Most young people on adult felony probation in Texas will not succeed. Considering the long-term impact that probation failure can have on young adults and their families and communities, the following recommendations should be implemented to dramatically reduce rates of re-arrest and revocation and improve outcomes for this important demographic.
1. Support Community-Based Collaborations with Partners Outside Traditional Probation
Best practices for young adults on adult probation integrate agencies and programs outside the criminal justice system. Young adults often face barriers related to educational attainment, health/ mental health, substance use, housing, and family systems that no probation department can address without support from outside agencies that are specifically trained to address such issues. Probation departments that involve schools, behavioral health systems, and the youth’s family are more likely to ensure that young probationers have the tools they need to succeed. Recognizing that most young adults on felony community supervision will likely be revoked and sent to prison or jail, increasing probation grant funding to support these collaborations is a reasonable investment that will lead to improved outcomes and lower costs related to further justice system involvement. The Legislature should increase discretionary grant funding to support individualized, community-based rehabilitative programming for young adults on felony probation.
2. Reduce the Monthly Supervision Fee
Monthly probation fees create a significant obstacle to both the successful completion of probation and the willingness to accept a term of probation (vs. a shorter term of incarceration). For young adults who face limited income and employment opportunities because of their criminal record, the financial burden is often too much. The state should reduce the reliance on probation fees from young adults on felony probation by allowing for participation in rehabilitative programming to satisfy financial obligations. Reducing the financial barriers that probation creates for young adults will generate cost savings through a reduction in revocations and an increase in young adults accepting a term of probation over incarceration.
3. Provide More Technical Assistance to Probation Departments to Ensure Best Practices in Programming
CJAD’s grant funding for program diversion allows for specialized community supervision to better meet the needs of specific populations. CJAD should prioritize grant awards to assist young adults on felony probation, giving preference to models that incorporate community partnerships and implement developmentally appropriate practices, and it should utilize better evaluation methods and provide technical assistance to probation departments.
4. Shorten Probation Terms for Low-Risk Probationers
For low-risk defendants, longer probation terms and tougher conditions are often counterproductive, leading to an increased likelihood of revocation for those who might otherwise have been successful with a shorter term. Longer probation terms, which can last from one to ten years in some cases, squander limited resources on low-risk defendants that could be used for individuals who need more intensive community supports. Courts should shorten probation terms for low-risk defendants and emphasize early termination from probation for higher-risk defendants who successfully complete rehabilitative programming.
5. Prioritize Educational and Vocational Services for System-Involved Young Adults
Educational and vocational training are crucial to young adult life stage development and reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Yet job participation is lower among all young adults aged 17–25 than it is for older adults. The Legislature should promote greater participation in vocational programming by allowing it to satisfy financial and community supervision obligations. The Legislature should also provide funding for educational and vocational pilot programs for state jail felony defendants that were created by HB 3130 during the 2017 Legislative Session.