Saturday, July 25, 2009

Can "czar" help Harris jail overcrowding?

In the wake of a harsh findings letter from the US Justice Department that could presage federal litigation, Harris County has created a jail "czar" position which will be held by former District Judge Caprice Cosper. But whatever she's able to accomplish won't stop the Harris Jail population from expanding in the near term, as evidenced by the county seeking more contract beds in Jefferson County (Beaumont).

From my perspective, the two biggest drivers at the Harris County Jail of both overcrowding and cost are excessive pretrial detention and the evolution of the jail into the county's main mental health treatment facility, both of which will require more than "coordination" by a "czar" to fix.

That said, the solutions, at least, are fairly clear: 1) Convincing judges to expand the use of personal bonds instead of requiring bail for low-level offenses, and 2) expanding outpatient mental health services, housing and specialized community supervision through the probation department (including making sure they take their meds) for mentally ill offenders, particularly those who are frequently in and out of the jail on low-level offenses.

The first is almost purely a political problem of convincing local elected judges to change their bail decisions; the second is mostly an issue of resources, with responsibility lying chiefly at the feet of the county commissioners court and the local MHMR authority to provide community-based alternatives to jail.

I've asked the Harris County Sheriff's PIO office for a copy of the consultant's study that recommended creating the "czar" position, so I'll have more on this subject after I finally review that document. The same consultant analyzed the Harris Jail four years ago and this Grits series adumbrated at that time many of the same recommendations about which the county is finally (apparently) getting serious now.

9 comments:

Boyness said...

Bail in Harris County is set very high the goal, of course, is to keep people in jail. Judges routinely set exorbitant bail and then, basically, dare the defense to appeal it to the CCA. Most don't so therefore the jail stays nice and full with pre-trial detainees.

Judges in Harris county make some pretty wacked decisions. The only they fear is a CCA appeal but most attorneys wont "go there" for fear of pissing the judge off and then having to go to trial.

Its an interestingly screwed up system.

Anonymous said...

Boyness.....Don't be so sure why bail is set very high is to keep people in jail.

There has always been the possibility of bonding companies sharing their percentages with the magistrate setting the amount of bail.

I doubt anyone has ever checked to see if there is a pattern.

Boyness said...

Anonymous said...

Boyness.....Don't be so sure why bail is set very high is to keep people in jail.

There has always been the possibility of bonding companies sharing their percentages with the magistrate setting the amount of bail.

I doubt anyone has ever checked to see if there is a pattern.

7/25/2009 04:50:00 PM
---------------------------------

Excellent point and in Texas this makes perfect sense. Bribery, cheating and in some cases down right stealing by those empowered to serve us is far to common in this state.

Anonymous said...

Boyness and Anon:

They don't have to go to the extreme of bribes. The bondsmen are directly associated with the courts, having to be on approved bail bondsman lists, serving on grand juries appointed by the judges, working with the judges over policy and procedures, etc. Simple contact on these issues gives them a seat at the table and I'm sure if you review campaign contributions the bondsmen and/or their families will be found to be high on the campaign donation lists.

Anonymous said...

She needs to look closely at the Harris Co Community Services & Corrections. This agency keeps the jail filled with probationers who they fail to supervise effectively.
The conditions of probation requirements are a built-in failure that ensures that most of them will be back in sitting jail, waiting to see the judge, only to be released again.

Anonymous said...

Harris County appoints former Judge Caprice Cosper to become criminal justic "czar" is indeed newsworthy. What a farce!! This is the same judge that helped contribute to the mess Harris County finds itself in today. Some points about Judge Cosper and her qualifications are as follows:

1. Her husband George Bishop is a convicted felon having been convicted in federal court for tax evasion. I believe he served 18 months or so in federal prison.
2. As a criminal court district judge she exercised a policy of refusing to sign personal bonds.
3. As a Repulbican candidate for judge she ran on a tough law and order platform, handed out jail sentences left and right, seldom dismissed cases, had a very pro prosecutorial stance, and limited court appointed attorney's case setting to two and one better be a "plea out". She kept her docket moving at the expense of justice for the accused.
4. She was the darling of the Republican Party in Harris County and lost badly in the last election. Haven't the voters in Harris County already rejected her qualifications at the ballot box.
5. She was elected by her peers as the Criminal District Court Administrative Judge and while in this position she did little to nothing to effect change then.

Maybe now that she is making $130 K per the Houston Chronicle she will have a change in judicial philosophy and practice. Regrettablly, I don't think so. Sounds like the "czar" has a history of being the problem and "more of the same" is likely. Hope I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

Judges in Harris County have been in the "pockets" of commercial bail bonding industry for years. The bail bonding community raises major funds for judicial candidates and in return judges do not use the alternatives to pretrial release currently available. Personal bonds are non existent in the Criminal District Courts of Harris County. In fact, many defendants released on cash bail and surety bail are being monitored by the local county pretrial program. These facts can be verififed by reviewing the local pretrial agency's annual reports for the past decade.
Overcrowding in Harris County is nothing new and has been litigated in federal court - Alberti v Sheriff - to no successful resolution. With the appointment of a "czar" like Caprice Cosper very little is going to change. Check the record, she was one of those that took campaign funds from bail agents, refused to utilize alternatives to commercial bail, and minimized court settings for accused defendants to reduce and control the payment of court appointed attorney fees.
The appointment of a "czar" is nothing more than Harris County officials positioning themselves to look progressive and hoping to avoid litigation.

Anonymous said...

Cosper lost, and was given a crony political hack job as "aide" to Commissioner Steve Radack? The same Radack who's philosophy of jail management is "f^ck'em and feed 'em fishheads"?
The same Radack who hates the new Sheriff (D) because his buddy, the incumbent Sheriff Thomas got stomped in th election?
That Radack?
You watch, Cosper will come up with the brilliant plan to privatize the jail and save millions.

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