Thursday, August 25, 2016

DOJ should intervene in Harris Co. bail litigation, and other brief notes

Here's a quick roundup of items which merit Grits readers attention even if they haven't made it into independent posts:
  • The Houston Chronicle's Mike Ward explained to KUT "Why Texas could close even more prisons."
  • A fine for an offense which doesn't exist highlights the absurdity and counterproductive incentives arising from debtors prison policies and practices.
  • Jennifer Erschabek of the Texas Inmate Family Association had a column in the Houston Chronicle arguing that "Texas prison reform must get 'smart on people'." 
  • Grits contributing writer and Texas Justice Initiative director Amanda Woog had a column on a website called The Conversation titled "Who dies in police custody?," describing how data gathering initiatives in Texas and California are providing a fuller picture of police shootings and deaths in custody for the first time.
  • Harris County law enforcement does not use statutory authority to give tickets instead of arresting people for low-level pot offenses, but it's not because of District Attorney opposition, as elsewhere. Rather, it's because disparate computer systems won't support it, according to JoAnne Musick at Reasonable Doubt. "Issuing citations to approximately 14,500 people who could have qualified for cite and release in 2015 alone certainly would have lessened the burden on the jail."
  • Texas' new law allowing broader use of life saving naloxone to prevent overdose deaths has been making a huge impact. This news make me even more unhappy about the Governor's veto of related "Good Samaritan" legislation which would have given people immunity from prosecution on drug charges if they called in an overdose to 911, stayed with the victim, and cooperated when authorities arrived. Even more lives could have been saved.
  • The US Justice Department intervened in a Georgia lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of money bail. Note to Vanita Gupta: How about joining the Houston litigation?
  • News that ramen noodles are a primary currency in prison is a sad commentary on conditions. This reminds me: I wonder if the Victoria County Jail has gone back to hot meals or are inmates still eating cold sandwiches after their nutritionist recommended an expanded menu?


Anonymous said...

A true Department of Justice would follow the Organic Laws. People put in Prison or jail just to benefit themselves is a crime.

Anonymous said...

Regarding #5 Harris County computer system, it's called JIMS, a 1970's technology computer system that still uses CRT screens. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Harris County IT Department and Commissioners Court. They simply refuse to scrap it and come into the new millennium.

Unknown said...

In YR 2015, surety bondsmen posted 19,376 felony bonds with sum cash value= $314.2M. Applying the standard 10% fee, estimated total fees =$31.4M. paid penalties= $1.2M (3.3% of collected fees). Penalty fees paid by bondsmen rarely corresponds to the full cash collateral set by the bond schedule. This is because the law allows a favorable grace period set by the District Attorney’s Bond Forfeiture Division. Factors assessing penalties include court costs, cost of apprehension by law enforcement and days lapsed between date forfeiture filed and date returned to jurisdiction. In YR 2015 the District Clerk reported 1,393 surety felony bond forfeitures were processed. The report did not indicate the sum value of forfeited bonds. The total paid penalty ($1M) constituted 3.3% of bondsmen’s est. collected fees ($31.4M). The HCDC reported the average set value of felony posted surety bond was $16,215; the average paid penalty of 1,393 forfeited surety felony bonds- $739- is obviously lower than average posted surety felony bond. Felony bonds are highly profitable. Of every dollar collected in bondsmen’s fees, less than 4 cents is paid in penalties. In regards to misdemeanor surety bonds, of every dollar collected in fees bondsmen pay 20 cents in penalties. Overall, combined misdemeanor and felony fees total exceed $41M; of every dollar collected by bondsmen, the county is paid 7cents in forfeiture penalties. According to HCDC, in YRS 2012-2015, bondsmen posted $1.5 billion in surety bonds and collected $148M in fees.
Meanwhile, as Harris County’s wealth-based detention policy fill bondsmen’s coffers with millions in profits, bondsmen continue making the bogus arguments of providing superior client supervision and saving taxpayer’s money; both claims refuted by empirical evidence (see Project Orange Jumpsuit). Meanwhile, thousands of indigent defendants predominately people of color charged with low level crimes pay the highest price: massive pretrial and post case disposition incarceration and lifetime conviction stigma upon prison release. It is noteworthy that POJ found that $500 and $2000 bond misdemeanor defendants are detained an average of 9 days from date charged to date of case disposition. Taxpayer cost: $800 per inmate booking, plus 9 X $75 per day ($675+$800= $1,475). The average detention cost alone-- $2,000 felony bond-- exceeds $2000.
Gerald R. Wheeler Ph.D. Project Orange Jumpsuit

Anonymous said...

Until TDCJ is forced to release the several thousand invalids it is "guarding" at taxpayer expense this ridiculous jobs program will continue and wasteful prisons will remain open even if they are mostly empty.

The real issue here is NOT crime prevention but rather JOBS-JOBS-JOBS.

They aren't good jobs either despite the looney politicians that pound their chest as they proudly point to a guard watching several inmates try to mop a floor.

This is not increasing America's competitiveness in the international marketplace.

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