Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Real de-incarceration talk, and other stories

Here are a few of items which merit readers' attention even if they haven't made it into independent posts:

Finally, some real de-incarceration talk
At the House Corrections Committee on Tuesday, reported Chuck Lindell at the Austin Statesman, "Taking the first step on a topic that could generate heat in the 2017 legislative session, Texas lawmakers began discussing Tuesday whether some nonviolent drug crimes should carry shorter sentences or be converted from felonies to misdemeanors. Your correspondent was otherwise engaged but plans to watch the hearing over the weekend. See also coverage from KLRD, KXAN, the Houston Chronicle, and Grits' preview of the issues on the agenda.

Deputy Goforth's murder motivated by mental illness, not Black Lives Matter
Yes, the Harris County Sheriff claimed Deputy Darren Goforth's murder was motivated by Black Lives Matter protests. For the record, whether that was an intentional lie or just flawed supposition, we now know for certain that's not the case. Instead, the killer, Shannon Miles, is seriously mentally ill, reported AP, and was declared incompetent to stand trial by a court. He'll be back again for another bite at the apple after four months on his meds at a state mental hospital. Records show Miles "has been committed to mental health facilities at least twice in recent years." In the end, I'm guessing Miles shot Deputy Goforth for the same reason Abraham took Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him: He heard voices telling him to do it.

Easing sex-offender residency restrictions in small towns
Texas Voices is flexing its muscle, aiming to eliminate sex-offender residency restrictions in dozens of small "general law" towns, according to this AP report.
a broad legal challenge has led more than 20 towns in Texas to ease restrictions over the last few months on where sex offenders can live instead of fight a costly battle in court.

While other states, including neighboring Oklahoma, continue to push offenders away from some neighborhoods, about 45 Texas towns received letters in November from the group Texas Voices for Reason and Justice demanding they repeal residency restrictions. The nonprofit, which is critical of sex offender laws it considers ineffective, also has sued 14 towns and has a powerful ally — the state attorney general's office.
Next session, someone will surely file a bill to give general law towns that authority. But then Texas Voices gets to have the debate, which is what they're trying to start here. Go get 'em, Mary Sue! And good for Richard Gladden, too, I was glad to see his name pop up in the story representing the group.

Pregnant, in jail, and can't make bail
Grits was on vacation and missed an awesome piece from the Texas Observer last summer by Alex Garcia-Ditta on pregnant women in jail revealed that:
In Texas, 300 to 500 pregnant women are booked into county jails each month, and dozens gave birth while in custody last year. Women report not getting enough food. They say the notoriously uncomfortable sleeping mats cause back pain. And they feel mistreated and disrespected by guards. One woman in a Travis County lockup last year said she was shackled to her hospital bed while delivering her baby.
That's a lot of pregnant women in Texas jails at any given point in time. I wonder what proportion are otherwise eligible for release but simply could not afford to make bail? Three hundred to five hundred booked per month is a really big number. The anecdote in Garcia-Ditta's lede about the woman who lost her baby during unattended childbirth in a Wichita County Jail broke my heart. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards didn't learn of the incident for two years, until the woman filed a civil suit.

Finally, speaking of incarcerated women, check out a Texas Observer podcast from last month with the founder of Conspire theater group.


Anonymous said...

Some of those pregnant women are substance abusers, and for the protection of their baby, jail is the best place for them.

No county, wants to pick up the hospital tab of a delivery, and I would guess most actively try to get them out as fast as they come in

Peter.Marana said...

What a breath of fresh air at the Corrections Committee yesterday. Chairman Murphy and the entire committee were engaged and supportive of ideas that would reduce recidivism and improve reentry. There were representatives of TDCJ, Windham Schools, Texas Board of Pardons, LBB, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Goodwill, Prison Entrepreneurship Program, Center for Effective Justice, TPPF and several private parties all offering testimony encouraging these initiative. Really solid input.

Texas has a prison population 35% higher the average of the rest of country and this wastes over a $1.0 billion a year, harms society, does not reduce crime and obviously draws resources from other more valuable programs (education?). Reducing some of the severe minimum sentences and strengthening reentry will go a long way to reducing re-offending and helping people rebuild their lives.