Tom Nuckols and Denis Cowhig asked Munoz if he could give any examples of any counties that had adopted policies to reverse increasingly high incarceration rates. They pointed out that the U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and Texas' and Grayson County's exceed the national rate. Nuckols cited alternatives such as drug courts, electronic monitors for non-violent offenders, treatment.
Munoz said that such alternatives are becoming much more prevalent to cope with rising crime rates.
"What we are advocating, although we can't tell you how to do it, is if you want to reduce your jail population, find alternative ways to deal with inmates. Talk to your district judges; talk to your district attorneys; talk to your probation officers; talk to anybody and everybody that has control over alternatives, either sentencing or incarceration."
Munoz advocated holding judges accountable for speedy dockets. "The sooner you get that inmate out of jail the sooner you are going to reduce overcrowding." He said that also goes for alternatives to jail time as a sentence, for processes like electronic monitoring.
Munoz said the Texas Legislature also has recommended TCJS to help develop a catalog of best practices that are happening across the state. This means tracking inmates through the system, and attach a dollar figure to speed and delays in each phase of the justice system. Such best practices would be shared with counties to replicate.
Munoz encouraged all those present with a piece of the puzzle to work towards developing a definition locally of best practices and enhance the use of them.
Henderson said that sounded like such a great solution, a simple fix "and I know I'm asking the wrong person here, but why in the world aren't we doing that?"
When Munoz agreed he was asking the wrong person, Henderson said, "I venture the right people are in this room."
I was also interested to see Munoz describe a change in TCJS inspection practices:
Munoz said the standards TCJS enforces are set not to coddle prisoners but to protect county taxpayers. Each jail is inspected once a year. Munoz said until this last legislative session, about 85 percent of its inspections were announced a couple of weeks before they occurred. The Legislature recommended a change in that practice and now 85 percent are surprise inspections.
I'll bet with more unannounced inspections, the failure rate goes up.
Kathy Williams at the Herald Democrat is providing excellent local coverage of Grayson's jail debates; this was a good, informative article.