Here are some criminal justice related resolutions I wish Texas officials would make for 2008, though I'm not holding my breath on any of them:
- Counties should resolve to expand their financial commitment to drug courts and create more mental health courts and public defender offices.
- The UT Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) should resolve to submit a budget proposal to the Legislature that reflects the real cost of providing healthcare to prisoners at TDCJ and TYC, and to supplement telemedicine and telepsychiatry with more on site services from medical professionals.
- Community MHMR Centers should resolve to develop outpatient competency restoration services in partnership with their local jails to keep mentally ill defendants from being stranded there for months awaiting beds in a state hospital open up. They need to step up because they argued at the Legislature they should get they money instead of state hospitals, leaving a gaping problem with lack of competency restoration services squarely in the lap of local jailers and mentally ill defendants. A pending lawsuit could force the state to expand the number of state hospital beds available, but in the meantime it's a looming, extant problem.
- A corollary resolution for community MHMR centers: Develop additional juvenile services to divert mentally ill kids from the juvenile justice system. TYC's simply not doing much for them.
- The Legislative Budget Board should resolve that unless TDCJ can staff its current prisons, it will reject three proposed new ones, which LBB must certify as necessary before approved debt can be issued.
- Everyone at the Texas Youth Commission should resolve to take a deep breath, wish one another Happy New Year, and give the new conservator a little room to breathe while he gets his sea legs under him. He doesn't have long to act, IMO, but he deserves the chance to assess the situation and figure out how to proceed.
- County commissioners should resolve make sure their county pursues every available opportunity for expanding jail diversion programs and strengthening probation, encouraging low-level offenders to earn their way off supervision through good behavior using evidence-based practices.
- County commissioners should also resolve to use purse strings as leverage to require Sheriffs and prosecutors to accept HB 2391 citations for low-level misdemeanors. This was the only new tool given to counties by the Lege in 2007 to combat jail overcrowding, and too many pols have refused to use it. A commenter sensibly suggested that counties should require arresting jurisdictions to pay for upkeep and incarceration expenses of HB 2391 offenders unless "there's not an underlying reason for arresting as opposed to cite and summons." That makes a lot of sense to me, and would save the county a lot of money either way, putting the financial onus on the agency exercising its discretion.
- Finally, for the rest of us, Matthew 25:41-45 reminds us of Christ's dictum to his disciples that he considered failing to visit those in prison an offense as great as if they'd ignored Christ himself incarcerated. So on the off chance the old fellow was on to something, let me encourage Grits readers to themselves resolve to visit someone in prison or jail in 2008. That seems do-able, and not so nebulous as some resolutions you hear, like plans to lose weight. I can think right now of someone who I've long needed to visit up in Huntsville, and perhaps this resolution will provide an excuse for me to get off my butt and do so.