Here's the deal, if someone is on a felony
probation and they commit a new crime, stop reporting, or otherwise have continued
serious violations, they will go to prison. On the other hand, Tarrant
County's current system of progressive sanctions allows relatively
minor infractions to be treated with the proverbial slap on the hand.
Well, there's a new program in town.
Intensive enForcemenT or SWIFT will seek to bridge the gap between the extremes of no punishment
and the ultimate consequence of prison time.
Here's the theory:
John Doe is on a felony probation for aggravated assault with a deadly
weapon. He and his lawyer decided that they would accept a plea bargain
offer of 5 years deferred adjudication probation. This means that if John
makes it through probation, his case will be dismissed. If his probation
is revoked, he stands to go to prison for up to 20 years. Mary Jane is
given the task of supervising John as his probation officer. She has a
huge caseload and barely has time to attend to all of the issues surrounding
her duties. She tells John about his standard conditions of probation:
no drugs, report on time when scheduled, do your community service at
a rate of 10 hours a month, take an anger management course. Well, John
for one reason or another is not quite living up to his part of the bargain.
He's three months into his probation and hasn't done any community
service, he's only had one session of his anger management course
and just tested positive for marijuana.
Under the old system, Mary may call John up on the phone and talk to him about his violations
and tell him that because he's in violation, he needs to report twice
a month instead of once a month. Big deal! John doesn't get the point
and he trucks along for another six months without completing any community
service and classes, and what's worse, he gets arrested for possession
of marijuana. Mary has no choice. She files a motion to revoke community
supervision and eventually, John is given a seven year penitentiary sentence.
SWIFT seeks to intervene before John gets to this point.
Dirty UA? Short jail stay. Didn't report? Short jail stay. No community
service? Short jail stay. Before long John is tired of going to jail.
He has to keep his eye on the ball. If he hasn't done what he was
supposed to do in the last month…you guessed it, jail. With this
system of holding a probationer accountable with even minor violations,
Tarrant County courts are seeking to prevent the major violations, the
ones that send you to the big house. No more walking in five minutes late
after curfew and expecting to get away with it.
Will it work? Well actually, the program began in Hawaii and by all accounts
was a success. In Tarrant County? Under the new program, only 4 of 13
probationers have remained out of jail and free from arrest warrants since
the program was started. Seven folks have been put in jail and two have
warrants for their arrest. These numbers, though grim, may highlight why
SWIFT is necessary. But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and
we'll only know with time if Tarrant County will graduate more probationers
and send less to prison.