Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Message received: PR valued more than justice by Williamson DA

Good public policy is about outcomes. Bad public policy is frequently about grandstanding.

If you want to "send a message," rent a billboard. That's not the purpose of legislation, prosecution powers, parole decisions, or other functions of the justice system, which must be judged instead IMO by public safety outcomes.

In fact, whenever you hear a politician of any stripe calling for government to do something to "send a message," you can be pretty sure that whatever they're proposing will do more harm than good. That's true in nearly every instance, across the political spectrum. Such rhetoric shows the speaker has allowed their public relations goals to supersede their public policy goals. Reported Austin's KEYE-TV (3/18):
A judge has sentenced a woman described by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as a "serial drug dealer."

Regina Ann Burke, 44, of Manor pleaded guilty to two counts of delivery of a controlled substance.

The court gave Burke 35 years in jail for the crimes. She had previous drug and burglary convictions from other Texas counties as well.

In October and December of 2007, during an undercover narcotics investigation by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, Burke delivered methamphetamine to an undercover officer.

The transactions took place in the parking lot of the Round Rock Wal-Mart on I-35.

On a video released by the Williamson County DA, Burke can be heard complaining to a police interrogator that the DA's office was treating her like a major drug dealer.

Williamson County DA John Bradley responded in a written news release "[t]his case should make it obvious that the Parole Board’s policy of early release has given this drug dealer the wrong message.”
So according to John Bradley, the parole board sent the wrong message to Ms. Burke. Her recidivism sent a message about the parole board to him. So he pushed for a 35 year sentence for a pathetic, penny ante meth addict to send a message to the parole board about its "policy of early release," with KEYE as his eager accomplice.

That's a lot of message sending! But ignoring all the "messages" for a moment, what are the actual, real-world outcomes?

We already know why the parole board is releasing low-level offenders more frequently when they become eligible: The prisons are so overstuffed they don't have room for actually dangerous offenders, much less folks like Ms. Burke.

Texas prisons have 155,000 beds but release 70,000 per year, with a roughly equal number coming in. Our existing prisons are shortstaffed and there's little evidence TDCJ could find more guards at current pay rates, even if the state spent the billions necessary to construct new ones. As I've written previously, all this message sending by Mr. Bradley and his ilk has led to unsustainable prison growth rates:
from 1978 until 2004, the Texas prison population increased 573% (from 22,439 to 151,059), while the state's total population increased just 67% (from 13.5 million to 22.5 million).

That's right - a 573% increase in prisoners and a 67% increase in population over the same period.
But even that's not tough enough, so Bradley will send a message to build more prisons by pushing for ever-longer sentences for non-violent offenders. Where does it stop?

The TV news story gives no background, but I also wonder about how this woman got caught up in an undercover bust in the first place - was she targeted by the Williamson County Sheriff to "send a message," or did her activities come up as the result of routine investigation? I'd not be surprised a bit if it's the former. Was she selling drugs to others, or did the undercover officer befriend her and ask her to "score" as a favor? The latter method was a practice that allowed undercover cops in the Tulia-style drug task forces to rack up large numbers of low-level busts.

To me, this is the type of defendant who could do well under a stronger probation/community supervision regimen, like Judge Cynthia Kent's day reporting center in Tyler, which requires offenders to report daily, get a job, and comply with stricter controls than the monthly check-in typical of most probation supervision. For that matter, she's exactly the kind of person for whom drug courts were created.

But Mr. Bradley wants to "send a message" (and issue a press release, and get his name on TV), so instead of helping her turn her life around, get a job, pay taxes, and contribute to the community, taxpayers will just incarcerate her for the next 9-35 years, at a likely to rise cost of more than $16,000 (in 2007 dollars) annually.

Even worse, from a public policy perspective, they might have to release someone even more dangerous to make room for her, like happened with this guy.

All this message sending is getting expensive, and it's harming public safety. I think we can safely say at this point that "sending a message" is not the strong suit of the criminal justice system. Perhaps that's because its purpose is, you know, securing justice, not getting the DA's name on the local TV news.

RELATED: 60 year sentence in Williamson County for multiple DWIs.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is a lot of messaging! And none of them even speak the same language. I'll tell you the message I got. The revolving barred doors aren't very effective at stopping crime or addictions. Imagine that! I'm still reeling from one visit to the TDCAA blog. That thinking is all over the place. It all smells like egos gone wild. I amazes me, you can hear the woman's record, and not say: Treatment, job training. The media jumps on making people who are incarcerated "bad guys". Some are. Many are not. The media is very much responsible for making reform even more difficult. Who wants to help the enemy. I hope that will change.

Doran Williams said...

Grits, you drove the nail home with this post. JB and his ilk (including judges), with their passion for locking up people, are like eighth or ninth wonders of the world. You are committing a public service by eviscerating them with your comments and insights.

Anonymous said...

The previous comment about egos gone wild is very accurate. If it were not for the news media being the politician’s whores they could not send nearly as many messages. The Austin American Statesman and local TV media worked with Jay Kimbrough to publicize people who had criminal records were working for TYC, resulting in about 100 people being fired. All of them had to have been clean for at least ten years to be hired. I might add not one of the people with past criminal records were ever connected to the improper activities at TYC. Kimbrough’s action, with the help of the Statesman and TV media, sent a message that no matter what you accomplish after a brush with the law you are never going to be able to find worthwhile employment. I agree with Grits, we cannot afford the high cost of this message sending. Money is being wasted in some areas and the true needs of offenders and public are not being addressed. You have to ask yourself if you want people to get out of jail and become a productive citizen or would you like to insure they make you their next victim. I for one, think it is high time we get tough on politicians and media whores who waste our money and destroy our society for their own personal gain.

Anonymous said...

Grits once qagain kicking asses and taking names. If I've heard "sending a message" shit once, I've heard it a thousand times over the years. One of these days here in Texas, half the people will be locked up and the other half guarding them unless "justice" becomes the focus of the criminal justice system in this state.

Plato

Anonymous said...

I'd like to send a message to the Williamson County DA. The Governor or New York was once a DA, he had a big ego too.

No DA is above the law. We reap what we sow in this life. Justice denied to one is justice denied to all, even the DA.

Anonymous said...

Pure gold.

That nutcase also advocates the passage of legislation that would criminalize the refusal to provide a breath sample after a DWI arrest. That's right, the crime would be the refusal regardless of your innocence of the DWI. Why? He believes we all "contracted" with the State to provide a sample. Puuhhlleeeze.

The guy lives in a fantasy world where there would not only be no crime but no sin. Keep after him.

Anonymous said...

Are you surprised? This is Williamson County. I work as a probation officer in a neighboring county and I'm routinely amazed/shocked at the treatment defendants receive in WilCo. I've actually heard JB speak at a conference saying that mentally ill defendants should be treated no differently - regardless of the crime.

Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting that there (to the best of my knowledge) is no mention of the amount of meth the defendant is accused of selling. It seems to me that if it was a large quantity, that it would be splashed all over the media accounts of this story. Since the amount is not mentioned, it must be small.

Anonymous said...

"I for one, think it is high time we get tough on politicians and media whores who waste our money and destroy our society for their own personal gain."

You're not alone.

It's pretty amazing how some people can be bent to sheer inhumanity to other humans so easily.

The War on Drugs has facilitated such tests and failures of humankind rather brilliantly.

Anonymous said...

Mr."Zero Tolerance" has compassion I assure. If you don't believe it, check out the Austin Chronicle article depicting how he dismissed a felony drug conviction on his Lottery Winner Constable-Elect mother who happened to have an immigration issue. The felony conviction triggers deportation. JB can't have that when his newfound friend has 51.2 million dollars. Heck what are friends for.

Anonymous said...

For more on John Bradley...
http://www.kxan.com/Global/story.asp?S=78353398&nav=menu73_2_5

Or if that's too much, just go to Kxan.com. Jim Swift did a story "Tough on Crime" in Williamson County. There are so many posted comments, even postings from this week. Very interesting to say the least.

Good job Grits! Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite Blog Topics: Big Bad Williamson County. They are out of control. They continue to violate many of the standards of the Texas Jail Commission by cramming 30 plus "accused" in holding cells that are designed to hold a maximum of 8 (one toliet to 8 inmates, and there is only one toliet per holding cell), and they continue to hold persons who post bail over 10-12 hours past the posting period. I really wish someone would investigate all aspects of Williamson County.

And folks, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Big Bad Williamson County would lock up a blind man for jaywalking. Hell, for that matter, Big Bad Williamson County would lock up that same blind man for looking at them wrong. No shit.

Simply put, they are way out of control.

Whitsfoe

Anonymous said...

All the media outlets are aware of Wilco's behavior. The problem is the media is just flat scared of JB & the rest of the courthouse gang. Retribution is what JB does best. If you don't believe it, just ask Constable Griffin in Round Rock. He tried to hold JB & company accountable for their inappropriate behavior. They cut him off at the knees two years in a row, then destroyed him in the recent election using his newly aquired lottery friend, a notably less than honorable APD reject.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that the Bad Boy doesn't defend themselves here? Especially the probation department which publically touts a 70 (plus) percent on probation revocations? That has to be the highest in the state per capita.

Judge Higginbothem is somewhat fair, the rest are hang 'em's idiots. They even have that look, trust me.

Anonymous said...

John Bradley needs to follow Chuck Rosenthal to the never, never land. They are both rotten to the core and Mr. Bradley is getting to cocky and will get his just rewards one day.

No one this mean can stay in office for an eternity, he is not ethical and just out and out mean and cynical.

He needs to stay our of Gov. Perry's office, believe me, The Gov. is out looking for his dream job and I hope he finds it soon, someewhere out of Texas.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, because I'm thinking about moving to Wilco BECAUSE of the "tough on crime" stance. Crooks in surrounding counties KNOW about their tough on crime stance, and although some choose to disregard that in their criminal activities, it speaks volumes that crooks are aware of this reputation and that some avoid it.

Bradley and his office don't need defending. The voters do it every election cycle.

And that, my friends, to someone wanting to raise a family in a semi-safe urban Austin-area environment, is worth it's weight in gold. You think, hey, maybe my family could live in a place that is MUCH safer than Travis Co or any of the other surrounding counties, where some crooks actually FEAR TO TREAD.

Priceless.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I wish Bradley would run for Governor. Or U.S. Senate. That's a great idea, Anon 9:42!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 7:47, that's all great until its your kid who gets in trouble. There but for the grace of God, etc. ...

That said, Williamson County has a low crime rate because of demographics, not John Bradley. For similar reasons, Austin has far and away the lowest crime rate of large Texas cities, and Williamson's rates are derivative within the MSA (metropolitan statistical area), not something you look at in isolation.

FWIW, Williamson's demographics are changing, and thus as they do, so will the crime rate. Like the cities that ring Dallas, it can't remain a bedroom community forever. I'm willing to bet, though, that as those changes occur, Bradley and Co. won't take credit for it like they have their past demographic fortune.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, and as for JB for Governor, let me just say PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, do it, John! You've said Rick Perry's too liberal and soft on crime, take him on in the primary! Or perhaps vs. Kay Bailey, there's one I'd like to see.

That'd be a hoot and a half, and fun to watch! He wouldn't have a prayer, but expurgating his record would be an endless source of blog material during the campaign. Run John, run!

Anonymous said...

Mr Bradley has the Guv in his right front pocket, and, truth be known, a stronger probation system never got anyone reelected, which is unfortunate. It's really sad that someone such as Bradley and the little man from Houston can use intimidation and endless talking to get their point across, which is usually to make some other guy (or agency)look bad. Texas would be much better off if we had people in power who actually understood the criminal justice system.

Anonymous said...

And 7:47....95% of the people Mr Bradlet sends to prison come back to Williamson. I'm sure they learned how to avoid criminal activity while they were there, and brought their new lives back to Georgetown.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be interesting to see how Bradley gets out of the cover up on ex-gtwn cop Fennell.

Who drops who in the grease first?

Anonymous said...

Maybe JB is the modern day Hoodini. One would think JB's thoughts on the Fennell matter is no big deal, he's never been held accountable for his abusive behavior, so what's so different concerning this little cover-up? When your a legend in your own mind, does it really matter what anyone else thinks?

Anonymous said...

Grits...your thoughts on the last two posts, the reduced felony drug charge and immigration cover up? Of course those are just a few of Bradley's cover ups. It's only a matter of time..........

Your insightful!

R. Shackelford said...

...wtf is wrong with this guy? His heart is a tiny, malformed little black stone. I cannot imagine what the hell I was thinking, moving here in the first place from Travis. Actually, I have no idea why I haven't moved to another state.