Often, it’s not the path of least resistance that leads to the greatest results and successes, a prospect Texas lawmakers are coming to terms with as they consider increasing spending on Texas’ parole programs in order to decrease prison costs to the state in the long term. It makes sense as an idea: Keep parolees successfully out of trouble and completing their programs on the first try, and you have less repeat offenders or parole violators returning to prison on the taxpayer’s dole.
How is the legislature looking to accomplish this? By adopting new, high tech solutions, of course. Georgia, a state which has been able to drastically increase parole success rates and reduce the number of offenders who go on to commit crimes again, has already proven the effectiveness of bringing parole programming into the 21st century.
Among their most effective endeavors, Georgia has used voice recognition software so that parole officers can check in with their charges more often without the need for a physical presence or meet up. The use of GPS boundaries through the use of ankle bracelets or cell phone based tracking technology has also helped with keeping tabs on parolees. Not only do the technologies help on their own, but parolees are less likely to try and “get away” with things under such surveillance. Contrary to what one might think, the parolees themselves have been some of the biggest advocates of the new system, according to officials in Georgia; apparently they feel they have a better relationship with their parole officers and that they prefer a more hands-off approach. According to Georgia’s records, 97% of parolees using voice monitoring check ins (albeit these were usually low-risk offenders to begin with) successfully completed their parole programs. Those involved in other tracking schemes were roughly 90% less likely to re-offend.
In addition to devices already used, there are others on the table as well. Often, sobriety is a condition of parole agreements, and new ankle bracelets might be used to detect the alcohol content in a parolee’s sweat. Speech pattern recognition software might also allow parole officers to detect whether their charges have been drinking or not when conducting conversations over the phone.
As Texas think tanks encourage lawmakers to consider similar provisions, some concerns have been raised. Primarily, the fact that Texas is a much larger and more diverse state than Georgia. As opposed to Georgia’s centralized parole office, many fragmented jurisdictions operate independently in Texas. While one office might already use modern technology, another might be still filing only paper records. These discrepancies, some officials argue, might make it hard for Georgia’s program to gain a proper foothold in the lone star state. Of course, even if the various offices can be standardized, it’s a long road to implementation of any such changes: They’ll likely require multiple months or longer in order to be adapted, debated, and voted on in the Texas legislature. Of course, with a 62% rate of re-commitment within three years for Texas state prison inmates, and a taxpayer cost of over $50 per day for each and every inmate, think tanks may not be the only ones pushing for changes as the issue gains traction and more media attention.