Anyway, back to tomorrow's Corrections meeting. There are a couple of bills up I don't like, and several good ones I hope make it through. Let's run through the highlights:
Watching dots on a screen won't make us safer
HB 430 by Madden: To start with one I don't like, this bill requires GPS monitoring for certain sex offenders, a faddish approach that IMO doesn't improve safety much. I'm tired of having to make these arguments myself, so let me quote the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a statewide victim's rights group:
Global Position Satellite (GPS) tracking of sexual offenders may make us feel good, but will not make us safer. A careful examination of salient facts indicates that universal GPS monitoring of all registered sex offenders would be ill advised. First, most sex offenders victimize in places where we expect them to be (i.e. their own homes and the homes of people they know well.) The sad fact is, providing extra measures to keep sex offenders from restricted areas (schools, parks) does not protect the overwhelming majority of child victims of sexual abuse who are molested in their own homes or the home of the abuser. Second, GPS uses relatively new technology with known flaws and limitations. For example, like cell phones signals, GPS signals are frequently lost in forested and mountainous areas; they don't work in urban canyons, underground rail lines, buildings and sometimes even automobiles. Third, GPS is expensive ($6 to $10 per day per offender). California estimated that the net fiscal impact for GPS tracking of sex offenders in that state is likely to be "several tens of millions of dollars annually for the first few years, probably reaching at least $100 million in about ten years, and increasing significantly thereafter." Finally, GPS monitoring is not designed to be a stand-alone sex offender management tool. When used in conjunction with other management tools (e.g. specialized sex offender supervision caseloads, home contacts, employment verifications, alcohol and drug testing, treatment, case reviews, risk assessment instruments, collateral contacts, polygraph testing), GPS does hold promise. However, there is little scientific research regarding its effectiveness for management of even predatory sexual offenders. Under no circumstances should GPS of registered sex offenders be considered a ‘silver bullet.’'Nuff said.
Common sense on HIV, part one: Test prison inmates for AIDS
HB 1276 by Davis: Here's a bill that deserves passage, this one mandating AIDS tests for all prisoners during their diagnostic process upon entry into a TDCJ facility. The Attorney General said they could - this would be the Legislature telling them they have to. This way sick people get identified and treated
Common sense on HIV, part two: Condoms in prison
HB 1068 by Coleman: Though some conservatives have made fun of it, I think this bill which would allow condom distribution and disposal in prison, is probably good public policy if done for health reasons and it's not treated as an excuse to tolerate prison rape. OTOH, there's plenty of anecdotal and some statistical evidence that TDCJ tolerates prison rape now, HIV rates in Texas prisons are high, and already cost TDCJ a whopping 40% of its entire pharmacy budget! Like many things in this world, it's a good idea that could turn sour in the implementation, but that's no reason not to try - the costs of not doing so are quite high. If you asked me, "common sense part three" would be to install tattoo parlors in prison, like they approved in Canada, but that bill didn't get filed. However, we do get an,
Ombudsman for in-prison sexual assault cases
HB 1944 by Coleman: This bill would create an ombudsman position at TDCJ whose job is to compile information and take complaints about sexual assault cases. It'd be a grim job if you weren't empowered to do anything, though. The ombudsman will "initiate and oversee" investigations, but it doesn't appear to be equipped with investigative staff. I'll be interested to hear the public debate on this one. It's a problem that needs to be fixed, but I'm not sure how this would help much, except perhaps to shed more light on the issue. I certainly know Coleman is bringing it with the best intentions, and he's a smart guy, so maybe there's some reason to the rhyme.
Paying for elderly offenders' health costs
HB 2611 by Madden: This bill would expand the range of offenders who are eligible for medical parole to include so-called 3g (or typically more violent) offenders who require full-time nursing home care, as well as sex offenders who are in a "persistent vegetative state." The key to understanding the economics of this bill is that the state pays for all of prisoners' care if they need a nursing home or other expensive end-of-life medical services, while on the outside Medicare and/or Medicaid would cover it. It's a good bill, but sex offenders are the fastest growing class of elderly offenders, and eventually Texas will need to let some of the sickest of them out, too. Letting out only sex offenders who are in a "persistent vegetative state" is hardly some elderly version of Prison Break (starring Paul Newman, perhaps?) Just good common sense. IMO, they could go farther without risking public safety.
Bohac requests dull bedtime reading
HB 1453 by Bohac would have every state rep and state senator emailed each month a list of every offender who gets off community supervision or out of prison and is released into their district. So he can do what with it, I wonder? I bet if you did an open records requests about complaints against TYC and TDCJ to Bohac's office, you'd find quite a few he'd never acted on, just as Paul Burka correctly says nearly every member gets all the time. And if they're not going to do anything with THAT information, what are legislators going to do with these reports? I don't know about you, but I don't see much good coming from this, for whatever purposes he hopes to use it.
UPDATE: Well, I guess it wasn't enuff said about HB 430. Ruth Epstein from the ACLU emailed with this:
We oppose HB 430, Monitoring of Certain High-Risk Sex Offenders,who are not under community supervision or civilly committed, after their sentences have been discharged.There you have it - ACLU and the victim's rights folks basically on the same page. Quick, take a photo, capture the memory, it might not last long! We'll see what the committee does mañana.
1. Their risk level, number three- the highest- was known at sentencing. HB 430 would be an unwarranted addition to their punishment, a sentence after their sentence.
2. These offenders were not diagnosed with the mental or behavioral abnormality which are required for civil commitment, yet HB 430 attempts a variation of Texas-style civil commitment without its benefits and with a severe deficit.
3. Unlike civil commitment, treatment is not required.
4. The monitoring is for the sole purpose of verifying that the offender
resides where he is registered, unlike wider monitoring allowed under civil commitment.
Reliable studies have shown that residence is irrelevant to sex offenses, since a very high percentage of sex offenses occur within the family circle of relatives and friends.