Friday, February 09, 2007

Lose 1,000 inmates in 3 months! Ask me how!

Wait ... listen! What was that? Oh. It was the sound of the other shoe, dropping.

Following up on the last post, when was the last time you ever heard of an American jail reducing its inmate population by 1,000 people in 1-3 months?

That's the scope of the exodus Dallas officials must facilitate or else the Texas Commission on Jail Standards will tell them to stop taking inmates.

Is it possible? Without a doubt.

Dallas' jail population last month was 7,070, according to the latest monthly report from the TCJS. According to those data, 23.9% of Dallas inmates are low-level state jail felons or misdemeanor violators who have not been convicted yet - they're sitting in jail awaiting trial mostly because they cannot afford bail.

To compare with another large metropolitan Texas county, misdemeanor and state jail felony pretrial detainees make up just 10.5% of Harris County's jail population.

If Dallas just reduced those two categories of pretrial defendants to Houston's percentages by giving more of these defendants personal bond, they'd reduce the total jail population by 947 people, nearly making their entire goal.

I also notice that 215 Dallas jail inmates last month were state jail felons serving time in county jail instead of prison as part of their sentence. I haven't looked at these particular cases, but often that means judges are requiring county jail time as a condition of probation (Texas judges can require up to six months jail time from felony probationers). In other words, those probation conditions are entirely in the judges' hands, and they would do well given the current crisis to revisit them.

Not only can this be done, it should have been done a long time ago.

While we're on the topic, this might be a good time to re-link to Grits' best practices to reduce jail overcrowding, and to other Grits coverage about Texas counties' efforts to manage overincarceration at their jails.

MORE: From The Wretched of the Earth, who says the Lege could help the Dallas jail by fixing this problem.


Anonymous said...

August 18, 2006
Sheriff Jack W. Dieken
Law Enforcement Center
450 Pecan
Abilene, Texas
Re: Conditions of Confinement
Sheriff Dieken:
I am writing in regards to several complaints submitted to the ACLU of Texas regarding the
conditions of confinement in the Taylor County Jail. The family members of several pretrial
detainees report that prisoners have been beaten and treated inhumanely by other inmates and
security staff. Violence is a serious problem in many Texas jail facilities.
There are various solutions that can be implemented to improve the conditions of confinement in
the Taylor County Jail and address the concerns of community members and jail detainees.
Those solutions include:
• Minimize Crowding: According to the Texas Commission of Jail Standards, the Taylor
County Jail was at 98% capacity on July 1, 2006. While this statistic does not indicate the
jail is overcapacity it is clear that the jail is at capacity and as such every resource is being
leveraged to maintain security. Consequently, Taylor County must commit to eliminating
crowded conditions that exist in the jail and work with County Commissioners to establish
and meet reasonable limits on the number of prisoners that the facility can safely hold;
• Pretrial Screening: Counties including Harris, Travis, El Paso, Webb, and recently,
Montgomery and Erath counties use a pretrial screening service. Educating judges to follow
qualified screeners' recommendations regarding pretrial release can significantly reduce
local incarceration costs, increase personal bond use, and improve security;
Page 2 of 2
Prison & Jail Accountability Project•P.O. Box 12905•Austin, TX 78711•512-478-7300 ext 106
• Implement Classification and Direct Supervision Procedures: Eliminating jail crowding
should improve security procedures and reduce the use of non-lethal weapons, restraints, and
physical force by using non-forceful responses when possible; and
• Developing a Systemic Approach to Addressing Criminal Justice Policy: Encouraging
the County’s leadership to address the conditions of confinement at the jail facility is critical
to improving the security of the jail and ensuring the humane treatment of jail detainees.
This approach can be achieved by encouraging collaboration among Jail Administrators,
County Commissioner, Judges, and other stakeholders to identify the necessary policy
solutions that would improve the conditions of confinement and reduce crowding.
While I am aware that staffing shortages, communication lapses between staff and prisoners, and
budget pressures can slow down care in jail, there is a need for a basic level of care, even for jail
detainees. The law is very clear— the community standard of care must be met by jail
I hope that you take these concerns into consideration as you identify solutions to address the
complaints of prisoners and community members regarding the conditions of confinement in the
Taylor County Jail.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
/s/ Nicole D. Porter
Nicole D. Porter
Director, Prison & Jail Accountability Project
About the ACLU’s Prison and Jail Accountability Project
The mission of the Prison and Jail Accountability Project (PJAP) is to monitor the conditions of confinement in Texas jails and prisons. PJAP is a project of the ACLU of Texas, and is dedicated
to making Texas prisons and jails safe and humane places to live and work through public
education, public advocacy, and litigation.

Anonymous said...

Judges and District Attorneys and the defending lawyers get together and decide how each case is going to come out. First of all, start with the Judges, some who are just plan mean and it takes out of their day to have to stay until noon. Then the DA's office puts the youngest ADA in court with another inexperienced ADA and all they want to do is win in order to move on to bigger and great things. That is what our justice system has come to. You are guilty before the trial even begins.

Judges and lawyers like plea deals and it angers a Judge if they have to sit through a trial. Go to court one morning and watch the disgust shown by "so called defense lawyers and so call Judges" and when someone pleads not guilty, the lawyer and the Judge try to persuade the person to take a plea deal to prevent the time it takes to prepare for a case. Then you lose your right to appeal and also your freedom.

Throw the bums out and start over!! We need real justice not the half-way justice issued by our courts.

Anonymous said...

Go to Harris County. The guards beat one young man so badly, he will never recover. They beat him with handcuffs and then when he was down, a very large woman jumped up and down on his chest.

All he can remember hearing is you should have taked the deal offered you and the man was never given medical treatment!

This is Hell and the Lord is watching those who mistreat, even you Judges and you will have to answer to Him one day.

Anonymous said...

A wise judge would hold the 180 days over the individuals head as an incentive for compliance with probation. What is up with these judges who seem to live on another planet. By the way, after 20 plus years in probation, a lot of people would rather serve their time in prison than BE TOLD what to do by a probation officer or judge! I'll bet that No legislator or judge wants to hear what those in the trenches have to say.

betty said...

Its broken on every level. It seems like more of a social catastrophe what happens inside the system intended to deal with and manage criminals then the actual harm that these "criminals" pose to society. How can we possible intend to exemplify ideals to these people when the minute they enter our legal system and our penal system they experience first hand so-called law abiding citizens breaking every kind of human concept of decency, up-rightness, honor, moral code, ethics, what have you. I am beginning to have more respect for the people locked up then the ones who lock them up. We have laws to maintain social order, but where are the laws that the people who are carrying that responsibility out held accountable to. I think that the prison system in particular operates with far to little accountability. The public doesn't find out about the conditions or the poor treatment until something really bad happens and then what... like the conditions over at Lou Sterrit this stuff has been going on for years. But before they fix that mess they have already broken ground on a new facility to enlarge the scope of the problem. Its unreal to me. As a person who has spent quite a lot of time visiting people at Lou Sterrit no matter what... you can count on some exception to every posted rule by some low level jailer who feels the need to impose their own brand of discretion and interpretation. Because a little power and a lot of vulnerability go a long way to making their day. No one complains because its no use. No one complains because of the fear that it may impact the person incarcerated there. I think that in light of the wide spread health violations, inhumane conditions, and deaths they should be forced to put video cameras in every location where prisoners are being held so that maybe these people will think twice about their actions and responsibilities. Maybe if society at large saw the regular day to day we would begin to take seriously the need for this legal and penal system to be vastly changed.