Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dallas legislators review bright spots and regrets from the 80th Texas Legislature

The Dallas Morning News asked Dallas area state legislators "In what way did you make the biggest impact, what was the Legislature's biggest accomplishment for the state and for your district, and what was your biggest regret?"

A couple of legislators' responses printed so far included references to criminal justice policy matters. Indeed, Garland Republican Fred Hill thought leadership from Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden was the highlight of the session. You can read Hill's full response here, but here's what he had to say about the Corrections Chairman:

Watching my colleague Rep. Jerry Madden of Richardson rise to the challenge of dealing with the Texas Youth Commission tragedy was a bright spot. Jerry, a West Point graduate, has never been given the chance to truly lead. This time he was thrust into an unforeseen situation.

As chairman of Corrections, Jerry, a Republican, worked with his committee, made up primarily of Democrats. Under Jerry's leadership all pulled together to meet the challenge of TYC. What this illustrates to me is that while politics has its place and will never be eliminated, a bipartisan effort can be achieved with the proper leadership. We don't have to accept Washington-style politics as the norm. Jerry gets my vote as, not just one of Texas Monthly's 10 best, but best of the session.

Fred Hill represents House District 112, which includes parts of Richardson and Garland.

Like Hill, I'd agree that Chairman Madden's performance chairing the Corrections Committee was perhaps the session's highlight, certainly in the House. Though I certainly didn't agree with the Richardson Republican on every subject, whenever we differed I felt like he gave full hearing to those who disagreed with him, often accommodating their main concerns when he didn't necessarily have to do so. Madden worked his bills like a seasoned pro and had a very high success rate passing them. He combined focused leadership with a willingness to compromise to get his bills through.

IMO, no matter who becomes Speaker of the Texas House, Democrat or Republican, Madden's leadership has earned him another appointment as Corrections Chair in 2009.

Meanwhile, Rep. Terri Hodge's response to the News' question about her biggest regret lamented Governor Rick Perry's inexplicable veto of two of her bills. I completely share her disappointment

that, due to a lack of knowledge, Gov. Perry vetoed two major pieces of legislation that I authored to improve our criminal justice system: HB 44 and HB 47.

With approximately 150,000 inmates in our prisons and a shortage of approximately 3,400 correctional officers to manage our prison population, HB 44 would have given wardens the discretion to restore lost good-conduct time to non-violent offenders who have violated a non-violent prison rule.

This legislation would have provided wardens a tool to better manage the inmate population while maintaining safe prisons and providing an incentive for inmates to improve their behavior.

HB 47 would have allowed offenders housed in administrative segregation to participate in in-cell home study educational courses. As of April 2007, there were 9,338 offenders housed in administrative segregation. They are confined to a 6- by 10-foot cell for 23 hours a day, and several have been there for 15 years or more. Many will be released into our communities directly from administrative segregation, having participated in no rehabilitation, educational or vocational programs.

HB 47 would have allowed the offender to purchase and use in-cell educational study materials at no cost to taxpayers, all the while helping to rehabilitate our Texas prison population.

Terri Hodge represents House District 100, which includes parts of Dallas and Mesquite. Her e-mail address is terri.hodge@house.state.tx.us

5 comments:

sunray's wench said...

"As of April 2007, there were 9,338 offenders housed in administrative segregation. They are confined to a 6- by 10-foot cell for 23 hours a day, and several have been there for 15 years or more. Many will be released into our communities directly from administrative segregation, having participated in no rehabilitation, educational or vocational programs."

This really should be on the front page of the DMN, in bold 24 point type, every day until someone does something to improve the situation.

Anonymous said...

Perry does not care! He is all about himself and if rumors are true, he will not finish out this term which will be a great relief.

Remember,he only won by 39% and that is nothing to brag about. If Mrs. Strayhorn had stayed out of the race, we more than likely would have a different Governor, one who cared and wanted to make things better.

I hope Perry finds his dream job, but not at the expense of the tax payors of Texas i.e. Trans Texas Toll Road or the coal energy plants. South Texas especially in Houston and even in Dallas County is already so polluted people who suffer from asthma and COPD have to stay inside some days. Don't make things worse.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments about Rep Madden. Although I was initially critical of his jumping on the new TYC Ombudsman, on further reflection, I think he was correct. Mr. Harrell needs to get out and spend some time inside the wire. He needs to observe, first-hand the people he is going to be judging. He needs to talk to kids, but he also needs the balance that comes from talking to teachers, psychologists, cooks, youth care investigators and JCO staff. He needs to observe first-hand the interactions between staff and youth during movement, in school and on the dorms. He will see some staff cursing out youth, he will see youth disrespecting and disobeying, and maybe even attacking staff. But, he will also see some incredibly dedicated people giving their best to make a difference in the life of these kids. He needs that balance if he is going to effectively and justly administer and respond to the complaints of youth and their parents.

Anonymous said...

In response to the segregation comment, question. What happened to the $1.3M Reentry grant award to TDCJ from the U.S. Dept of Labor? I thought that was to provide the SVORI (Serious Violent Offender Reentry Initative) with funds to provide vocational, rehabilitation, and transitional training to those inmates. Is this not the case or have I misunderstood? Curious

Anonymous said...

When will the MSM ever cover the scandalous problems in the adult system? TYC is nothing ...