Crack Sentencing Retroactivity
At the Lone Star Times and Sentencing Law and Policy (see here, here, and here) they're debating whether crack sentencing guidelines should be retroactive. The Lone Star Times editorial probably credits Grits too much on this topic, which is a federal concern and not something I've commented on much as a state-issues blog. However, the LST debate did give me the opportunity to get off this line in the comments:
When Rhetoric meets Reality in the politics of crime and punishment, the Tax Increase typically results as their fat, obnoxious bastard child, with Public Safety - thin, waifish, and orphaned - left to its own devices, scrounging for crumbs.82 Years of Drug War Deja Vu and Counting
As President Bush proposes a $1.5 billion aid plan to Mexico to train its police and military, an astute DRC Net reader forwarded this old article from the New York Times (May 1925) to David Borden that could have been written today about President Bush's deal:
The drug treaty, which will be formulated in El Paso by the Commissioners of the United States and representatives of the Mexican Government, is expected to achieve two results -- elimination of the constant stream of drugs which is pouring into the United States through Mexico, and helping to clean out from the border towns several groups of Americans and foreigners who 'have made large sums of Money through the drug traffic.Slate: Why the lethal injection protocols need changing
Death penalty politicking by supporters and opponents have made something that was relatively simple for the veterinary industry - changing lethal protocols for putting down animals - into an issue that requires a US Supreme Court decision to change for killing people. Slate reported:
If academics, doctors, and prisoners—as well as death-penalty supporters and the guy who invented the protocol—have been criticizing the three-drug protocol for years, why haven't the states switched methods? And once the court agreed to hear Baze, why didn't Texas simply change to barbiturates and keep its executions on schedule? You'd expect the states to choose doling out the barbiturates instead of acceding to a monthslong moratorium that will offer the public a chance to see that life without the death penalty may still be worth living. ...Jails, counties, rely on trusty labor from inmates who could be released
The reason our death-penalty methods are old and rickety is that they were cobbled together on the fly and broadly adopted without care. They are being defended for political and strategic reasons, as opposed to pragmatic ones. And the whole argument is a bad proxy for a larger fight about capital punishment. If carelessness, raw politics, and inertia should be driving policy, the current lethal-injection system is a penalogical grand slam. One shouldn't have to be opposed to the death penalty, be soft on criminals, or be a liberal crybaby to insist that procedures that are hopelessly outdated and medically suspect should be fixed.
Reductions in inmate populations at the Dallas County Jail have exposed the extent to which Dallas and other Texas county rely on inmate labor to substitute for paid employees to operate their facilities. Kevin Krause at the Dallas News reports ("Dallas County reduces every sentences, so inmates refuse to work," Nov. 12) that Dallas has the
After setting up its newshook as a shortage of inmate laborers (as opposed to, say, the failure of the county to properly staff its programs), the article further down we find John Wiley Price, of all people, explaining why the policy was recently put in place:
most generous good-time policy among Texas' largest urban counties.
It means someone sentenced by a judge to 90 days in jail actually serves only one month. The longest anyone can serve for a misdemeanor conviction in Dallas County is four months, even though state law allows a maximum sentence of one year in jail for a Class A misdemeanor.
Good time is a privilege, not a right. But in Dallas County it cannot be taken away, even for violating jail rules, unlike in other county jails. Instead, troublemakers in the Dallas County jails can lose visitation, commissary or telephone privileges.
The only thing Sheriff Lupe Valdez can offer to entice workers is extra food rations and extra changes of jail garb. She has had difficulty filling the 844 daily work assignments in her jails.
Dallas County Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, for one, thinks the good-time policy is too generous. He's been trying for the last year to use jail inmates for cleanup work on road projects in his district.
Mr. Mayfield says the pool of state jail inmates he has used has dried up. He is putting one of his road and bridge crew members through the sheriff's academy to become a jailer to supervise inmates working outside.
Bingo. Kevin's a good reporter, but MSM journalists sometimes seem to have short memories. It was just this spring that a federal lawsuit forced the Dallas jail to dramatically reduce the inmate population in a very short period of time, and it's the low-risk inmates, naturally, who head out the door first. And of course, you don't want the high risk ones out working on the side of the road!
Commissioner John Wiley Price, who heads up a committee that successfully reduced the jail's population this year, said other counties can offer good time to entice inmates to work because they don't have the problems Dallas County does.
Other counties like Harris, Bexar and Travis also have had jail-crowding problems. But low staffing as well as serious problems with sanitation and medical care have worsened Dallas County's jail situation, leading to repeated failed inspections and a federal lawsuit.
Also, the article mentions the reduction in pretrial defendants as a source of the problem. But they don't have any sentence to work off, so how can they be working off their punishments through volunteer labor? Getting those folks out of the jail quicker is a good thing and shouldn't be framed, in my view, as contributing to the labor shortage. Inmates actually serving their jail sentences should be the main ones populating work crews.
If the county has improperly relied on a bloated jail population to make up for staffing shortages, then pay for actual staff and quit relying on jail labor. The solution is not to fill up the jail so there will be more people to pick up trash! The cost of hiring the additional workers will be de minimis by comparison to continued jail problems on the scale Dallas has faced. Get it through your head, Dallas officials: Fewer people in jail is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Jail Boosterism Run Amok
This is the wrong lesson for East Texas counties to learn from Smith County voters' recent rejection of new bonds for jail building! Reported (editorialized?) the Athens Review ("Counties struggle with jail issues, Nov. 12):
The vote of Smith County voters to deny a bond proposal that would have funded building a new jail could be advantageous to Henderson County and others who have jail expansion projects underway.Excuse me? Talk about schadenfreude! Much of the article sounds like an advertisement for speculative for-profit prison building, praising local leaders for their wisdom using the county jail as a profit center by housing other counties' prisoners.
Officials in Henderson County are hopeful that the additional 304 beds in the expansion currently under construction will bring dollars into their coffers.
There are presently several counties in Texas with jail projects under way. According to the commission, some of the larger undertakings include: Bell County with 658 beds due to become available in 2009; Dallas County with 2309 expected to open in 2009; Fort Bend County which is building 760 for a 2009 opening; Harris County, opening 1,200 in 2009; Montgomery County readying 1,000 for 2008 and Travis County constructing 1,200 for 2009. Most of those are among the state’s larger counties and are anticipating their future space needs.Those new Harris County beds got voted down last Tuesday, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the rest of those statistics.
The Henderson County Jail expansion project first came under consideration in the late 1990s. An $8.5 million bond for the project was approved by voters in November 2005. County Judge David Holstein has commended the government officials and voters of Henderson County who moved the project to the forefront.
The voters of Henderson County are to be commended. When I look back I never would have thought, in my wildest dreams, we could move this fast on something this important without experiencing the turmoil other counties are having,” Holstein observed at the groundbreaking of the 49,000 square foot addition.
Indeed, there is a difference between "local" and "parochial" coverage, and this article crossed that line. If the Henderson county jail were a private prison company and this anonymous writer had been assigned to pen a press release to impress shareholders about possible future jail-bed demand, this article might have been appropriate. As news ... ?
Probation for Murderers
The Dallas News has compiled all of their series yet published about murderers on probation here. More on this once their series is complete - perhaps I'll do an overview and analysis over the weekend - but offhand, going through many of their case studies I could identify several recurring situations where murderers frequently received probation: a) Prosecutors had weak or circumstantial cases and the defendant may not have done it, b) the defendant was guilty via the "law of parties" but didn't actually kill anyone themselves, c) the defendant was elderly, sick or incapacitated to the point where they were no longer a threat, and d) the victim was a worse person than the murderer and basically "needed killin'," so juries sympathized and gave the defendant another chance. In that sense, the title of the series "Unequal Justice" may be misleading. "Justice Tempered with Mercy" might have been a more appropriate headline.
Those are VERY broad first impressions to a series with a lot of detail and nuance. Congrats to the Dallas News and its reporters for tackling this journalistic behemoth.