e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 11: Public Safety and Corrections

Improve the Effectiveness of Probation Services


Incarceration costs the state 20 times more than basic probation, yet state funding for probation services has fallen since fiscal 1994, while the demands on probation departments have increased. A successful probation system is demonstrably more cost-effective than additional prison construction, and it allows offenders to work, care for their families and pay taxes. Texas should consider additional funding for basic supervision and victim services to improve the effectiveness of its probation programs.


The goal of probation is to provide an alternative to traditional prison incarceration by supervising criminal offenders in their communities. Texas operates 122 probation departments, called community supervision and corrections departments (CSCDs), which are organized within judicial districts in 254 Texas counties. CSCDs employ about 3,400 community supervision officers to supervise adult offenders placed on pretrial supervision, community supervision (probation), or deferred adjudication (a form of probation that prevents a final conviction from appearing on an offender’s record if completed successfully). A monthly average of 251,000 felony offenders and 198,000 misdemeanor offenders served probation time in fiscal 1999.[1] More than 613,669 total offenders served time on community supervision in fiscal 1999. Some are confined temporarily in one of 39 CSCD residential facilities, while others must report to their probation officers by a court order based on the offender’s criminal risk and needs assessment.[2]

In fiscal 1999, 278,000 offenders were under direct supervision each day. About 156,000 were under indirect supervision; 14,000 were under pretrial supervision; and 3,000 lived in residential facilities.[3] Community supervision officers use many methods to supervise and rehabilitate offenders, including urinalysis, electronic monitoring, restitution centers, boot camps, continuing education, job and life skills training, and substance abuse treatment.

CSCDs apply to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) for funds by submitting a community justice plan outlining current and proposed probation programs and services. TDCJ-CJAD allocates funds based on legislative formulas and the degree to which programs meet offender needs. CJAD also tracks and evaluates CSCD programs to monitor their operations.

Increased Responsibilities and Caseloads for CSCDs

For fiscal 2000, the Legislature appropriated $205 million for felony probation services, down almost $15 million or 7 percent from fiscal 1994’s total.[4] From fiscal 1994 to fiscal 1999, the felony population increased 13.3 percent, while the number of probation officers rose by only 11.9 percent.[5] While a 1.4 percent difference may not appear significant, probation officers at a Texas Probation Association meeting noted that these statistics include as probation officers CSCD supervisors and managers who oversee as few as one case each. By contrast, the average probation officer oversees 294 cases, 110 of which involve direct offender supervision.[6]

In addition to increased caseloads, probation departments must perform additional tasks required by legislative mandates, including sex offender registration, risk assessments, DNA testing, notification to victims of violent offenders, additional data reporting requirements, community service restitution, and literacy testing. In addition to meeting mandates and supervising offenders, probation officers collect fines, child support, victims’ payments, and court costs. While these mandates provide Texas communities with valuable services, CSCDs receive no additional funding to perform them.

Cost-Effectiveness of Probation

Probation is a cost-effective alternative to incarceration. Probation costs the state $2 per day for basic supervision, compared to $38.71 per day for incarceration.[7] During fiscal 1999, an average of 251,000 felony offenders who otherwise would be housed in the Texas prison system lived in their communities under CSCD supervision.[8]

Probation is not as cost-effective as possible, however, because its funding has not kept pace with its population growth. This disparity makes it difficult for probation departments to provide adequate services to offenders, which in turn leads to an increase in revocation—the removal of offenders from probation and subsequent sentencing to jail or prison. A sample of 18 CSCDs showed that the felony revocation rate increased from 6 percent in 1994 to 7.1 percent in 1999.[9] If this increase was mirrored throughout the state, revocations resulted in an additional 4,120 individuals being incarcerated in 1999, at an additional cost of more than $55 million per year.

Given their caseloads and the new tasks allotted them, probation officers are unable to spend adequate time in the community supervising high-risk offenders. Carolyn Rickaway, assistant director of Brazoria County CSCD, has stated that CSCDs are not able to ensure public safety because probation officers are inundated with administrative responsibilities and do not have time to work in the field. Some departments visit offenders in the community once a month, while some do no fieldwork at all. On average, more than 85 percent of a probation officer’s time is spent in the office instead of in the community, where probationers live and work. Most probation officers feel that rising caseloads and declining funding compromise their ability to adequately protect the public and provide offenders with much-needed services. For example, the Brazoria County CSCD has received inadequate funding for drug testing and consequently is unable to provide any testing during much of the year.[10]

Victim and Community Services

The 1995 Legislature required that CSCDs provide services to crime victims, or their closest relatives if the victims are deceased. Victim services include notification of the offender’s current status and conditions of community supervision, as well as the date, time, and location of any hearing at which the conditions of the offender’s community supervision may be modified, revoked, or terminated.

The El Paso CSCD Victim Service Department makes an extensive effort to locate victims, because contact information provided by the courts is not always accurate. The El Paso CSCD also provides victims with additional services, including restitution calculations and information about state and local assistance programs, using grant money provided by the Governor’s Office from the federal Victim Crime Act. Ten other CSCDs also receive federal grant money, but the state has allocated no additional funds to help the departments develop victim services programs and hire appropriate staff members.[11]

As a condition of probation, a judge may order a defendant to pay restitution to the victim for destruction or loss of property. If the offense harms the victim, the court may order the defendant to pay the cost of necessary medical and professional services. In fiscal 1999, CSCDs collected more than $43.1 million from offenders for victim restitution, an increase of more than $15 million from the $28 million collected in 1994, before the CSCD victim services mandate.[12]

If a CSCD cannot locate a victim to receive the restitution payment, the department deposits the money in an interest-bearing account. After five years, the money is transmitted to the Comptroller’s office, to be deposited in an auxiliary fund account to pay subsequent claims. In fiscal 2000, the fund, worth more than $5 million, paid $18,000 in claims and collected $778,000 in revenue.[13]

Along with victim restitution, probation officers must collect unpaid state court costs from offenders. As of August 31, 2000, court fees have resulted in a cash balance in the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund of more than $234 million, an 83 percent increase from the fiscal 1997 balance of $128 million.[14] The fund has continued to receive more from victim court costs than it pays out to victims.

Both the auxiliary fund and the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund operate as separate dedicated accounts within the General Revenue Fund. Constitutionally, these funds may be expended only for victim-related compensation, services, or assistance. Using a portion of this money to fund CSCD victim services programs would allow CSCDs to provide enhanced services.

Some judges require offenders to perform community service work at governmental offices or nonprofit organizations as a condition of probation. About 212,000 offenders performed more than 8 million hours of community service in fiscal 1999, contributing more than $43.7 million (calculated at minimum wage) to their communities.[15] During fiscal 1999, offenders returned 42 percent or $86.9 million of the $205 million appropriated to CSCDs to the community, either through direct victim restitution or community service.

Problems with Probation

While probation can provide a successful alternative to incarceration, the probation system nationwide faces serious challenges. A recent report, Broken Windows’ Probation: The Next Step in Fighting Crime, states that the current probation system has failed to ensure public safety, enforce court orders, or help community-based offenders obtain necessary drug treatment and other assistance they need to remain crime-free.

The main reason for these failures, according to the report, is that probation programs are often inadequately funded and understaffed. Other reasons include common office practices. For example, probation offices perform drug testing infrequently, schedule tests well in advance, and do not provide results to probationers until two or more weeks after testing. In addition, supervisors frequently spend an average of only five to 20 minutes with offenders each month. This does not and cannot constitute high-quality or even adequate supervision, and does not protect the public from high-risk offenders.[16]

Solutions to Probation’s Problems

The Broken Windows report recommends “reinventing” probation to improve public safety. For probation programs to succeed, probation officers must visit offenders in their homes day and night, checking curfews and house-arrest compliance, and closely monitoring the actions of high-risk offenders. Probation departments should work with criminal justice and law enforcement agencies to offer comprehensive services to offenders. They also should form partnerships with local community organizations, including churches, schools, and mentoring groups, to help develop effective responses to neighborhood criminal activity.

Collaborative efforts between probation and police agencies intensify supervision and increase public safety. In a Boston program aimed at reducing gang violence, police and probation officers share crime information and go on joint patrols and curfew checks of high-risk probationers. By observing offenders violating their probation, police and probation departments are able to remove dangerous gang members from the community, reducing homicides and assaults.[17]

The Texas Probation Association (TPA) has developed plans to demonstrate that, with adequate funding, probation programs can decrease the number of offenders entering state prisons. TPA recommends increased funding for basic supervision services and residential programs, incentive funding for CSCDs that reduce recidivism, and full funding for misdemeanor probation cases. TPA believes that improving the quality of supervision in local CSCDs will improve public safety and decrease the number of probation revocations. TPA also notes that additional funding for residential facilities will provide judges with an alternative to offender incarceration.[18]

Harris County offenders make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. As of June 30, 2000, for example, state jail inmates from Harris County comprised 29 percent of the prison population; by comparison, Dallas County had the second-largest portion of the population with just 4.5 percent. One reason for the large number of Harris County inmates is the area’s limited number of residential probation facilities; Harris County has had to close residential facilities due to a loss of funds connected with a state lawsuit. Consequently, Harris County now operates only two residential facilities, a “boot camp” with 384 beds for offenders 18 to 25 years old, and a new residential substance abuse treatment facility with 100 beds.[19] This limited number of residential beds leaves Harris County judges with few alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

A successful probation system is demonstrably more cost-effective than additional prison construction. Keeping offenders in communities also generates revenue, because probationers are able to pay court costs, fines, and restitution. Finally, probation provides offenders with the opportunity to work, care for their families, and pay taxes.


A. The Criminal Justice Policy Council (CJPC) should perform a cost/benefit analysis of strengthening probation services in Texas and report its findings to the 2003 Legislature.

The study should incorporate several scenarios including (but not limited to) continuing existing funding levels and patterns of resource allocation; targeting funding increases and resources to Community Supervision and Corrections Departments (CSCD) that implement supervision strategies proposed by the Texas Probation Association (e.g., less office communication and more home visits, closely monitoring high-risk offenders, forming partnerships with local community organizations and law enforcement agencies, and strengthening residential or “halfway house” programs); and an across-the-board funding increase to CSCDs to reduce caseloads and improve the overall quality of basic supervision.

B.The CJPC should study and make a recommendation to the 2003 Legislature on the feasibility of upgrading victims services provided by CSCDs by using dedicated funds from the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund and/or the Compensation to Victims of Crime Auxiliary Fund.

Constitutionally, both of these possible funding sources are dedicated accounts that may only be used to provide victims services. As of August 31, 2000, the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund Auxiliary Fund had a cash balance of more than $5 million to pay restitution to victims who could not be located by CSCDs after five years. For fiscal 2000, the state used the fund to pay $18,000 in victim restitution.

C.Appropriations for probation should be funded based on four categories: Basic Supervision, Residential Services, Victim Services, and Community Corrections Incentive Funding.

Currently, general funding for community supervision is divided into the three strategies: Basic Supervision; Division Programs, which include residential facilities; and Community Corrections, a strategy that provides funding for alternatives to incarceration. The Division Program strategy should be changed to fund only residential facilities based on the populations served and types of programs offered. The current Community Corrections formula used to allocate funding tends to favor suburban communities with large populations. Instead, the Community Corrections strategy should provide incentive-based grants for CSCDs that create programs to reduce recidivism. Victim Services should be funded as a separate strategy because of the proposed new funding sources.

Fiscal Impact

These recommendations would have no fiscal impact. The CJPC cost/benefit analysis and feasibility study should be conducted with current resources.

[1] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Saluting our Employees: 1999 Annual Report (Austin, Texas, March 2000), pp. 15-16.

[2] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Statistical Summary, FY 99,” Austin, Texas, February 2000.

[3] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Saluting our Employees: 1999 Annual Report.

[4] Texas H.B. 1, 76th Leg., Reg. Sess., pp. V-9, I-77 (1999).

[5] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Community Justice Assistance Division, Community Supervision in Texas, Summary Statistics, by Wynde L. Brisbin (Austin, Texas, January 2000), p. 6.

[6] Presentation on funding allocations and caseloads by Jim Stott, Co-chair of the TPA Adult Legislative Committee, before the Judicial Advisory Council Committee, Austin, Texas, July 13, 2000.

[7] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Statistical Summary, FY 99.”

[8] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Saluting our Employees: 1999 Annual Report, p. 15.

[9] Presentation by Jim Stott, July 13, 2000.

[10] Presentation by Carolyn Rickaway, assistant director of Brazoria County CSCD, before the Judicial Advisory Council, Austin, Texas, July 13, 2000.

[11] Interview with Ray Ramirez, victim services coordinator, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Community Justice Assistance Division, Austin, Texas, September 20, 2000.

[12] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Community Justice Assistance Division, Community Service Restitution and Victim Restitution Report: Fiscal Years 1998 & 1999 (Austin, Texas), Figure 5.

[13] Comptroller of Public Accounts, 2000 Annual Cash Report, Revenue and Expenditures of State Funds For the Year Ended August 31, 2000 (Austin, Texas), p. 156.

[14] Comptroller of Public Accounts, 2000 Annual Cash Report, Revenue and Expenditures of State Funds For the Year Ended August 31, 2000, p. 151; and Comptroller of Public Accounts, 1997 Annual Cash Report, Revenue and Expenditures of State Funds For the Year Ended August 31, 1997 (Austin, Texas), p. 321.

[15] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Community Justice Assistance Division, Community Service Restitution and Victim Restitution Report: Fiscal Years 1998 & 1999, Figures 2-4.

[16] Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute, “‘Broken Windows’ Probation: The Next Step in Fighting Crime,” by the Reinventing Probation Council, August 1999 (http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_7.htm). (Internet document.)

[17] Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, Operation Night Light: An Emerging Model for Public-Probation Partnership, by Ronald P. Corbett, Jr., Bernard L. Fitzgerald, and James Jordan (Boston, Massachusetts, 1996), pp. 105-115.

[18] Presentation by Jim Stott, July 13, 2000.

[19] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “State Jail Confinee – Sentence of Record,” Austin, Texas, pp. 3-4.

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