Saturday, October 29, 2005

Saturday criminal justice roundup

Before heading off to speak at a couple of workshops on blogging and web organizing today at the annual conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, I wanted to share a few quick hits that were piling up throughout this busy week:

Texas prisons expanding without Lege approval?
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has proposed a rule change to allow adding up to 3,000 beds to Texas' existing 106 prison and state jail units without approval from the Legislature, reports the Statesman's Mike Ward. (New rules proposed for filling prisons, Oct. 28) "[P]rison officials would have the authority to approve a small increase of up to 2 percent at each unit, so long as the change doesn't increase the gross payroll of that prison by more than $500,000." So under the new rule, they couldn't add more than $53 million to the state budget without legislative authorization?! In Texas, my friends, that's what we call budget discipline.

Task force's demise won't STOP drug enforcement.
The multi-county, Byrne-grant funded STOP ('Stop The Offenders Program') drug task force based in Johnson City dissolved October 1, and has been replaced by a county-level task force ("Johnson County drug crime unit organized," Oct. 28). "The Oct. 24 agreement created a board of directors consisting of the police chief of each participating city, the county sheriff, the county attorney and the district attorney. The program may trade officers with other counties and cities in mutual-aid agreements, [Cleburne officer Adam] King said." I'm not too sure about trading officers with other counties -- that kind of cross-county work by officers, under HB 1239 passed this year by the Texas Legislature, comes under control of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Not just liberals want drug task forces gone
. Slingshot.org debunks the notion that criticisms of Byrne-grant funded drug task forces only come from liberals and the ACLU. The program's supporters include John Kerry and Russ Feingold, notes Slingshot, while:

opposition to the Byrne Grants spans the political spectrum. The ACLU, the Open Society Institute, the National Taxpayers Union, American Conservative Union, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Heritage Foundation – even Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform — oppose the program. President Bush’s budget proposes eliminating the grants. Texas has already seen its Byrne Grant funding cut from $31.6 million in 2004 to $22.7 million in 2005. In a sense, the “Soros funded” ACLU and other liberal organizations – which are working to increase oversight and accountability of the Byrne Grants – are to the right of President Bush. Strange bedfellows, eh?"
Corpus cops seizing vehicles. Asset forfeiture laws were first sold to the public as a way to go after "kingpins" in the drug trade. In practice, though, seizing lots of vehicles from individuals accused of lower-level crimes generates more revenue. That's what they've figured out in Corpus Christi, where police are seizing vehicles when they are deemed to have been used in a crime ("Police: Vehicles used in crimes may be seized," Oct. 25). And who cares about culpability? Corpus police chief Peter Alvarez, "warned people not to lend their vehicles to others, because the vehicle could be confiscated if it was used in a crime." How arrogant. This policy stinks to high heaven.

Sheriff setting bail bonds?
The El Paso Sheriff just learned that his department, not local judges, has been responsible for setting bail bonds in El Paso County for the last decade, and he's told officials he'll quit accepting new jail inmates if someone else doesn't start doing it ("Sheriff wants new jailing procedure," Oct. 26). The county's lawyers say it's legal, but I've never heard of such a thing. Giving the sheriff control over bonding would place the decision more squarely in the hands of those concerned about conserving jail space, but surely judges should decide whether defendants should be incarcerated, not the agency that arrested them.

NY mayoral candidate liked his Grits.
Rochester, NY Mayoral candidate Chris Maj linked on his campaign blog to a couple of Grits posts on snitches discussing the trend of "Stop Snitching" t-shirts. Maj, a 26-year-old political rookie who helped found Students for Sensible Drug Policy in college, wrote that "
When we've got this many people breaking the law, witnesses being killed, more drugs on our streets, and more people in our prisons, we need to stop doing what we keep doing. It's just not working. We need a rational discussion about alternatives, including opening up debate about the specifics around ending Prohibition."

Tasering ambulance patient okay.
The Baytown police officer who tasered a man strapped to a gurney in an ambulance has been cleared by a federal judge, reported the Baytown Sun ("City cleared in taser case," Oct. 27) The taser subject wasn't a suspect, but a medical patient whose wife had called because he was having seizures. The judge, however, said the officer's actions were justified as part of his "community caretaking function."

Brutality victim didn't complain, officer prosecuted anyway.
Here's something you don't see every day, but if you did it would go a long way toward repairing sometimes strained police-community relations. In Montgomery County, a Shenandoah police officer beat the crap out of a motorist, who declined to file a complaint. The beating was captured by the in-car camera, though, and his supervisors at the police department forwarded the case to prosecutors who have indicted him on charges of aggraated assault and official oppression ("Officer facing excessive force complaint resigns," Oct. 26). People often don't file complaints with the police because they rightfully believe that departments don't take misconduct seriously -- if they were to start, this is what that looks like.

Statesman: Police union "21st Century colonials."
The Austin Statesman editorial board opined this week against the main obstacle to combating police abuse in the Texas capital -- the Austin Police Association ("Austin's police force should listen to the community," Oct. 27). "Most of the police union officers don't live in Austin. Through the union, however, each of the 14 officers who live in San Antonio commands more influence over the Austin City Council than does the average Austin voter. They're Austin's 21st-century colonials." Ouch! The editorial accused the city of ignoring police abuse in order to pander to the politically powerful police union. "These are issues the council should stop avoiding. Since 1998, 14 citizens died during encounters with police, including the June shooting death of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha. All but one of those was minority. In some of those incidents, police used deadly force appropriately — to safeguard their lives or the lives of others. But several episodes involving shootings or excessive force raised serious questions about the officers' judgments."

The beauty of the grand jury.
Injustice Anywhere explains why she likes grand juries even if prosecutors supposedly can "indict a ham sandwich."

Crime is down, fear of crime is up
: Reports Mark Godsey at CrimProf blog.

Of lawyers and web browsers.
I enjoyed Mike's essay on why lawyers and webmasters must judge their products by others' points of view.

1 comment:

tammi said...

Hi,
Interesting blog you have here.
I lost a cellmate/friend while we were in TDCJ...I've been out since 2000 and I still have nightmares and think about Gena Shoulders alot.She was sentenced to time...not a death sentence,but unfortunately,that's what she got b/c of the medical negligence in TDC.
Anyways...great blog.Will bookmark this one for more updates.
Take Care,
ex-inmate #844943