- Ana Correa of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has taken a job as criminal justice program officer at the Public Welfare Foundation and will be moving to Washington D.C. in the fall. The Houston Chronicle published a somewhat hagiographic announcement praising Grits' long-time ally and some-time employer.
- The Forensic Science Commission on Friday agreed to take up a complaint by the national Innocence Project challenging the use of bite mark evidence in criminal cases, reported the Dallas News' new Austin bureau chief, Brandi Grissom.
- I'd rather see Rio Grande Valley officials battling corruption as opposed to "perceptions of corruption." Stop the corruption and perceptions will take care of themselves.
- It was a banner week for Williamson County justice: A judge is headed to prison on felony gun charges and the District Attorney is headed to jail for contempt.
- At Texas Monthly, Pam Colloff writes about former prosecutor Charles Sebesta getting his comeuppance.
- Houston mayoral candidate and state Rep. Sylvester Turner has proposed increasing manpower at the Houston PD by about 10 percent. Grits has opposed hiring more cops in Austin, where we've hired too many cops at too-high salaries over the last 15 years, but in Houston the case for more officers is stronger. "The department employed 5,470 officers in 1998, and is projected to operate this budget year with about 5,260, despite enormous population growth during that time." The big problem, unstated in the article: Police pensions are already underfunded in Houston and adding more officers without fixing the situation exacerbates the situation. Even without factoring in pensions, the Chronicle estimated Turner underestimates the cost of expanding the police force by more than $20 million.
- Last month Grits published an interview with Rebeccah Bernhardt of the Texas Fair Defense Project on high caseloads by lawyers appointed to represent indigent defendants in Texas. Now, a lawsuit out of California will address whether public defenders handling 700 cases per year can effectively represent their clients. In Texas, lawyers with caseloads that high experience an even greater burden because they typically must also manage a small business - their own practice.
- Doug Smith, a former inmate and past colleague of your correspondent when I worked for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, has a new blog on which he published a letter to a human resources manager discussing his criminal history and why it shouldn't preclude him from employment. Good read.
- A bureacucratic error at a South Texas jail that improperly released an inmate has led to two forced resignations. But nobody's yet resigned or been fired at the Waller County Jail after Sandra Bland's alleged suicide. Go figure. See several recent columns calling for jail and policing reforms in the wake of the Sandra Bland episode, as well as written testimony from TCJC and Grits' own suggestions for reforms to address the situation.
- What if mass incarceration actually increases crime? According to this report:
A new paper from University of Michigan economics professor Michael Mueller-Smith measures how much incapacitation reduced crime. He looked at court records from Harris County, Texas from 1980 to 2009.Mueller-Smith observed that in Harris County people charged with similar crimes received totally different sentences depending on the judge to whom they were randomly assigned. Mueller-Smith then tracked what happened to these prisoners. He estimated that each year in prison increases the odds that a prisoner would reoffend by 5.6% a quarter. Even people who went to prison for lesser crimes wound up committing more serious offenses subsequently, the more time they spent in prison. His conclusion: Any benefit from taking criminals out of the general population is more than off-set by the increase in crime from turning small offenders into career criminals.
See the full article by Mueller-Smith.
- To reduce prison populations by half, as the #Cut50 movement has suggested, would require reassessing sentences for violent as well as nonviolent offenders. Here's a rare op ed focused on why and how to reduce incarceration for offenders convicted of violent crimes.
- A radical approach - paying high-risk offenders not to commit crimes - appears to work according to an evaluation of a seven-year experiment in Richmond, CA.
- The New York Times last week published an excellent story on the nexus between high bail and innocent defendants pleading guilty to avoid losing their jobs or remaining incarcerated for long stretches awaiting trial.