First, in response to this item on the demise of the Waco-based Agriplex regional drug task force, a number of drug enforcement officers -- two from Agriplex and a couple from other agencies, one of them arguing for task forces' cessation -- went back in forth with me a bit in the comments. Give it a read.
Next, commenters rolling in via search engines to this post, and this one, about Harris County (Houston) jail overcrowding offered up terrible reports regarding jail conditions. Here's a sample:
My son has been in the county jail for 5 1/2 months. Why? He violated his drug probation by smoking marijuana. He signed for RSAT (a "drug treatment" program) but he's waiting for a space! Apparently, there's no limit to how long a person must wait. If there's no space, then why are they assigning people to this program?I'll bet a lot of people statewide are waiting in county jails for drug treatment beds to open up, just as many more are there waiting for lab tests to return from the Department of Public Safety. As a commenter to another Grits post pointed out, another source of extra jail inmates are post-conviction felons waiting to be taken to prison, a problem exacerbated in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.
Harris County is indeed a very corrupt jail system. He has been thrown out of the shower naked because two other guys were talking over the wall in the restroom. He has had his head slammed against the wall for asking why. He witnessed numerous abuses, deputies punching and hitting other inmates. Why, why is nothing done? My son is not violent. He graduated from high school with excellent grades. He was working full time when he got the violation. I realize he needs some punishment, but how long does he have to stay there? He's in JAIL, yet every day he goes to work in and around the jail. He is permitted to go outside to work also. Something is very wrong with this jail system.
Meanwhile, in response to this item about overcrowding in the Hidalgo County jail, Shaine Mata left a note in the comments suggesting practical, border-related dilemmas may contribute, and elaborated further at RGV Life.
Finally, a local attorney chimed in to disagree with Grits' recommendation against Travis County's proposed jail construction bonds, and in the process offered this horror story:
Do you know about Travis County's "Jail Reduction Docket"? Distressing stuff, all about processing people out for misdemeanors, making sausage. Folks get to court within about a week of arrest, and are usually offered low sentences, which, combined with the standard 2-for-1 jail credit, gets lots out that day. Lots of people plead guilty to stuff they either didn't do or which could be defended. But trials are two to three weeks away, and people want out today.Surely anyone so low-risk they could plea out that day without harming public safety could also be released on personal bond? Instead, perversely, Travis County has created a financial incentive for lawyers to advise clients to accept plea bargains instead of try for a dismissal. The whole jail reduction docket the writer describes sounds like a tremendous abuse of the plea bargain system.
This happens at 1:30 every day, in one of the County Courts at Law. 20 to 80 inmates are brought from the jails. Many meet their lawyers for the first time in this setting. Often the lawyer has already worked out the case before the meeting the guy. Lawyers recieve the appointments two or three days ahead of the setting. Lots of lawyers attend, even without a client, because of the prospect of bench appointments.
And one last gem. Travis County pays court appointed lawyers according to a fee schedule. The schedule provides that a misdemeanor resolved with a plea pays $175. Cases resolved by dismissal pay $150. It takes alot more work to get a case dismissed than to fill out plea paperwork. Lawyers don't complain because the expected response involves paying less for pleas.
Excellent and welcome comments, all -- especially from those who respectfully or not-so-respectfully disagree with me. I'm thinking through a lot of these topics, myself, as I go, and feedback from others keeps me honest, helps me learn, and rounds out the discussion. Thanks, Grits readers, for making this a truly interactive format. Keep those comments coming!