Sunday, June 26, 2011

New laws TDCJ is planning for that you may not have heard of

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has posted this summary (pdf) of legislation affecting the agency on its website, and Grits wanted to point out several highlights that haven't received a great deal of attention:

TDCJ-OIG gets pen registers for contraband investigations
Though underreported compared to more pricey approaches, probably the most efficacious piece of legislation passed this session related to reducing contraband was "HB 2354 by Madden - allows TDCJ's Office of Inspector General to possess and use a pen register during criminal investigations regarding escapes and prohibited substances and items in a correctional facility." (Added per commenter request.) Pen registers, or what back in the days of phone lines used to be called "trap and trace" devices, let TDCJ-OIG investigators access without a warrant a list of every phone number calling to and from a particular line if it's part of an escape or contraband investigation. They only get the list of numbers, they can't listen in on that authority to the content of the calls.

Reducing inmate numbers, a little
Very few bills on the list will reduce TDCJ's inmate population, but two notable exceptions are:
  • HB 2649 by Allen - allows a judge to award diligent participation credit for participation in a work, treatment, educational or vocational program to a defendant convicted of a state jail felony, in an amount not to exceed 20% of the original state jail felony sentence.
  • HB 2734 by Madden - requires as a condition of parole that an illegal alien released to the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement leave the United States and not return by unlawful mean.
The Anti-'Enhancement'
Since this blog rails against the biennial passage of dozens of new crimes and (Orwellian-named) "enhancements" of old ones, I should give full credit for passage of a rare bill moving the chains in the other direction.
HB 3384 by Madden - removes the provision allowing a previous conviction for a state jail felony offense to be used for enhancement purposes (in most cases). Punishment for a state jail felony offense may be enhanced to a third degree felony if it is shown at trial that the defendant has been twice previously convicted of a state jail felony.
The Governor signed this legislation, according to the capitol website, reiterating last week's politics-make-strange-bedfellows theme where Grits and Rick Perry inexplicably ended up on the same side of various, sometimes high-profile issues. This topic has received less attention, of course, than the Governor's recent concern over groping by TSA employees in the airport. 

Summons instead of arrest for technical revocations of long-term parolees
County sheriffs will welcome this legislation if the Parole Division will embrace this change from arrests to summons, reducing the number of so-called "blue warrants" issued for administrative violations to long-term parolees:
HB 2735 by Madden - requires the Parole Division to issue a summons for a hearing before a parole panel, rather than an arrest warrant, to a parolee charged with an administrative violation of parole more than three years after having been placed on supervision. The parolee must not be serving a sentence for, nor previously been convicted of, an offense that would require sex offender registration and must not be on intensive or super-intensive supervision parole, be an absconder, or have been determined to be a threat to public safety.
Plugging probation into state planning; combining CSCDs?
Another underreported piece of legislation will generate a lot more comparative information about what services probation departments provide to their charges, and what they cost:
HB 3691 by Gallego - requires the TBCJ to adopt rules regarding contracts between community supervision and corrections departments (CSCDs) and between judicial districts and CSCDs in another judicial district. The bill also adds the CSCD director as a member of the community justice council and requires CJAD to prepare a report containing a summary of the programs and services included in each community justice plan (CJP), which would be submitted to the LBB along with the agency's legislative appropriations report.
The bill also, according to this description, envisions potentially combining some smaller probation departments in the future: "If CJAD (TDCJ) determines that a CSCD's or regional partnership of CSCD's report could create a savings to the state, CJAD may award a one-time lump sum equal to 35% of the savings and may also provide incentive payments for certain achievements over a biennium." The process by which TDCJ-CJAD "determines" this will be interesting to watch

Property transfers
A couple of real estate deals to watch during the interim: We already knew that the state would close the Central Unit in Sugar Land and sell the acreage around it, which is surrounded by an airport, a business park, and a new minor-league baseball stadium. This list confirms that "HB 2004 by Bonnen - requires the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) to sell approximately 2200 acres at the Ramsey unit in Brazoria County." So it'll be interesting to see in whose hands that property ends up. Further, "HB 2518 by Kolkhorst – requires the Texas Board of Criminal Justice to transfer to the board of regents of the Texas A&M University System 2.536 acres of property for the use of the Texas Forest Service. The property is currently leased from TDCJ by the Texas Forest Service."


sunray's wench said...

re: HB 2354, what's a "pen register"?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sorry, sw, shoulda defined my terms. A "pen register" is a device recording all phone numbers calling to and from a particular number - say, a guard's cell phone. That data, of course, is already recorded for inmate phone calls. See Wikipedia's page on it.

Anonymous said...

Is the anti-enhancing bill retroactive? I watched a case in Conroe (Montgomery county) last week where a woman was sentenced to 25-years and the prosecutors had used her state jail felony conviction as the enhancement.

Anonymous said...

Enhancement bill does not include those sex offenders. If only those pesky kids would just stop having sex or copping a feel.

Anonymous said...

I mean summons instead of revocation.

Scott Stevens said...

HB 3384 is NOT retroactive. It does not begin until September 1, 2011 and specifically only applies to offenses committed on or after the effective date.

Anonymous said...

A summons instructing a parolee to appear for hearing is an option the board has always had but never used much. This law will now require the Parole Board to do hearings this way for technical violators only. I was a Hearing Officer for nine years and did one hearing ordered by a summons.

Anonymous said...

on HB 2649- What judge will be making these decisions? The original judge from the case? Also, does it also go into effect September 1st, or will it be enacted sooner?

Anonymous said...

Judges are not required by Texas Law to conduct the Parole Revocation Hearing and Summons Hearings. The Hearing Officers are trained by CJAD to make fair and impartial decisions. Supreme Court decisions have strictly defined the authority, procedures, and options a Hearing Officer can make. The hearings are public. A tape recording is even made of each hearing to verify the hearing was properly done. Anyone can order a copy of the taped hearing for a fee.

Anonymous said...

"The hearings are public. A tape recording is even made of each hearing to verify the hearing was properly done. Anyone can order a copy of the taped hearing for a fee."

Yeah... in theory maybe, but just try to attend one and see what happens!

Soooo where can you order the taped copy from?

Anonymous said...

3691 is a curious piece of leg. CJAD can award a CSCD $ for a plan that reduces incarceration, however the funding for this award is not identified. So , in fact, you wouldn't have the money to award the incentive until after it had been in place and proved effective enough to save the state money. Anyone that thinks they could just rob Peter to pay Paul needs to realize that Peter and Paul are already broke.

Anonymous said...

Most of the legislation around TDCJ is more "feel good" than remedial. Hey look, ...bill was passed now everybody go "feel better." 3691 being a good example. Does anyone actually believe in the midst of cuts that there will be a 35% one time funding allocation that comes from "TDCJ Savings!" Oh hell, I forgot my gradeschool math...35% of nothing = nothing.
Great idea but lacks the huge gorrilla to wrestle the money away from TDCJ.

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the family members R ones who suffer from this $100 health care,cutting back on medical staff so how is this going to work out??? what about those w/o medical needs & they have to pay too?? I disagree with these changes of R.Perry

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Anonymous said...

When will House Bill 2649 be passed?

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Anonymous said...

what about paying TDCJ instead of doing your time like pay for the days you're supposed to be in there