Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jail main driver of higher taxes, budget stress in Dallas County

If it weren't for its massive, jam-packed jail, Dallas County wouldn't have raised taxes in recent years and wouldn't be making deep budget cuts now.

According to Commissioner John Wiley Price, Dallas County "has only raised the tax rate in recent years to pay for jail improvements required by state and federal authorities." This week a sharply divided commissioners court declined to raise taxes, which will likely require slashing budgets of local criminal justice agencies. Reports the Dallas News, "The court can't say it supports public safety and still make deep budget cuts, Price said, because about 80 percent of the county budget involves the local criminal justice system." Further, "The bitter debate also turned to the district attorney's office, which [some commissioners] accused of deliberately slowing down cases as punishment for having been subjected to budget cuts."

Setting aside the longstanding personality conflicts that exacerbate Dallas' budget woes, the county's example provides a lesson. Bottom line, those concerned about tax burdens at the county level must concern themselves with reining in runaway costs in the criminal justice system. There comes a moment where you can't both be for "no new taxes" and also advocate a "lock 'em up" mentality. The cognitive dissonance becomes too much to bear and those who tout lower taxes must ultimately choose among their priorities. At least at the local government level, we've seemingly, finally reached that tipping point during the current recession, certainly in Dallas.


Anonymous said...

Former jail chaplain sues Taylor County sheriff

Lance Voorhees, a former volunteer chaplain at the Taylor County Jail, has sued Taylor County Sheriff Les Bruce for allegedly retaliating against him for exercising his rights of free speech.

In a news release, Voorhees, who is a volunteer chaplain at the Taylor County Juvenile Justice Center, said he wanted to make sure “inmates’ voices are heard” and that alleged abuses at the jail are investigated and remedied.

The release, from the Texas Civil Rights Project, says that during his ministry at the jail, Voorhees spoke with inmates, their relatives, county employees and medical personnel who told him about “numerous instances of prisoner abuse.”

Those reports ranged from inmates allegedly subjected to dog bites and systematic beatings, to other complaints, including that of an asthmatic inmate who reportedly was forced to crawl across the floor to reach his medication.

Attempts by the Reporter-News to contact Bruce and Taylor County Sheriff’s Department spokesman John Cummins were unsuccessful.

According to the news release, Voorhees, after publicly criticizing conditions in the jail and abuse he believed occurred there, was barred by Bruce from ministering to prisoners.

Speaking Wednesday via telephone, Todd Batson, Voorhees’ Austin-based attorney, said jail conditions are a “matter of public concern,” which is how the issues came to the attention of the Civil Rights Project.

“By speaking out about that, the sheriff can’t retaliate against somebody and prohibit them from accessing the facility,” he said.

Voorhees said Wednesday that his difficulties with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department began in 2006 when he tried to speak to former sheriff Jack Dieken about certain concerns.

In turn, he claims, Dieken “took away some of my responsibilities as a chaplain” and deeply curtailed his ability to interact with prisoners.

Voorhees said that when Bruce took office, he was initially excited. But then, he said, “he banished me from the jail — I couldn’t go inside at all.”

Batson said his client previously had worked for the adult and juvenile centers simultaneously.

“After criticizing the conditions, he was prohibited from going into the adult center,” Batson said. “It’s the same county, they do the same background check, there’s no reason to prohibit him from visiting other than his speech.”

Several inmates Voorhees had ministered to on a regular basis later requested his services but were told “they could have any other minister except for Mr. Voorhees,” Batson said.

“One of the inmates tried to add him, Mr. Voorhees, to his approved visitor list so that Mr. Voorhees could visit him in an individual capacity, rather than as a chaplain,” Batson said.

But the jail allegedly introduced “procedural hurdles” to prevent the inmate’s ability to add him, he said.

Bruce could “only ban me if I was a security risk,” Voorhees said, citing the Texas Administrative Code’s rules on “Inmate Religious Practices.”

He said Wednesday that Bruce’s responses were not in line with the code, as his presence would in no way “present an undue burden or endanger the safety and security of the facility.”

The sheriff is required to accommodate religious services “through the least restrictive means as possible,” he said.

“If I’m a security risk for the adults, why am I not considered a security risk for the juveniles?” he asked. “It makes no sense.”

© 2010 Abilene Reporter-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Anonymous said...


The U.S. Supreme Court tells us that “the very premise of our
adversary system of criminal justice is that partisan advocacy on both sides of a case will best promote the ultimate objective that the guilty be convicted and the innocent go free.” Notice the goal is supposed to be convicting the guilty and freeing the innocent.
Imagine a tug-a-war with prosecutors pulling as hard as they can for convictions while the defense pulls equally to “beat the rap.” Justice seems far from the inevitable outcome of that
Justice will hardly prevail if America scrolls “May The Best
Man or Woman Win” over the doors of its criminal courts. Even
with a less cynical view of criminal process, justice is at best, the side-effect of skilled advocacy . . . that is unless prosecutors and / or judges make it truly the ultimate goal of America’s criminal
justice system.
Characterizing justice as a “side-effect” or “ultimate goal” may be more semantics than anything else. In any case we visit the subject because of a memo, reportedly from Houston’s Police Chief, instructing his officers to abstain from talking with “criminal defense attorneys regarding any pending criminal case without first obtaining express permission from the . . . prosecutor assigned to the case.” In 1989, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals indicated that “such a local ‘rule’ is tenuous and in actuality is a legal nullity.” Stearnes v. Clinton, 780 SW 2d 216 at
224 (Tex. Ct of Crim Appeals - 1989).
Charles McClelland is Houston’s Police Chief. His referenced memo had attorneys rending their proverbial garments in mainstream and alternative media from a prosecution and defense perspective.
A Houston Chronicle editorial recently concluded the
McClelland edict “is a good solution, one that brings defense, law enforcement and prosecution together in the same room to
exchange information and facilitate the fairest outcome of a case.”
Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast appropriately (and
sarcastically) inquired whether defense attorneys will be joining
Houston prosecutors in their witness interviews . . . , again, to “facilitate the fairest outcome of a case.”


Anonymous said...

The US has more people in Jail than China. Not as a percentage of the population, but number of people. That means we have 5 times the prison population of China.

We are a police state. Recent reforms have turned our jails into poor houses. It is disturbing when half the population "earns" more money sitting in jail than working their jobs.

It doesn't take an economist to figure out what that does to the prison population.

You somewhat misstate the city Budget. Fully 1/4 of our budget goes to pay off bonds for big signature projects. But, it is certainly true that we are shutting down libraries, swimming pools, parks and the like.

We are pouring a fair sum into our museums, symphony and other social programs for the elites as well. What's disturbing is that Dallas is among the strongest cities in the country considering the recession.

Finally, what is really disturbing is the scorn and retribution one receives if you assert your rights. Try telling a cop that, no, you don't have my permission to search my vehicle. They search the car, impound it and arrest you. As the tag line says, you can beat the rap but not the impound fees, and your cash bond will be tied up for 8 weeks. Why aren't the police accountable to follow the law?!?
Scott in Dallas

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:44, Wiley was describing the COUNTY budget, not the city's.

Anonymous said...

If not for the criminal behavior of humans, jails would not be needed. Of course, I suppose there could be an alternative in some cases, but not in all.

A start would be to figure out how to stop teenage pregnancy, divorce and dropout rates. Does anyone think restoring restore family values and ties would be helpful?

Figure out how to redirect negative human behavior if you can and you will see less need for jails.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:32, the "behavior" causing Dallas' jail overcrowding is the county's decision to use it as a debtors' prison and decisions by judges to require bail for petty offenses that in decades past received personal bonds. Crime has actually been declining, ironically. It's government behaviors creating the problem, though I agree the negative ones should be changed.

Anonymous said...

JWP is the dumbest human being on this planet. If you believe anything or anyone that works for Dallas County, then you're even dumber than i thought.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So 9:22, why don't you tell us the truth instead?

Anonymous said...

Well "grits",
JWP is a guy who makes over 100k for doing nothing but acting like an immature child at commissioner court meetings, playing the race card and getting special priviliges from county tax offices for the 20 cars that he "owns"..I love how you think you kow everything about everything going on in this state. Truth is, you're just a guy who blogs from a crappy apartment in Austin.

el_longhorn said...

"The cognitive dissonance becomes too much to bear and those who tout lower taxes must ultimately choose among their priorities."

Sadly, I think you underestimate peoples ability to firmly believe and hold onto contradictory ideas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

El Longhorn, you're right, of course, but budget crises have a way of clarifying priorities.

And 11:36, your comment begs the question, if I'm "just a guy who blogs from a crappy apartment in Austin," why do you come here multiple times per day to read what I have to say?

That's always a mystery to me: What motivates the troll?

Anonymous said...

Come on folks Dallas politics is live entertainment. Anyone happen to catch our DA on the news talking about how serious he is regarding persecuting the cat killer at the animal shelter. It was classic, especially after all the stories about his lack of persecuting his former homies on the commissioner court. And about JWP, y’all leave him alone. He is a Dallas icon like JR. I sure do miss is megaphone protest from his younger days. Live entertainment I tell ya, live entertainment.
People I have seen and heard all my life if you want to beat the rap in Dallas you have to pay. If you want to get elected you have to attend a lot of South Dallas preacher bday parties, and bring gifts, big gifts. Not even the feds can stop that, even when they try.
Dallas native

Anonymous said...

I've got your troll the next time you come to Dallas..I come back to see if you've gotten any smarter. Been disappointed every time i come back.

Anonymous said...

Dude….give it break, I disagree with Grits on a regular basis, but (crappy apartment), truth is he’s consistent, and even though I have been in the bail bond business for 30 years and certainly feel like I can keep up on the issues here in Houston, I would have to get some roller skates to keep up on most of the current events surrounding the criminal justice system that he challenges with enough regularity and accuracy for few to dispute. Doesn’t mean he’s always right but he doesn’t edit out those who disagree either. Take a chill pill.

BTW Scott I strongly disagree with your position on bail.

Anonymous said...

Bail bondsman, what do you disagree with? I posted cash bond for expired registration and failure to present license--made a run to the beer store at 12:00 on the day after my b-day. Wife was asleep, had two beers, ran out, SNL ended, thought I might have another one or two. Anyhow, got the tickets/charges dismissed, they told me I can expect the check in 8 weeks. What do you disagree with?

I should have been PRed, I own my house in Dallas, the only other charge was that I ran a stop sign. I was driving my wife's van, not my truck with standard transmission. I was leaving a parking lot, no stop sign per se. I inadvertently gunned the van, this wouldn't gun my standard dually truck, but that was it.

I ain't scared to be wrong, what am I wrong about. (I was wrong in conflating city and county budgets--you shitty apt dweller lol; how DARE you call me out! you're smart enough to have landed in Austin which beats Dal or Hou.)