Judge Brock Thomas. Dressed in her regular clothes, she appeared with a team of defense attorneys. She was also accompanied to and from the court by a handful of sheriff’s deputies because of the intense media scrutiny the case has generated, according to one official.

Merritt, who sat in the gallery with supporters, did not appear before the judge or speak in court. During a scheduling conference at the bench, Assistant District Attorney Sunni Mitchell said she is not considered a flight risk. The prosecutor said Merritt will be offered pre-trial diversion, a form of probation that typically does not require a guilty plea or stringent conditions. Typically reserved for low-level non-violent first offenders, like shoplifters, a suspect is diverted out of the court system. If they stay out of trouble, the charges are eventually dismissed. Merritt’s case was rescheduled until next month to work out the parameters of her probation.

Officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would not discuss whether Daleiden would be offered a similar deal when he appears in court Thursday.

They did offer him a similar deal, and he rejected it.

Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ offer of a probation deal, according to his attorney.

[…]

County prosecutors this week offered both activists pre-trial diversion, a form of probation. But Daleiden rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges, said attorney Jared Woodfill. It’s unclear whether Merritt has accepted or rejected the deal.

[…]

Pre-trial diversion, a sort of probation, is offered to many first-time nonviolent offenders. If offenders keep a clean record for a predetermined length of time, their charges can be dismissed. Prosecutors have not drawn up a specific contract and conditions for Daleiden and Merritt.

Don’t bother. He ain’t taking it, whatever it is.

“The only thing we’re going to accept is an apology,” said Daleiden’s defense attorney Terry Yates. “We believe the indictments are factually and legally insufficient.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson responded that she has offered the videographer and his associate, Sandra Susan Merritt, 62, of San Jose, Calif., an “exit from their legal predicament.”

She also accused the activists of using their criminal charges to grandstand in a case that has drawn national attention due to heated opinions on both sides of the abortion debate.

“Currently, no evidence has been presented to me that gives me legal grounds to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt,” she said by email. “Among those familiar with criminal prosecution, my offer would be immediately accepted as ‘an offer you can’t refuse;’ unless of course, your goal is not to avoid prosecution, but rather to keep the circus going and going.”

[…]

“It’s unusual because a pre-trial diversion is a pretty sweet outcome for an alleged felony,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. He said Daleiden could have several reasons for refusing the offer, including believing that the law is not justified, that a jury would never convict him or that being convicted would add significance to his anti-abortion crusade.

“This guy thinks that what he did is morally justified,” Corn said. “Every now and then you encounter a defendant who, for whatever reason, says ‘I don’t believe in the law.'”

It’s more than fine by me that Daleiden rejected this offer, because I want them to be convicted of something, and I think their “we’re journalists and we did what journalists do” defense is deeply flawed. They don’t need to have jail time – honestly, this is not the sort of crime that really calls for jail time – but there needs to be an example set, to at least make any future copycats think twice. The reason why a conviction really matters is because the real potential for punishment will come from the civil courts, and nothing will help the various lawsuits against these clowns like a guilty plea or verdict. I’m not surprised that Daleiden rejected the plea – these people are believers, and I suspect more than willing to play the martyr – and I won’t be surprised if Merritt does as well. And if/when that happens, I want to see them nailed at trial.

Walking a mile in their ankle monitors

You have to admire this kind of dedication to one’s office.

Though she has never been convicted of a crime, Marsha McLane is having her every movement these days tracked by a satellite-monitored anklet, just like thousands of ex-cons in Texas.

Charged with rebuilding a little-known state agency that supervises high-risk sex offenders, she is looking for a better, high-tech way to keep track of them.

“I’m a nuts and bolts person. … I had to see for myself how the system would work,” she said Monday, after spending five days unsuccessfully trying to foil a new GPS-based monitoring system her agency is considering buying. “If I can’t fool it, knowing what I know, I think it’ll be hard for an offender to do it.”

Last Thursday, the new executive director of the embattled Office of Violent Sex Offender Management strapped on a 3M XT monitor that allows officials to have two-way communication with an offender the instant an alarm goes off indicating he is not where he is supposed to be.

Unlike traditional GPS-based monitors that set off alarms if an offender goes outside of approved zones, or strays too far from the base unit, the new system features a cellphone-sized handset in addition to the anklet that allows the offender to contact his caseworker or other approved numbers if the alarm goes off. Caseworkers and officials monitoring the units can call them as well.

“Right now, when a bracelet alarm goes off, we have no way to contact the offender except to send a caseworker out there to check the offender,” agency Programs Director Kathy Drake said. “This appears to be a much more efficient way to verify their status, much less labor intensive, much faster.”

Records show the agency had 1,300 alarms go off between September and May that turned out to be nothing other than a satellite glitch or an equipment malfunction or something else as benign.

“You can see the savings to the taxpayers if we can check out alarms quickly without having to make the trip,” McLane said.

Makes sense to me. I’ve talked about ankle monitors before. They have their issues, but they can be used to help keep low-risk and non-violent offenders out of jail, which is a win all around. They can also be used as in this case for monitoring offenders that have additional conditions after being released from prison. If the technology has improved and if the supervisors and probation officers that handle the offenders that use them really know how they operate, then so much the better. Kudos to Marsha McLane for her attention to detail.

Harris County tries to get smarter about drunk driving

That seems to be the thrust of this story.

Convicted drunken drivers soon could face tougher scrutiny through a series of reforms designed to reduce the rate of drunken driving fatalities in Harris County, among the highest in the nation.

Repeat offenders, and those arrested for egregious blood-alcohol levels while behind the wheel, will be targeted under the Harris County Community Supervision Department’s initiative, which includes having probation officers trained on the psychology behind drunken driving assigned to those considered to be at high risk of repeat offenses while on probation.

“With higher-risk DWIs, we know that when these individuals are getting in a car, they are driving a loaded weapon,” probations department Director Teresa May said. “If they continue to drink at that level, their risk of killing someone is very, very high.”

In 2013, about 13,000 people – half of all Harris County probationers – were on supervision for a misdemeanor driving-while-intoxicated conviction. Thousands more crowd county jails.

Harris County has the highest rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities among large counties in Texas and, some years, the nation. In 2012, 2,809 alcohol-related crashes caused 175 deaths and 942 serious injuries in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of Transportation’s most recent statistics.

A 2009 report found that 60 percent of traffic deaths in Harris County were alcohol related – twice the national average. It sparked county-wide reduction efforts that May, who was hired last year, has now joined.

She has pushed for numerous changes at the probation department, including the gradual implementation later this month of a new risk assessment for all convicted defendants that aims to determine how likely a person is to re-offend while on probation and, for the first time, why.

Currently, about 6 percent of DWI offenders have their probation revoked for any reason, May said.

Of the 400 probation officers put through a “Hard Core Drunk Driver” course, 60 were selected to receive ongoing training and work with DWI probationers at the highest risk of re-offending. Those officers will have a limited number of cases assigned to them so that they have more time to work with each offender and judge.

The probation officers have gotten some specialized training for how to deal with likely repeat offenders, and judges have agreed to sentencing guidelines to abet this effort. These reforms have been done elsewhere, though the story doesn’t cite any statistics about their effectiveness. It certainly sounds like a reasonable approach to take, though it would be nice to get the perspective of a defense attorney on this, as well as some data.

On a side note, Grits points to a Statesman story that suggests better transit options as well as the availability of ridesharing would help decrease the incidence of DUIs because they would give folks that go out drinking easier non-driving ways to get home. Keep that in mind as we go forward with Metro’s bus reimagining and the Uber/Lyft debate.

Probation and drug testing update

Sounds like good news.

Late last summer, the director of the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department resigned, and the Harris County District Attorney’s office said it would stop using the agency’s drug tests as evidence after revelations that its overburdened drug-testing program had led to the wrongful jailing of some probationers and people awaiting trial based on false positives.

Director Teresa May, appointed in February, is being praised for addressing those missteps and bringing a pioneering and transparent approach to the once embattled agency.

“She’s very open and I’m satisfied that, at least for right now, that those problems have been corrected,” said longtime state District Court Judge Denise Collins, who called for the department’s previous chief to step down last year.

Collins, a member of the committee that vetted and recommended May, said she “is so innovative and has such great perspective on the entire department because there are some changes that need to be made, and she has kept her word with what she said she was going to do.”

Since March, the department has cut its drug testing volume in half after May hired a consultant who found that many probationers had for years tested negative on hundreds of tests. The abnormally high test volume was a big part of the problems revealed last year, May said.

May, 52, came from Dallas County’s probation department, where she helped implement a model that significantly reduced the number of offenders who ended up behind bars after their probations were revoked. The result was a lower jail population and a savings of millions of dollars.

See here for the background. The model May helped implement in Dallas is basically a risk assessment model that differentiates between probationers that need close supervision and drug testing, and those that will do better with minimal disruption to their daily lives. The idea is to design it for success and not failure, as Sen. John Whitmire characterizes it, with “success” meaning fewer people being put in jail for probation violations. One of the reasons why we had such problems with jail overcrowding in the past is that it made more sense to pick jail time over probation because the terms of probation were so onerous, and so likely to wind up with you in the slammer anyway for a violation of those terms. Needless to say, this is something we want to avoid going forward. One key to this is getting the judges to buy into this, and that seems to be happening as well. Kudos to Ms. May for her work so far.

Anderson’s DWI proposal

You may recall that former Harris County DA Pat Lykos’ DIVERT program for DWI offenders was a major point of contention in the GOP primary fight that was eventually won by new DA Mike Anderson. (If you don’t recall, see here and here for some background, or review the interviews I did with Lykos and Anderson.) Among other things, Anderson claimed that the DIVERT program was a subversion of existing state law, as DIVERT was intended to serve as a form of deferred adjudication for DWI offenses, when deferred adjudication didn’t exist as an option for DWI. Anderson is now backing a legislative proposal to create a deferred adjudication option for DWI offenses.

DA Mike Anderson

Anderson said he expects his office to lobby for deferred adjudication for a first-time DWI conviction, which may seem like a policy reversal to those who followed last year’s district attorney race.

Deferred adjudication is a form of probation that allows suspects who successfully complete probation to go on with their lives without a criminal conviction on their record.

During the Republican primary campaign, Anderson attacked incumbent Pat Lykos for her DIVERT program, which did the same thing by allowing for probation for a first driving-while-intoxicated offense.

“It’s a really good alternative to DIVERT,” Anderson said of his position. “In DIVERT, the person was never put on deferred adjudication. It was just ‘invented’ at the District Attorney’s Office.”

During the campaign, Anderson criticized Lykos by saying she changed the legislative intent behind banning deferred adjudication for DWI convictions.

Anderson’s proposed change would allow first-time convictions for DWI to be erased from a defendant’s record, but, unlike DIVERT, prosecutors would be able to tell juries about the DWI if there are subsequent intoxication-related offenses.

The proposed change is modeled on domestic violence laws, which can be expunged for public records, but still exist in court files and can be used to upgrade future domestic violence charges.

I’m not a lawyer, but Mark Bennett is, and he has a quarrel with the Chron’s characterization of “deferred adjudication”.

“Without a criminal conviction on their record” is technically true, but misleading. Lawyers who describe deferred adjudication that way to their clients and judges who do so to defendants are doing them a disservice. A deferred-adjudication probation can, in some cases and at the trial court’s discretion, be sealed from public view with an order of nondisclosure (read the statute), but unless and until the record is sealed there remains a public record of the charge, the guilty plea, and the probation. Employers and landlords and others who use background checks treat deferred-adjudication probation the same as a conviction. When a defendant is told, “you won’t have a criminal conviction on your record” he hears, “you won’t have a record.”

“[E]rased from a defendant’s record” is untrue. At best a deferred-adjudication probation for DWI will, at its conclusion, be eligible for nondisclosure at the trial court’s discretion.

[…]

“[D]omestic violence laws, which can be expunged for public records, but still exist in court files and can be used to upgrade future domestic violence charges” is (even apart from the wandering subject) thoroughly wrong.

A deferred-adjudication probation for anything greater than a class-C (fine-only) misdemeanor cannot be expunged. An acquitted or dismissed case can be expunged. An expunged case cannot be used to upgrade future charges or for any other purpose.

A deferred-adjudication probation for a more serious misdemeanor or a felony may be subject to nondisclosure (not expunction), but family-violence cases are explicitly excluded. So if the change is modeled on domestic-violence laws, then more than likely deferred-adjudication probation for DWI will be coupled with an amendment to the nondisclosure law excluding DWI cases from the nondisclosure statute (so that someone with a DWI deferred will have a public record of it forever).

The Chron doesn’t say what the bill number is for Anderson’s proposal or who the author is (assuming a bill has been filed yet; it is certainly possible this is still in the proposal stages), so this is all we know about it. I’d sure like to see Mark’s concerns be addressed before any such legislation gets passed.

Harris County probation director resigns

Some fairly big news that has nothing to do with hurricanes, the GOP convention, or the Voting Rights Act.

Paul Becker, the director of Harris County’s probation department, resigned Wednesday in the wake of allegations the department mismanaged thousands of drug tests used to decide the fates of probationers and suspects out on bail while awaiting trial.

State District Judge Denise Collins called for Becker’s resignation Monday after listening to hours of testimony about the troubled department during a probation revocation hearing.

Some of the allegations included testimony that false positive results from drug tests, which were reported to judges, had sent probationers to jail.

The Chron has several related stories that give the background on this. I’m going to leave the analysis to Grits, who notes that this isn’t some new thing.

Back in 2005, Grits reported based on a consultant’s evaluation that Harris County had been told that “Urinalysis requirements in particular, while popular among prosecutors and judges, take up a huge amount of staff time and cause delays throughout the system.” The consultant, Justice Management Institute, specifically recommended that “The courts should seek to develop cost-effective common policies concerning when drug testing should be ordered,” but that never happened. So judges knew the department was overloaded by too many drug testing orders but willfully ignored the problem. That’s not Mr. Becker’s fault.

In some ways I feel sorry for Becker, who was in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Probation departments are underfunded, relying mainly on probationer fees and a relatively small stipend from the state. Plus, in Harris they’ve been asked to provide urinalysis and supervision not just for people on probation but often for defendants out on bail pretrial. The system has grown so large and unwieldy that, to me, these types of errors are regrettable but unsurprising, not that that does wrongly jailed defendants any good. Mr. Becker may have fallen on his sword, but by no means are he and his staff the only ones to blame.

This episode also reminds us that people who’ve spent decades in prison on false rape or murder convictions before being freed by DNA aren’t the only or even the most common category of innocent defendants jailed based on false accusations. These more workaday, low-level cases have just as much room for mistakes, but are also much more easily swept under the rug. Most defendants are indigent and can’t afford to mount the type of full-court press that resulted in Judge Collins’ findings this week. It’s a great mitzvah that attorney Lisa Andrews did so on behalf of her client, but if defense attorneys in Harris County had been aggressively confronting false forensic evidence against their clients on an ongoing basis, maybe the problems would have been identified and rectified long ago.

I don’t suppose I have to add that this is yet another contributor to jail overcrowding? If we want to have such an expansive drug-testing program as part of our probationary system, we need to be willing to pay for a system that can handle the demand. And if we don’t want to pay that much, we need to scale the system back to something we can afford. Not a hard concept, and I agree with Grits that it’s not really the program director’s fault for being dealt a lousy hand. It’s up to us to decide what we want.

Reducing prison population is hard

And we’re taking a step backwards.

Last summer, when tough-on-crime Texas closed its first prison ever, legislative leaders were jubilant over downsizing one of the nation’s largest corrections systems by more than 1,000 beds. It was a first big step, they said, toward saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in coming years.

Meanwhile, prison officials were adding bunks to the other 111 state prisons, which house more than 156,000 convicts. By last week, Texas had about 2,000 more prison bunks than it did a year ago, thanks to a state law that requires the prison system to maintain some excess capacity as a cushion against crowding.

Because those beds will likely fill up — empty prison beds almost always do — Texas taxpayers could be in line for some whopping additional costs come 2013.

I’ll refer you to Grits for the heavy lifting on this. Remember, though, the Republicans cut all kinds of programs that provide alternatives to incarceration, thereby guaranteeing the increase in the number of inmates. Will they be similarly pennywise and pound foolish in 2013? Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet against it.

When cutting the budget increases your costs

From the deja vu all over again department.

Texas legislators, looking for ways to plug an estimated $15 billion to $27 billion budget hole, are considering proposals that would cut as much as $162 million from rehabilitation and treatment programs meant to help criminals avoid going back to prison. For instance, the $100 Danny Bell received when he was released — the so-called “gate money” handed to prisoners who have completed their sentence — would be cut in half. Financing for Project Reintegration of Offenders, known as Project RIO, which helps released inmates find jobs, would be eliminated. So would money for educational and vocational programs in prisons and for re-entry transition coordinators. Financing for substance abuse and mental health treatment programs would drop dramatically.

Criminal justice advocates say the cuts would reverse years of reforms in Texas that have helped reduce recidivism and drive down the size of the prison population. “We’re taking away the basic tools that they need to live responsibly,” said Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The state initiated its reforms in 2007 after lawmakers got some stunning news: Budget writers estimated the state would need some 17,000 additional prison beds by 2012. It would cost about $2 billion over five years to build and maintain enough capacity. The expected growth was attributed to high probation revocation rates, low parole rates and a lack of access to treatment programs in and out of prison.

Legislators decided to try a new approach. Instead of building more prison facilities, they invested $241 million in community treatment and diversion programs meant to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison and to ensure that those who served their sentences would not come back.

More felony offenders were put on probation, and more prisoners who qualified were released on parole. As access to treatment improved and probation and parole officers had options to impose intermediate sanctions, fewer offenders were sent back to prison. Last year, Texas had the lowest parole revocation rate of the decade, with about 8 percent of parolees returning to prison. The crime rate in Texas dropped to the lowest level since 1973, even as the population increased. There are about 7,000 fewer inmates in Texas prisons now than what had been projected in the alarming 2007 report.

Tony Fabelo, research director at the Council of State Governments Justice Center, told lawmakers at a recent hearing that the cuts they are considering would undo that progress. Prison population, he said, would rise. Crime rates would spike. By 2013, he said, the state could be short about 8,600 beds. Compounding the problem, he said, are plans to close prisons at the same time treatment and diversion programs are cut. Troubling, too, are proposals to trim other areas of the budget like mental health and substance abuse treatment, public education and jobs programs.

“You’re really going to have a perfect storm developing,” Fabelo said.

State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano and chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee, was a chief architect of the criminal justice reforms that face decimation. He said he planned to fight to keep every dollar Texas has invested in re-entry, treatment and diversion programs. “The statistics clearly indicate we’re doing a better job,” he said.

The main difference between now and during the budget crisis of 2003 is that now we can’t claim we don’t know what will happen when we make these budget cuts. We saw what happened the last time, we know what will happen again, and we know perfectly well what we should be doing instead. We have no excuses. How stupid are we about to be? Grits has more.

One person’s experience with deferred adjudication for DWI

After I posted about the bill to allow deferred adjudication for DWI, I received the following email from a reader, who gave me permission to publish it.

Deferred adjudication (D.A) ….My brother had it because of a DWI in the early 1990s and failed miserably through it. The conditions of D.A. are so onerous that it’s easy to trip up. One time he had a substance abuse relapse, and missed going to the parole officer because he knew his drug test would not be clean (and didn’t pay his fine for the month either). As a result, the Harris County parole officer issued a warrant for his arrest which eventually sent him to prison for 2 years. I tried to intervene and suggest a way that he might turn himself in voluntarily and pay a fine in exchange for the 1 missed visit. But the parole officer said, once the warrant was issued, there was no rescinding it. In other words, there was no incentive for my brother to turn himself in, so he found a retail management job and worked there for a year. For a year, he supported his family without any further drug relapses until the police finally caught up with him (they always do because they can find a work address through your IRS/W2 information). Ironically, despite the fact that my brother was working legitimately and raising a family without drug or alchohol relapses, after he was re-arrested for missing the parole visit, the state sued him for child support even though he was still married. Apparently when he was locked up, his wife applied for food stamps and CHIP for the children. The State of Texas wanted that money back. Of course, he eventually had to explain to the court that the only reason he couldn’t support the children was because the state had locked him up in the first place.

During those two years when he was in prison for breaking the terms of his deferred adjudication, the mother and her children also went basically homeless, having to double up with various family members.

This year my brother had another DWI (after one he had 14 years ago). Due to some fluke in the law, he ended up being classified as a repeat offender and rather than take 5 or 10 years of hard time, he plea bargained for 1 month jail time + 6 months rehab + probation. That was considered “lenient” in Texas.

The result: he lost his well-paying management job, and his wife and 3 young kids lost their house as a result. For the last 2 months, they are basically homeless (now living temporarily with a friend and for a month with my mom). The oldest girl is in school but can’t get HISD to give her a ride to school (that may be resolved by January, I don’t know). (That’s why your other post about homeless children rang true to me). My mother and my brother’s siblings are now having to support his family while the wife looks for a job and tries to find more permanent housing. We are very gloomy about his chances of getting a job that pays as well as the one he had before the release.

My brother is borderline pathological, he lies sometimes and occasionally drinks too much (though no drugs anymore). But he’s been a law abiding citizen for the past 3 years and a good dad. His track record of following all the procedures of parole/probation/D.A. has been poor; it almost seems as though he is being imprisoned not for DWI or drugs but simply failure to pay his monthly fines or meet his parole officer. In theory it sounds reasonable to require that a person see his parole officer regularly, but he has always been busy driving kids to doctor’s appointments and school events (not to mention going to work). That doesn’t include the AA meetings he is usually required to attend (which eventually he stops doing ). Also, we all have strong feelings about the earlier decision to take deferred adjudication. Maybe it would be helpful for some people, but there are so many conditions attached that it entangles you permanently in the system. My brother just kept making minor infractions (not paying the monthly fine, skipping a meeting with the parole officer, not going to AA, etc). It was probably my brother’s worst decision to accept that; in retrospect, he should have just done the jail time and get it over with.

Off-topic: why can’t breathalizer ignition systems be mandatory on all cars? After the 2nd DWI they put a breathalizer on his car, and I thought that would be it. But Texas wanted to lock him up as well. I understand the need to prevent drunk people from getting in front of the wheel, but isn’t it enough to cripple the individual’s car until he takes a breathalizer test?

As my brother says, he knows what incarceration is about. He has been there before. He feels genuine remorse for the trouble he has caused. He is used to having to start over again after prison. But each career interruption lowers his income potential and disrupts the life of his wife and children. It ends up costing the state of Texas more money, and it has cost his family lots of money and heartache.

This is a nonviolent case which never needed to require prison. Even deferred adjudication can be a disaster if the terms are so onerous as to make messups inevitable. The problem with parole and probation is that usually you don’t have the right to contest the charge, and the panels can act arbitrarily and has full discretion. Once my brother signed up for D.A./parole/probation, he was completely at the mercy of the penal system whose solution for everything seems to be imprisonment.

Obviously, no one person’s case is representative of everyone, but the issues cited about how onerous probation can be are well known. Seeing it personalized like that was very compelling, and I thought it was a story that was worth sharing. I am very thankful to the reader who sent it to me and allowed me to publish it.

Deferred adjudication for DWI

There are thousands of drunk driving cases on district court dockets around the state. To try and help get them cleared out, a bill has been filed to allow first time offenders to get deferred adjudication.

First-time offenders could be acquitted of the offense if they complete supervision and treatment. If the offense were repeated, it would become grounds to boost future punishments.

“Generally we do not support deferred adjudication bills, but we are going to support this one,” said Bill Lewis, public policy liaison for the Irving-based nonprofit group MADD. “Right now, we are hearing that many cases are not getting prosecuted for DWI but for a bogus charge. We hope the practice of reducing charges will be reduced if this bill does indeed pass.”

The proposal, filed by Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, marks a shift away from a long-standing notion in Texas that all drunken drivers should face fines and jail time. Deferred adjudication for such offenses was abolished in the state in the mid-1980s when opponents, including MADD, argued that prosecuting offices and judges were accepting the form of probation for repeat offenders.

Supporters say the plan could ease court backlogs by routing cases out of courtrooms, give prosecutors a new negotiating tool and remove the threat of jail that makes some first-timers refuse guilty pleas in DWI cases.

By the time a House legislative committee held a hearing on the issue in August, more than 122,000 misdemeanor DWI cases were pending in state district courts. Prosecutors argue they are too limited in the options they can offer first-time offenders.

“Our alternatives that we can offer have diminished such that our bargaining positions have weakened, and cases are backing up,” testified Richard Alpert, a 24-year Tarrant County prosecutor who has become a key figure in the fight against drunken driving.

The bill in question appears to be HB 189. My initial impression on reading this story was that it sounded like a good idea. But I’m not a defense attorney, and no one from the criminal defense bar was quoted reacting to Rep. Smith’s bill. Someone should have called Mark Bennett for an opinion, because that would have significantly changed the way this was presented:

What would deferred-adjudication probation add to defendants’ options, either in Harris County or elsewhere?

A deferred-adjudication probation is not, as the Chronicle article would have it, an acquittal. It cannot be expunged. In most non-DWI cases, deferred-adjudication probation has two advantages over straight probation: 1) it is not, for purposes of Texas criminal law (but is, for purposes of Federal sentencing and immigration law, among other things), a conviction; and 2) it can be sealed from public view with a petition for nondisclosure at some point after the probation is successfully completed.

Nondisclosure is important because of the opprobrium that attaches to many criminal convictions. Try renting an apartment with a felony drug offense on your public record; try getting hired when the boss finds out about your misdemeanor theft deferred. While deferred is not technically a conviction, there is nothing to stop private individuals from treating it as one, so they do.

But nondisclosure would be less important in DWI cases because the stigma of a DWI conviction is not nearly that of a crime involving dishonesty, violence, or even drugs. It would not be unimportant—there might be some employers reluctant to hire (or eager to fire) employees with DWI—but I’m betting that if deferred adjudication becomes available for DWI, nondisclosure will be unavailable for DWI (as it is for sex-offender-registration and family violence offenses, among others). So deferred adjudication will not provide an advantage to DWI defendants over straight probation.

What about the fact that a DWI deferred would not, for purposes of Texas criminal law, be a conviction? The only real effect of a deferred not being a conviction is that it is not available for enhancement, as a conviction would be, if the accused gets charged with something else. The supporters of DWI deferred have a plan to wire around that: “[I]f they do reoffend, it can be used to enhance their punishment,” says Tarrant County prosecutor David Alpert.

(Note: Mark linked to the Chron reprint of this story.) Doesn’t sound so appealing now, does it? Well, it likely would help clear out that backlog, but not in a way that is helpful to anyone facing a DWI charge. I think this bill has enough support from the usual suspects that it has a decent chance of passing, so it’s worth keeping an eye on it. Grits, who reacts favorably to the story, has more.

Some budget cuts can be a force for good

If there’s one place where something good can come out of the current budget mess, it’s with the criminal justice system, where recent trends, economic realities, and the hard-won lessons of 2003 are contributing to an environment where good policies can come from the decisions that will need to be made.

“One in every 22 Texans are in the criminal justice system — on probation, on parole, in prison,” said state Rep. Jim McReynolds , who chairs the House Corrections Committee . “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.”

Whereas the average cost of keeping one felon in prison is about $47 a day, the cost of alternatives is much less, according to state statistics. Probation costs an average of $1.24 a day; parole supervision is $3.74. Various community-supervision programs range from $5.56 to $47 or more, depending on the type of program and whether secure housing is provided.

McReynolds remembers when the tide began to change. Seven years ago, with Texas’ economy in a downturn and its budget awash in red ink, lawmakers were forced to whack funding for probation and rehabilitation programs in the 112 state prisons.

“The result was that our prison population went up, and it ended up costing us more in the long run,” said McReynolds, D-Lufkin, explaining how cutting community-based programs and recidivism-reducing programs drove up the prison population.

Now, with the Legislature facing a possible $18 billion budget shortfall in 2012-13, McReynolds said he hopes his colleagues remember that lesson: “This should be a no-brainer. We can’t afford to do that again.”

From your lips to God’s ears. The stars are aligning, and the policy choices are clear, but there are still many powerful forces that will work against these sensible reforms, including the TDJC itself. But at least the committee chairs know which way is up, and so there’s hope. There are also potentially big savings to be had here, the kind that will carry over to future bienniums. One can hope that will be a sufficiently powerful lure for the Lege.

If we must cut the budget, let’s be smart about it

The Trib remembers the last time the state of Texas had a huge budget hole, and how it made things worse in its attempt to deal with it.

For some, it’s not too early to fret that lawmakers will balance the budget in 2011 by doing what they did seven years ago, the last time it was this bad. “Well, they cut Medicaid and CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), and otherwise they pretty much balanced it on the backs of other people,” said Eva DeLuna Castro, a former analyst at the Comptroller’s office and now a budget analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “The Medicaid and CHIP cuts — I mean, that is hundreds of thousands of children losing healthcare.”

A CPPP analysis of the 2004-2005 budget found that decisions in 2003 rendered approximately 350,000 children and adults ineligible for Medicaid services that they would have qualified for in 2005 had policies remained unchanged. The study also concluded that nearly $4 billion in federal Medicaid dollars destined for Texas was “left on the table” after the state failed to allocate the necessary amount in general revenue funding to qualify for the federal aid.

Adding insult to injury, the cuts may not have had the impact on the budget that some believe. “Let me say this, and it’s not an overstatement: Many of the savings that were promised [in 2003] were not realized,” says former State Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, who chaired the House Select Committee on Health Care expenditures before she retired in 2007. “So if I had one warning for this [upcoming] Legislature, it would be: Go for substance, not window dressing.”

Along those lines, another veteran of that session, former State Rep. Ray Allen makes the case that the place to consider deeper cuts is the place that largely escaped such cuts in 2003: prisons.

In 2003, the state prison budget saw few budget cuts. Probation, parole and treatment programs were decimated. That decision triggered an immediate influx of new direct sentencing to prison by concerned judges whose concerns also led to a flood of technical probation revocations based upon their assessment that reduced supervision budgets would degrade local probation departments’ ability to adequately protect the public.

That 2003 budget cutting of probation, parole and treatment programs backfired.

Yes, the cuts helped balance the budget in 2003-4, but they led to significantly expanded spending in subsequent years in the most costly category of criminal justice spending–prison beds. 2003’s cuts saved nickels in that budget cycle, but forced future spending of millions.

An old, familiar saying expresses a phrase worth remembering: “Penny wise; pound foolish(referring to the British Pound Sterling).” The immediate urgency of a crisis should not be addressed without considering the long-term consequences which may follow.

In his piece, Allen refers to this Statesman op-ed by Ana Yanez Correa of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which notes that it’s prisons that’s the fattest part of the corrections budget anyway:

In 2007, lawmakers decided that continuing the status quo by building additional, costly facilities was no longer an option. Instead, they worked ardently in a bipartisan and historic effort to mandate “smart on crime” strategies that would tackle the root causes of prison overcrowding head-on — including stronger probation and parole structures and increased numbers of treatment beds to improve programming delivery.

These strategies have begun to deliver taxpayers a greater return on their investment while promoting a safer Texas. Indeed, despite the fact that 88 percent of Texas’ $2 billion corrections budget goes towards incarceration — while only 12 percent is dedicated to diversions — these alternatives to incarceration have saved more than $443 million through the rerouting of thousands of offenders from prison and into effective programming. The bottom line: fewer victims in the long term and more taxpayer savings.

This in a nutshell is the problem with across-the-board budget cuts, such as the five percent cut that Governor Perry, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, and Speaker Straus have mandated. It’s reflex over thought, and it fails to take into account the fact that some dollars are much better spent than others. What we need, and what we’ll get with new leadership for Texas, is an approach that prioritizes where cuts need to be and where they should be avoided. Otherwise, well, we shouldn’t be surprised by what we get, because we got it before just a few years ago. Thanks to Grits for the Ray Allen link.

UPDATE: And more from Grits.

The DA’s new DWI program

The Harris County District Attorney’s new driving while intoxicated diversion program appears to have some problems.

Under the new program, those accused of a first-time DWI will be offered the diversion program or 30 days in jail and a $750 fine. Defendants who do not want either choice can take their cases to the judge or to trial.

Currently, some first-time DWI defendants are given the option of pleading guilty, paying a $100 fine and taking three days in jail, plus two days, which they do not have to serve if they behaved during the first three.

Known around the courthouse as a 3/2/$100, the deal will not be offered after the diversion program begins.

Those who take the diversion program will plead guilty and get a maximum of two years probation, including treatment and community service. If they successfully complete the probation, their records will not show a conviction for driving while intoxicated. If they fail, they will be sentenced to at least 30 days in jail under a contract signed when they take the deal.

JoAnne Musick, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said the program is coercive and appears to thwart the intent of the Legislature, which prohibits deferred adjudication for DWI offenses.

“It could have been a good program. It could have been an exceptional opportunity for people who have made a mistake and driven when they shouldn’t have,” Musick said. “At the same time, I think it’s very poor planning and execution on how to conduct the program.”

She said the plan is coercive because defendants have to waive their rights, sign a contract and plead guilty. She said defendants could be sent to jail at the smallest amount of evidence of a mistake or if they fail to fulfill every requirement.

Problem One, as Musick points out, is that this looks an awful lot like a deferred adjudication program, which the Lege outlawed for DWI infractions back in the 90s. Problem Two, as noted later in the story, is that it’s not clear this will actually reduce the jail population, which would seem to be the point and which constitutes a deal-breaker for me. Remember, a lot of defendants prefer to choose jail time over probation now because the probation requirements are so onerous. Problems Three and higher are enumerated by Grits, Mark Bennett, Paul Kennedy, and Murray Newman; I’ll leave it to you to see what they have to say. I’m thinking this one needs some more time on the drawing board.

Two immigration stories

Governor Perry writes a letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

Perry asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week to take a series of steps to improve information-sharing between federal, state and local law enforcement. The Homeland Security-related issues “seriously affect public safety in Texas,” Perry wrote earlier this week in a letter to Napolitano.

A spokeswoman for Napolitano, Sara Kuban, said Napolitano would respond directly to Perry and declined to comment on the specific issues raised in the letter.

The governor’s requests include:

  • Giving all Texas jails access to a database that automatically checks suspects’ immigration history. So far, 19 of the 252 jails in the state with electronic fingerprint booking participate in the program, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department.

    Those 19 jails have checked 37,000 people through the database since last fall, and have identified 8,844 with fingerprints on file with immigration officials, according to Perry’s letter.

    Perry specifically cited the case of Wilfido Alfaro, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who avoided deportation after multiple arrests in Texas and last month shot and critically wounded a Houston Police officer.

  • Requiring ICE officials to notify the state when they deport a foreign national with a Texas driver’s license, which would close a gap that has allowed illegal immigrants to keep valid state identification. For example, according to local investigators, Alfaro had a Texas driver’s license, even though an immigration judge ordered him to leave the country in 2001.
  • Keeping illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in federal custody until their deportation. Perry cited a recent case involving two Cubans convicted of robbery in Florida and dropped by immigration officials at a bus stop in Willacy, Texas, after being released from custody.

Based on a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, immigration officials have about six months to deport or release immigrants after their immigration case is decided. To hold someone longer, the federal government must show that a foreign government will issue the detainee travel documents in the “reasonably foreseeable future” or certify that the person meets stringent criteria to be classified as a danger to society or national interest.

In cases involving immigrants from countries like Cuba, which lacks a repatriation treaty with the U.S., the detainees routinely are released from immigration custody within six months because they cannot be deported.

Other than number three, which raises some Constitutional issues and really needs to be resolved by the US growing up and re-engaging with Cuba, these strike me as perfectly reasonable requests. There’s a big difference between verifying the immigration status of someone who’s already been arrested for something, and verifying the immigration status of someone who’s been pulled over or stopped on the street by the cops for whatever arbitrary reason. Maybe there’s something here I’m not seeing, but offhand I don’t have any objections to the first two items.

The earlier story about DA Pat Lykos’ “no plea bargains unless you confess your immigration status to us” proposal is a different kettle of fish. Mark Bennett gets into some of the problems with this idea, which he also sums up in a simple question, but it’s John Nova Lomax with a truly impressive deconstruction of the Lykos Plan. I can’t really add anything to what he wrote, so go check it out for yourself.

Blow before you drive

MADD wants to make it harder for people with a drunk driving conviction to get behind the wheel.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is again pushing Texas legislators to require ignition interlocks for people convicted of their first driving while intoxicated offense.

The ignition interlock device tests a driver’s breath to confirm he or she hasn’t been drinking before the car will start.

“We really want to see this on first-time offenders in order to prohibit the third or fourth time down the road,” said Hope Rangel of Humble, executive director for MADD’s Southeast Texas region.

Proposed legislation, including bills filed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and state Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, calls for the interlock to be installed for offenders convicted of their first DWI who are placed on probation.

Two similar measures filed in the last legislative session in 2007 died in committee.

Callegari has HB1110. Ellis has SB170, which has a companion bill in the House, HB379 by Linda Harper-Brown.

Current Texas law requires interlocks as a condition of probation only for repeat offenders or those with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.15 in any alcohol-related driving offense.

The device also is required for those released on bail while awaiting trial if they are charged with repeat DWI offenses or if they hurt or kill someone while driving drunk.

Although the proposed legislation is encouraging, Rangel said, many convicted drunken drivers in Harris County are opting for jail time instead of probation. If an offender chooses to go to jail, no interlock is installed.

Drunken drivers put on probation have to pay for the device — which can average about $150 a month — so they might find jail more appealing, she said.

Actually, there are quite a few other reason why these offenders might find jail more appealing. They were laid out in a Chron story from 2006 on why so many first-time DUI offenders chose jail over probation:

Facing the stiff costs and strict rules that come with probation, thousands of convicted drivers in recent years have decided spending time behind bars is the better option.

And in a county already struggling with crowded jails, that’s a disturbing trend. Sentences can be short enough to mean losing only one weekend and a vacation day, but some end up behind bars as long as half a year.

“Because of the number of sanctions and what the defendants feel is the ‘hassle factor,’ many opt not to go on probation,” said County Criminal Court at Law Judge Sherman Ross. “Financially, it’s more expensive.”

The choice of jail time also may mean fewer options for treating the alcohol problems that land many drivers there.

“Probation has become so onerous that there’s no incentive to take it,” said Bob Wessels, manager of the county criminal courts at law. “If we really want people in treatment, we aren’t providing incentives.”

Of the 6,685 DWI defendants in the county who accepted plea agreements last year, 2,894 (43 percent) took jail time rather than probation, Wessels said. In 2000, fewer than 10 percent (479 of 5,034) chose jail.

Last year’s figure, though significant, did represent a drop from 2004, when it reached 52 percent. Robert Pelton, past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, attributes the decline at least partly to lawyers not doing all they should for their clients.

“I think any attorney is doing a disservice to their client by putting them on probation,” he said.

Pelton, a defense attorney for 31 years, said he generally advises clients to take the jail time because probation can be so arduous, financially and otherwise. Probation for DWI carries another risk: If it’s revoked, a judge can pile on even more jail time than originally would have been ordered.

This, added to the fact that Harris County has the highest per capita rate of probation revocations in Texas, means it may make more sense to burn some vacation time behind bars, Pelton said.

Grits blogged about this at the time. It’s yet another reason why Harris County’s jails are overcrowded. It seems to me that if we got serious about this problem and removed some of the perverse disincentives for choosing probation, we could accomplish MADD’s objective without the need for new legislation and do a lot of good for the criminal justice system and the taxpayers of Harris County. Of course, that’s hard work, and passing a new law is comparatively easy. Point is, we could have already achieved this goal, without needing to wait for another opportunity in the Lege.

By the way, the story notes that installing the interlock can already be a condition of bail or probation. It might be nice to know why it’s only done sometimes and not as a matter of course before we require it.

Back to the original story:

Research suggests lawbreakers with prior DWI convictions are a serious problem. MADD claims such offenders comprise nearly one-third of the alcohol-related dangers on the road.

Last year, Texas had 124,662 residents with three or more DWI convictions, according to the state Department of Transportation. The agency reported 18,271 other Texans had five DWI convictions or more.

One person had 22 convictions, the most of any driver in the state, TxDOT said.

Drunken drivers involved in fatal crashes were eight times more likely to have a prior DWI conviction than sober drivers involved in a fatality, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2007.

[…]

Not everyone supports MADD’s proposal.

The American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association, is urging the Texas Legislature to reject the bills.

Institute spokeswoman Sarah Longwell said ignition interlocks for first-time DWI convicts “ignore the root cause of today’s drunk-driving problem: hard-core alcohol abusers.”

Well, okay, but one could argue that those hard-core abusers will have a first offense, at which time they will get the ignition lock. For however long that lasts, anyway – the text of the Ellis/Harper-Brown bill only says “The court shall order the ignition interlock device to remain installed for at least half of the period of supervision”, which strikes me as more relevant for probation than for someone who chose jail time. I suppose they’re arguing more money should be put into treatment, and if so I certainly agree. I don’t see how that’s incompatible with this bill, however.

The bottom line is that while I agree with the goal of this effort, I have problems with the means being proposed to attain it. Let’s fix what’s wrong with probation first.