Vera’s analysis has identified many points at which changes, big and small, could produce a measureable impact on the daily population of the jail. The analysis affirms that there is no one part of the system that owns the problem or the solution. Every agency—from law enforcement through the Probation Department—is touched by these findings and recommendations. The primary goals of the recommendations are:Many observations in the report almost certainly apply in most Texas jails. For example: "In L.A. County, most detention decisions are not based on an informed assessment of whether an individual poses a danger to society or is likely to return to court. Instead, the decision is based on whether the arrestee has enough money to meet bail." The same could be said for most Texas counties.
1. To enable more defendants to be assessed and released at the earliest possible point with the support and supervision they may need to remain safely in the community and return to court as directed.
2. To keep people who come into contact with law enforcement because of mental illness, intoxication, or homelessness from becoming unnecessarily enmeshed in the criminal justice system.
3. To understand and improve the current system of probation supervision, violation, and revocation.
4. To improve the flow of communication and documents between agencies to expedite the processing of people and cases.
5. To highlight the need for everyone involved in the movement of cases to work for a just disposition at the earliest point.
6. To improve the efforts of every agency to maintain a data-keeping system that enhances both administrative efficiency and system-wide policymaking.
7. To improve the fair and efficient administration of justice at all points of the system, which can, in turn, reduce jail crowding.
Los Angeles County under-utilizes its pretrial services division, says the report, with most cases left to commercial bail bondsmen. Vera says this boosts failure to appear (FTA) rates because offenders not supervised by pretrial services don't receive adequate reminders to come to court. In many cases these were for petty offenses: "Vera staff observed arraignments for people who spent one or two nights in jail for FTA on charges of not paying a $1.50 metro fare." It costs $95-$140 per day to keep them locked up.
As in many Texas jurisdictions, police do not utilize "cite and release" authority as often as they could, and thousands are arrested for public intoxication are released hours after booking, wasting valuable resources.
One interesting suggestion was to "Create triage centers for patrol officers to bring people whose main reason for contact with law enforcement is being drunk, disorderly, or demonstrating signs of mental illness to allow evaluation, time to sober up or detox, or contact family without an immediate, and possibly unnecessary, booking into the jail."
Another problem is that plea bargains "tend to take place toward the very end of the process rather than at the beginning," boosting pretrial detention rates. The report includes several suggestions for processing cases more rapidly.
On the mental health front, "defendants receiving competency treatment are in custody much longer than if they were convicted of the charged offenses." Vera suggests expanding "capacity to evaluate defendants with mental illness and place them in appropriate community-based treatment facilities."
In general, most larger Texas counties face virtually identical (if not as extreme) problems to those described in this document, and at least some of the recommendations would apply in every jurisdiction. Counties face these problems in an atomic, isolated environment, even though the same problems recur in other jurisdictions, meaning when solutions are identified in one place they usually don't translate to the next jail down the road. As is often the case in life, it's wiser whenever possible to learn from others' mistakes.