In a continuing effort to reduce the jail population in Texas, the Senate today approved a measure that would study the effectiveness of prison diversion programs for probation violators. Last week, the Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony from judges, prison officials, and interested parties on different methods for reducing the number of people sent to prison over probation violations. Particularly troubling for Committee Chair John Whitmire was the fact that many of the 26,000 violators who were sent to prison in 2004 were revoked for technical violations. "What I'm primarily concerned with is making probation work better," said Whitmire. "I have a strong feeling that we have way too many revocations due to technical [violations]. I know judges need other options if we're going to ask that they not immediately revoke someone."
One of the suggestions was the statewide implementation of community rehabilitation programs, used with success in places like Fort Bend and El Paso counties. These programs put violators in community rehabilitation facilities, where they are free to work during the day, but are locked down at night and participate in treatment and education activity. Officials from these areas are positive of the impact about these programs and their ability to keep technical violators out of prison.
Senate Bill 938, by Dallas Senator Royce West, would implement a community rehabilitation program in selected Texas cities. It would direct the community justice assistance division to choose certain community supervision and corrections departments to implement programs similar to the successful programs used in El Paso, Fort Bend, Harris and Dallas counties. The pilot program would judge the potential of implementing a statewide community rehab program and report on the findings to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice by December 1, 2006.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, April 21, at 8 a.m. for consideration of the local and uncontested calendar, and then will meet in regular session at 11 a.m.