Pubdate: Fri, 25 May 2001
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Author: Bob Ray Sanders
Note: Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays


A Tarrant County corrections facility with a reputation for changing lives 
has fallen victim to bad publicity, bad timing and bad judgment on the part 
of the Legislature.

A 120-bed military-style boot camp for young offenders is one of the 
programs housed at the Tarrant County Community Corrections Facility in 
Mansfield. Also housed there are three substance abuse programs and a work 
release restitution program for probationers. In all, the programs can 
house as many as 370 people at one time.

On Sept. 1, all those programs will die - a decision made by the county's 
19 criminal judges (who oversee the operation) after legislators refused to 
provide additional funding needed to operate them. A projected $2.4 million 
shortfall in the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections 
Department's budget for next year prompted the closing.

In Wednesday's column, I told you the story of a young man who had been 
sent to the boot camp six years ago, when he was 20. Today, Stephen Rhodes 
runs his own yard and tree business, is married and is raising a family.

Had he been sent to prison, Rhodes is convinced, his life would have been 

District Judge James Wilson said all the judges wanted to keep the boot 
camp open, but had no choice but to close it when the Legislature failed to 
allocate more money.

"We burned the midnight oil trying to keep it open," Wilson said.

As for the need for the drug programs, Wilson said, "If we can get them off 
drugs, we can get them out of the system, which is the ultimate goal."


District Judge Don Leonard put it more bluntly.

"To close any semi-successful drug program is penny-wise and dollar-stupid."

It is stupid to look only at the costs of these programs without 
considering the good they do.

Not providing such facilities and treatment will cost a lot more in the 
long run.

"I have said all along that these programs work," said District Judge 
George Gallagher, who spent many hours trying to persuade legislators to 
fund the Mansfield projects.

Tarrant County has 10 misdemeanor courts that have no place to send 
offenders for inpatient substance abuse treatment, the judge said.

So what's the alternative?

Well, drug abusers could get private treatment, assuming that they had the 
money or the insurance. Or they could remain on the streets with no treatment.

But the most likely scenario is that judges will feel compelled to lock 'em up.

Gallagher pointed out that it costs $21.94 a day to house a person in the 
Tarrant County facility. "The state pays in excess of $40 a day to house a 
person in the penitentiary."

Yep, penny-wise and dollar-stupid.

And even if the county had secured additional funding, the facility would 
still close Sept. 1, Gallagher said, because the county terminated its 
contract with the private company that runs it.

"We have no way to transition from a private-run to a public-run facility," 
he said.

The facility received bad publicity in the past year because of accusations 
that some guards sexually abused female inmates and because of questions 
about adequate medical treatment after the death of a young male inmate.

Despite these tragic incidents, those who know the programs say they work. 
Correct the problems, get rid of bad employees, but don't kill programs 
that change bad behavior, keep people out of the penitentiary and produce 
more productive citizens.

Gallagher said he wants to explore whether a nonresidential substance abuse 
program can be set up so that those needing treatment could continue to get 
some kind of counseling during the day. Instead of being locked up 
overnight, the participants would probably have to have an electronic monitor.

Every time I think we're making progress in the criminal justice system in 
this state - understanding that we must have prevention and intervention in 
addition to locking people up - there comes a terrible setback.

To me, saving any young life is worth $1 million, much less $21.94 a day 
for a few months.

To many politicians, however, building prisons is a true sign of fighting 
crime, and they're willing to spend billions of dollars trying to prove it.

Well, we've got enough concrete and steel bars in this state. What we could 
use more of, Mr. and Ms. Politician, are folks in the Legislature with 
common sense, strong convictions and compassionate hearts.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart