Dallas County probation officials are suspending an experiment in which allegedly low-risk offenders have been reporting to a machine instead of an officer. The Dallas Morning News reported last week about half of the approximately 900 offenders in the program were on probation for felonies, including drug dealing, engaging in organized crime, and robbery. Hundreds had been convicted of driving while intoxicated, some repeatedly. Before The News obtained the list of offenders through an open-records request, a probation official said that there weren’t many drunken drivers reporting to the machine. Jim Mills, the probation department’s interim director, said he was suspending the program to review eligibility criteria and because it is losing money. He hopes to restart the program, making it more economical, in about four months.
The department must continue making $2,500 monthly rental payments for the ATM-like machine. It asks users whether they have moved, changed jobs, been arrested, and other yes-no questions. The offenders will go back to being supervised by officers who are already responsible for about 140 people each. That’s more than twice the caseload recommended in a report commissioned by local felony-court judges, who oversee the probation department. Mills said he was “ambivalent” about whether to eliminate repeat DWI offenders from the program. He stressed that reporting to an officer is no guarantee of good behavior.