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Henry Joel Simmons | July 11, 2011
When enacted correctly, probation saves money and reduces crime rates and recidivism. Probation violators, however, frequently face inconsistent penalties and lax enforcement. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Tarrant County District Judge Mollee Westfall is changing probation in her jurisdiction. As a former prosecutor, she knows that probationers break the rules at an alarmingly high rate, often landing them back in prison. She also knows that this is a massive strain on the county’s prison system. After seeing the successes of the HOPE program in Hawaii, Judge Westfall has set up a pilot program in North Texas to implement similar reforms to straighten probationers up.
Supervision With Intensive enForcemenT, or SWIFT, takes an aggressive stance on probation. The program uses quick punishment to motivate probationers to follow the rules. The concept is simple: every time an offender breaks a rule, they go to the county jail for a short stay. If they fail to turn themselves in, the stay is longer. The system uses numerous mandatory check-ins and meetings to keep tabs on offenders. Miss a meeting and Judge Westfall issues a warrant for your arrest. If you break the rules enough times, your probation is revoked, putting you back behind bars for a long sentence.
The changes stem from necessity. Tarrant County’s prison system is already operating at capacity, and something had to be done to slow prisoner entry or expedite prisoner release. “If you want the rapists and the robbers and the murderers to stay locked up, we can’t put in our one-time drug possessor who has tested positive one time,” said Leighton Iles, director of Tarrant County’s Supervision and Corrections Department.
The county has applied for a federal grant in order to replicate the Hawaii’s much-praised HOPE program. While they await the Justice Department’s decision, Judge Westfall will get as many probationers through the program as she can with the resources she has. Conservative advocates for criminal justice reform are anxiously awaiting the results of the pilot program.