Monday, January 18, 2016

Dissatisfied with TDCJ, documenting danger, reforming ad seg, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends which may interest Grits readers:

Exporting First Amendment fight
Folks convicted of the ruled-unconstitutional offense of online solicitation of a minor are starting to be released, with seven cut loose from prison last week. Mark Bennett, the Houston attorney who's been attacking these statutes on First Amendment grounds, offered a new year's resolution to take the fight to other states.

Dissatisfied with TDCJ
I'd not looked at results from TDCJ's 2014 "customer satisfaction survey" which interviewed county officials and offender advocate groups. Half of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the agency's services. The main complaints were:
  • the customer not believing the agency will address a complaint 
  • the customer not receiving the information they were looking for in a timely manner 
  • the customer not receiving clear explanation about services available 
Sounds about right.

Documenting danger: 2015 an historically safe year for cops
Given that 2015 was one of the safest years for police in the United States since the 19th century,  perhaps we can scale back the "dangerous year" for police rhetoric. The 39 U.S. officers killed feloniously were tragedies, as were the 90+ unarmed people shot by cops. In truth, whether you're talking about good cops or bad, the fatal flaw in these 2015 debates was generalization based on anecdote. That's one of the reasons Grits is excited about Amanda Woog compiling data from Texas police shooting reports newly mandated last year by the Legislature: It'll be nice to have actual data on the topic.

Improving solitary confinement standards
AP had a story over the weekend on the national push to reform solitary confinement, which in Texas prisons is known as administrative segregation (or more commonly, just "ad seg"). The American Correctional Association recently released proposed new standards "from mandatory health care visits and mental illness treatment for inmates in segregation to more time out of cells for recreation and education." ACA "will take testimony on new, more lenient solitary standards at its national conference in New Orleans beginning Friday, with final ratification expected by August." MORE: In a report from September, the Association of State Correctional Administrators called prolonged isolation a "grave problem." See a new set of essays from the Yale Law Journal in response. AND MORE: From the Marshall Project, "How to get out of solitary confinement one step at a time." RELATED: Next month there will be two showings in Austin of a nationally recognized play related to solitary confinement - Mariposa and the Saint - hosted by the Prison Justice League. One will be at Salvage Vanguard Theater, the other at Parker Lane Methodist Church. See a review from the New Yorker.

The other refugees
Grits found the debates over letting Syrian refugees into Texas disingenuous and off-point given the very real problem we face - and which America is handling badly - related to Central American refugees fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Despite all the self-deportation rhetoric one hears from the nativist faction, making life tougher for these folks won't stop the flow of people coming here: “It’s hard to out-ugly what is happening in Central America, no matter what we do to them,” noted one observer.

1 comment:

From Dallas said...

Who will guard the guards?

"lpem custodiens pullum cavea" does not work.
The fox guarding its own chicken coop has proven to be risky and unfair, if not down right unconstitutional.

When you assign somebody a duty, placing them into a position of power where they then can exploit the situation for their own sadistic, political, or financial benefit, then you let the fox guard the henhouse. What is more: not only can that group exploit the situation, they most certainly will – just like the fox who can’t help being a predator of the chickens trapped in the coop.

We need outside accountability. And no, we cannot use contractors to watch over other contractors or state-appointed internal watchdogs, as this can also be equally useless, unless we also appoint a citizens group which includes ex-prisoners and inmates families, law students, and civil rights activists.

Citizens need transparency and need to serve as watchdogs. There needs to be a multy-layered approach with zero tolerance for abuses.

So: who will watch the guards? Socrates and Plato posited the question over 2,000 years ago. They proposed that citizens serve as watchdogs. It never happened.

We still don't have any real solutions in Texas. Are we that far behind? Yes, we are. I's not only ignorance, it's deliberate indifference and greed accompanied by political ambitions.

We the people have become seemingly powerless over greed, exploitation and political forces run by evil doers who don't give a darn about human suffering, as long as it is somebody else's.

From policemen to prosecutors, to judges, to our governor, trickling back down to local and state jails and, ultimately seeping into wardens and guards at TDCJ: they have all become masters at denying, covering up, lying, cheating, justifying, inflicting un-necessary and undescribable pain on the weakest of all trapped in they chicken coops made of steel and concrete.

The evil-doings of a few has, and will have, multi-generational effects and widespread ramifications on many. It will not stop, unless they are made to stop.

The silence and collusion of the governor, the police, the guards, the employees and all others involved, and also the public, is deafening. We should all be rising in protest, but we don't. Texas voted for the Bushes and the Abbotts. Their ignorance is famous worldwide and they have become synonymous with bigotry, hate and greed. Nothing to be Texas proud.