Friday, December 19, 2008

TCJC: Jails need technical assistance to reduce unnecessary overcrowding

As part of their participation in the Sunset review process for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition:
recently launched an anonymous online survey targeted towards Texas Sheriffs, County Court Judges, and Jail Administrators. Specifically, this survey was intended to address questions posed by the Sunset Advisory Commission in regards to the mission and performance of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS).
See the full survey here (pdf). Most respondents said no changes were needed to TCJS' functions, but the largest number who offered suggestions believed that "additional assistance to jails and counties in their efforts to be safe and compliant," while responses to another question placed the highest premium on "more training for jail staff; more education and available information."

I think that's exactly right; TCJS currently performs annual inspections but does not have capacity to provide significant technical assistance to counties to help them implement diversion programs or reduce overcrowding. As a result, TCJC recommended that:
TCJS should be given additional staff that can focus solely on providing technical assistance for programs that provide rehabilitation, education, and re-integration for inmates confined in county and municipal jail facilities under its jurisdiction. Such programs could include (a) group counseling, (b) drug education, (c) basic education programs, (d) transition planning, and (d) aftercare planning.
Staffing that function at TCJS could have a big impact on local jail overcrowding and help ensure that lessons learned in one jurisdiction are communicated to jailers in other counties. IMO, the other big need is for greater oversight by TCJS of medical and mental health-related jail functions, both as part of the inspection process and providing technical assistance to improve these functions.

Respondents to TCJC's survey were asked to list the biggest challenges facing their jails and TCJS in the next five to ten years and, perhaps predictably, the top three were:
• 36% = overcrowding (due to increasing jail populations)
• 22% = additional jail and TCJS staffing
• 13% = additional jail construction
It's true that jail populations are increasing in Texas even though crime has been declining, but nearly all that trend results from expanded use of pretrial detention for low-level offenders. Given that, staffing TCJS to provide technical assistance aimed at reducing pretrial detention could produce a lot of bang for the buck for county taxpayers, particularly in the near term when many jurisdictions are still using inefficient practices. I think that's a really smart suggestion.

Read TCJC's full written response to the Sunset Staff Report here. See also the Sunset staff report and public comments submitted as part of the Sunset process. Comments on the Jail Standards Commission's Sunset review may still be submitted until 5 p.m. this afternoon; email them to sunset@sunset.state.tx.us.

12 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Wow, it's great to see people at TCJC at least anonymously thinking of ways to improve the system.

You are absolutely right to focus on pretrial compliance.

The request for technical assistance makes me feel that at least a few are paying attention to Rothgery. From the Rothgery decision:

see Brief for Brennan Center of
Justice et al. as Amici Curiae 10 (explaining that “jails
may be required to report their arrestees to county prosecutor
offices on particular days” (citing Tex. Crim. Proc.
14 ROTHGERY v. GILLESPIE COUNTY
Opinion of the Court
Code Ann., Art. 2.19)); or “the sophistication, or lack
thereof, of a jurisdiction’s computer intake system,” Brief
for Brennan Center, supra, at 11; see also id., at 10–12
(noting that only “[s]ome Texas counties . . . have computer
systems that provide arrest and detention information
simultaneously to prosecutors, law enforcement officers,
jail personnel, and clerks. Prosecutors in these
jurisdictions use the systems to prescreen cases early in
the process before an initial appearance”

Anonymous said...

Hi - here's the relevant Rothgery line, which is a critique of how things are run in Texas

And it would have the practical effect of resting attachment
on such absurd distinctions as the day of the
month an arrest is made,

I pasted the wrong part previously, sorry

Lucille said...

OT, but have you heard about this?

Anonymous said...

Given that, staffing TCJS to provide technical assistance aimed at reducing pretrial detention could produce a lot of bang for the buck for county taxpayers, particularly in the near term when many jurisdictions are still using inefficient practices. I think that's a really smart suggestion.

Jail staff has no control over this function. While jauil staff can make recommendations to magistrates and the prosecuting attorneys, I don't see much changing here unless TCJS plans to piss in the judges and prosecutors Cheerios.

No, more TCJS staffing is not the solution and will only increase the TCJS budget. Most jail staffs know what needs to be done so defendants don't remain in jail until they go for docket call. Unfortunately, their recommenadtions to the local politicos fall on deaf ears.

Anonymous said...

TCJS should be given additional staff that can focus solely on providing technical assistance for programs that provide rehabilitation, education, and re-integration for inmates confined in county and municipal jail facilities under its jurisdiction. Such programs could include (a) group counseling, (b) drug education, (c) basic education programs, (d) transition planning, and (d) aftercare planning.

Not that these programs should be given consideratioon, this sounds like the potential for more state unfunded mandates.

Anonymous said...

To 0200

Every county was required to implement a written plan concerning the appointment of counsel for indigent defensdants in jail. Some did and some didn't.

TCJS does not need more staffing for pretrial compliance, counties who did not implement the plan just need to be penalized for not doing so. And as is often the case, the legisalture imposes mandates like this but provide no penalty for noncompliance.

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Anonymous said...

Pissing on the police and prosector's cheerios - now that made me laugh!

Most states hold probable cause hearings immediately after an arrest or after someone turns themselves in - seems like it would be a good way to comply with Rothgery and save a LOT of government money.

The process in Texas seems to involve procedure written to make it look like probable cause is being followed when the reality is it is totally disregarded until trial in many cases.

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