Academic journal article International Journal of Punishment and Sentencing

Are All Probation Revocations Treated Equal? an Examination of Felony Probation Revocations in a Large Texas County

Academic journal article International Journal of Punishment and Sentencing

Are All Probation Revocations Treated Equal? an Examination of Felony Probation Revocations in a Large Texas County

Article excerpt

Abstract: In Texas, revocations make up a large percentage of the prison population. Probation departments have been examining ways to decrease this number without diminishing the safety of the community. Once viewed as a respectable sign of a tough criminal justice system, a high revocation rate is increasingly considered a liability that fills costly jail space with low-level offenders and potentially drains tax dollars. Very little research has been examined to understand this population of offenders. This research examined a large revoked population of felony probationers from North Texas (N=2,007). Results oft he research revealed that absconded (or who fled from jurisdiction) probationers and new law violators make up the largest percentage of revocations on probation. Within these groups of offenders, probation personnel might find it difficult to utilize a progressive sanction model because of the seriousness of the re-offending. Implications for research and practice are explored.


Probation Departments in Texas and around the nation are facing budgetary challenges because of higher rates of recidivism and other factors relevant to the supervision of offenders. Such challenges necessitate a best practices approach of community supervision to reduce recidivism specifically and enhance the effectiveness of probation generally. Community Supervision and Corrections Departments (CSCD) in Texas have been moving towards a strategy that shifts the emphasis from supervision to recidivism reduction (Heikkila, 2008). Among other areas, the change requires the implementation of more effective offender assessments based on scientific instruments; use of supervision strategies that fit the needs and risks of the population; and programs that can produce measurable results (Heikkila, 2008). Recent research efforts indicate that probation departments reported the lack of treatment options and long waits for substance abuse treatment were major barriers to reducing revocations (Stickels, 2007).

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) Technical Violations Committee (1) estimates that technical revocations from community supervision in FY2007 cost $220 million in direct incarceration costs and found that as diversion funding decreased, revocations for technical violations increased (Stickels, 2007). However, jurisdictions are losing funding from the state due to revocation rates that are higher than the state average. But simple revocation rates do not provide a completely accurate picture of the nature of revocations. For example, revocations supported in whole or in part by new offending leave very little discretion to community supervision officers to provide progressive sanctions (2).

A good example of this can be found with the absconder population. When an offender has failed to report to their probation officer for at least 90 days, a warrant is issued upon submission of a violations report and a subsequent motion to revoke the offender's probation. How does the court punish an offender that has absconded from the court's jurisdiction with no regard for following the conditions that were ordered?

In the 2001, Strengthen Community Supervision Sanction and Services report created by the Technical Violations Committee states with the exception of certain kinds of cases, only four percent of the district judges felt that the best way to handle technical violators was to revoke after the first violation (Stickels, 2007). Clearly, new law violations may increase the likelihood of immediate revocation because these violations threaten public safety and at the same time severely limit the ability of community supervision officers to engage in further progressive sanctioning. Absconder populations also pose difficult issues relative to continued progressive sanctioning. Indeed, probationers who fail to report to their probation officer or to participate in treatment via absconding are more likely to be revoked because these situations further lessen the ability of supervision officers to progressively sanction the offender and maintain public safety (Stickels, 2007). …

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