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Commissioners approve changes to reconfigure jail release program

Friday, May 6, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners’ Court has approved a change in the county’s Commitment to Change Program. With its action, the county will augment the section of the program offered to male inmates at the Travis State Jail by offering an enhanced societal re-entry portion of the program.


To get there, however, staff has suggested that the county discontinue the similar services it currently offers to women at the Woodman State Jail. “We weren’t particularly happy about having to make that choice,” Travis County Executive for Justice and Public Safety Roger Jefferies told In Fact Daily. “All things considered, we thought a more efficient use would be (the men’s program).”


There are currently 16 women enrolled in the program at Woodman and 32 at the Travis State facility. Staff’s plan would reassign the $313,164 that it costs to run the program entirely to the latter prison.


Jefferies told the court that the changes were spurred by a study. “We completed an evaluation of the program and the outcomes were not very good,” he told the Travis County Commissioners’ Court. “So you told us to go back and take a look at it and see if there was a way we could improve it.”


Jefferies said that “a lack of a strong re-entry component” was “very obvious.”


Staff noticed that program participants were leaving services behind after their release. Thus, they concluded that a more robust pre- and post-release program was in order. According to staff’s proposal, a “comprehensive case management model will be offered to each high/medium risk offender for up to 90 days post release.”


The program would come with a long list of performance measures, which county officials could use to judge its effectiveness. Should it prove its worth, Jefferies told In Fact Daily that they could “perhaps justify additional resources (for the women’s unit) in the future.”


He also noted that the county would still provide some support to female inmates in the program. However, he acknowledged that the behavioral therapy portion of the effort would be entirely suspended. Staff called for the changes to take effect by August 1.


For his part, County Judge Sam Biscoe wondered why it would take that long. “This conversation started with you telling us that this current program is not working,” he said. “If that is true, I don’t know that it makes sense to spend money on it (for) three more months.”


He also asked Jefferies what the board that advises his department thinks of the reconfiguration of the Commitment to Change program. Jefferies told him that, though that body is kept in the loop with the program, they hadn’t received their opinion on the new program.


Biscoe suggested that this was not the best way to approach the situation. “In the future, I think we need to get the advisory committee (on board) before this action,” he said.

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