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, Fort Worth'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. Supervision With 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, Fort Worth 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 Fort Worth? 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 Fort Worth will graduate more probationers and send less to prison.