Monday, February 02, 2015

Truncated agenda: Aim high on criminal justice this session

Mi amigos Marc Levin and Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation last week published a column on the Texas Tribune's Tribtalk site outlining "an agenda for criminal justice," including raising the age for prosecuting youth as adults from 17 to 18, decriminalizing truancy, and the raft of legislative suggestions from the Smart on Crime Coalition.

Grits agrees with their suggestions, but they don't go far enough. In particular, the column is mainly focused on sentencing, programming and budget savings, as well as juvenile-justice reform. Those are all important topics, but today more than ever there are a significant number of conservative pols in the Lege approaching criminal-justice from more of a personal liberty perspective. Large chunks of the conservative base, including some recently elected GOP legislators, care about the budget but also about limiting government overreach like civil asset forfeiture (the subject of a TPPF forum in December) or enhancing Fourth Amendment protections in the digital age. In addition, over the last few sessions the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature has focused on innocence issues to greater effect, arguably, than any other state legislative body, passing several landmark bills* aiming to reduce the likelihood of false convictions and provide relief to those wrongly convicted.

On these and other topics, coalitions are available in both chambers on criminal justice reform between factions of an increasingly fragmented GOP and progressive Ds, whose base has itself been energized on criminal justice by the Ferguson and Staten Island episodes. The agenda articulated in this column skews more toward the views of business conservatives than the populist grass roots (the Texas Association of Business is the most powerful member of the Smart on Crime Coalition, of which TPPF and my clients at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition are both participants). The agenda outlined by Levin and Cohen included some good stuff, but there's no reason to think even more can't be done.
*For example, the Michael Morton Act, access to post-conviction DNA testing, creation of the Forensic Science Commission, requiring corroboration for jailhouse informants, making police departments develop written eyewitness ID policies, altering habeas corpus to provide relief in junk science cases, approving best-in-the-nation compensation for exonerees, etc.. Recording interrogations is the main bit of unfinished business on innocence facing the 84th Lege on this topic, though even then there remains more to be done.


Anonymous said...

"Mi amigos Marc Levin and Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation..."

"[C]oalitions are available in both chambers on criminal justice reform between factions of an increasingly fragmented GOP AND PROGRESSIVE Ds, whose base has itself been energized on criminal justice by the Ferguson and Staten Island episodes."

I truly hope that every Republican legislator at the capitol and, more importantly, their constituents read the above quotes. What we're talking about here is the promotion of an increasingly liberal and pro-criminal agenda. The fact that crime rates are at historic lows is not a reason to dial back the law and order policies which lead to the reductions in those crime rates of the last two decades.

We've been down that road before. We saw the results of the Warren Court's anti-law enforcement policies of the late 60's and 70's; as well as the high parole rates in Texas prisons up until the incarceration expansion in the 90's. Recidivism rates were off the charts and the price was paid by the blood of victims during those bygone eras.

If Levin and Cohen want to save a few tax dollars by cozying up to liberal Democrats and promoting SOFT on crime policies--and that's EXACTLY what they are--Republican legislators would be well advised to steer clear of them. The first time some 17 year old mass killer can't be certified as an adult because a psychologist won't opine that his "brain was fully developed," there will inevitably be an accounting at the ballot box. This is still Texas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@3:47, folks of your ilk made precisely the same arguments in 2007-8 when the Lege reduced youth prison populations by 75%. "The sky will fall, criminals will run rampant, voters will backlash," the demagogues insisted, except none of that turned out to be true.

You're right that we've been down this road. Claims that de-incarceration reforms - particularly aimed at juveniles or nonviolent offenders - will trigger a crime wave have universally turned out to be false every time those arguments were trotted out in Texas over the last 12 years. Sayin' it don't make it so.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see enhancements to the Texas Public Information Act which would provide journalists with faster & more comprehensive access to police-involved shooting records.

Video, audio, radio recordings. Written reports. 72 hours after an incident, these records should be released to the public upon request.

I'd like to see the Texas Rangers publish each investigation report on their website.

I'd like to see a standardized investigation checklist for all police-involved shooting investigations.

Police on body cameras....

...anyone sensing a theme?

These are all limited-government reforms which should have bi-partisan support.

Wolf Sittler said...

Criminal justice policy has been driven far too long by politicians. Fortunately we've started to see the triumph of science over sound bites.
While "smart on crime" is very slowly becoming a partner with "tough on crime", much more needs to be done to change a fear based corrections policy to one based on evidence.
Punishment can serve a useful purpose if it is deserved, justly imposed and proportionate to the wrongfulness of the crime. The prisoners I know accept thefact that they deserve punishment. At the same time they rightly question the extreme severity of many sentences....especially on those who cannot afford a top of the line legal defense team.
Last year Rick Perry said " I think America is a place that believes in second chances. We see more character out of an individual by how you perform after youfail and you go forward."
In conclusion I think it's high time to transfer responsibility for criminal justice reform from politicians to those who are experts in the field.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone happen to notice 3:47 nodding out as he attempted to type his old man rant from his lazyboy? He even attempted to give a shit about tax dollars and tried to save us from going down a dark road.

Yes, asshole, this is Texas and you old man, damn sure don't speak for all of us. Anonymously, you speak for know one but yourself. Take your meds and get some rest Grits is working on Republican Stew, ummmy.

Anonymous said...

11:16 - You can express disagreement and still be civil. Your nastiness does not advance this discussion.

Anonymous said...

@3:47 You sound like a victim of crime. Perhaps bullies took your lunch money at elementary school. Perhaps your uncle sodomized you. Perhaps you suffer from penis envy or anal fixation, I don't know for sure, but your post smacks of adolescent trauma. I feel for you.

Anonymous said...

Stop the revenue collecting tyranny for most released first time inmates. Once they serve their time, leave the former inmates alone to be useful in society. Deal with repeat offenders when the time comes.