Thursday, October 06, 2016

Blogiversary roundup: Texas tough on sandwich theft

Today is the 12th anniversary of the first Grits for Breakfast blog post, commemorating my transition from a prior, police-reform site which dated to 1997. Thanks for reading! If you want to help celebrate, please take the opportunity to donate via PayPal; after a couple of recent blog-related reimbursements and with numerous media subscriptions direct-drawing from the account, resources are running a little low.

In the meantime, to clear my browser tabs before taking off later today to purchase some celebratory scotch of at least the same age as the blog, here are several items which merit Grits readers' attention

Texas tough on sandwich theft
Texas' three-strikes law predates California's more famous version and recently allowed a man to be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a sandwich.

DWI offenders are forgotten nonviolent prisoners
Outside of drug and property offenses, DWI recidivists are one of the largest cohorts of nonviolent prisoners in the Texas prison system. The Houston Chronicle reported on the habit of the Montgomery County DA to seek life sentences for repeat DWI offenders.

The Sheriff and the spooks
Crazy story out of Hudspeth County about Sheriff Arvin West. Just read it.

Harris jail mops up mental health clients
A story on Baylor psychiatry students working at the Harris County Jail included these data on mental-health care given to jail inmates there:
In Harris County, between 25 percent and 35 percent of the 9,400 jail inmates receives psychotropic medications, counseling or other services. Hickman told legislators last month his mental health staff made on average 24,664 contacts with patients every month over the last year.

At the same time, community services have been squeezed. After Harris County weathered massive cuts in state funding in 2003, the Harris Center shuttered more than half of its seven outpatient clinics, said Sylvia Muzquiz-Drummond, medical director of the center's mental health division.

Many Harris County residents who lost services at those facilities began turning up in the criminal justice system, with the jail seeing such an increase in inmates with mental health issues that forced the center to boost staffing at the jail from two to 15 full-time psychiatrist positions.
Reconsidering banishment
The Legislature has been unwilling to confront the question, but courts are turning against sex-offender residency restriction statutes, reports the Marshall Project's Maurice Chammah at the Texas Observer. Our pal Mary Sue Molnar, whose amazing efforts at Texas Voices for Reason and Justice have pushed this issue back into the spotlight in Texas, makes a featured appearance.

Murder rates in context
Murder rates have been in the news lately, with Ferguson-effect types overhyping recent increases and some reformers seeking to pretend the increases weren't real. I thought this item at cast the situation correctly, which is to say, based on the data, not ideologically based hype. Their conclusion: "Murder is more prevalent than it was two years ago and about as prevalent as it was seven or eight years ago, but the current decade is still safer than any other decade on record."


Anonymous said...

You consider someone on their ninth DWI conviction who causes a head on collision to be a "non-violent" offender? Seriously?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's how TDCJ characterizes him, so it's not just me, 4:53. Maybe it's you.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it will especially comforting to all of the families of deceased victims of intoxicated drivers to know their loved ones did not die a violent death. That's the problem with all of you liberal policy wonk types, Grits. Every circumstance of life, good or bad, can be distilled down to a label or statistic. You have no concept of hurt, loss or the gravity of harm inflicted by criminals. It's all about the data, rehabilitation, and some incomprehensible belief that if you either bury your head in the sand long enough or if you try to love and understand criminals hard enough, the very real damage that they cause will simply vanish. I suppose if all you do all day is crunch numbers, or write left wing "hug a thug" editorials for the Houston Chronicle, someone who takes to the public roadway while drunk on AT LEAST nine different occasions including one with a violent crash is not considered dangerous--and is even someone who we can continue to take chance after chance after chance on until they finally kill someone. And even then, to you that dead victim is not someone's loved one or a life that MATTERED (to borrow a term from another timely criminal justice context). He or she is just another statistic--not someone's husband, wife or child. And how TDCJ characterizes that offender and offense is all that matters when it comes to data, right? Pathetic. Truly pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Were you aware that the Texas Civil Commitment Office was sued for taking 33.3% of Social Security and Diability checks to pay rent and fees. Texas Civil Commitment Office lost, and now has to refund the money. Turns out they were breaking the law. Also, there Mentally Disabled men at the Texas Civil Commitment Center, who are raped and taken advantage of by others there in the center. There has also been medical negligence going on as will. My husband blacked twice out because they do not refill medications on time. Another man lost his leg recently because he was denied medical care until it was to late. There is so much going on at that facility that the public knows nothing about, and there are multiple lawsuits that going to court. My question is how are they managing to pay for this facility, Correct Care Solutions, and pay the legal fees that are required because of the lawsuits. I would love to see a hardcore audit of the Texas Civil Commitment Office.

Anonymous said...

So your husband is such a dangerous sex offender that he was actually civilly committed? Nice. Maybe it's not Texas. Maybe it's the company you choose to keep.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@8:53, how TDCJ characterizes the data is not "all that matters." But if you're going to slam me for using a term, the fact that it's how the Texas state law characterizes the case is surely a relevant point. Violent crimes are committed with intent to harm a victim, while DWIs typically involve no victim at all. Further, DWI-related crashes are accidents, essentially criminalizing a tort. That's why the law treats them differently than violent crimes.

George said...

@8:53, It's evident from your commentary that someone close to you lost their life because of a drunk driver. My sincerest condolences to you. Nothing anyone anywhere is going to change your mind about how you feel about drunk drivers that kill innocent people. Most people would consider motive as far as determining whether a crime is violent or not. I think it's safe to assume that most people who drink, become drunk, drive and as a result kill someone didn't start out with that in mind.

@2:17, If you actually educate yourself on the subject then perhaps you'd find that the criteria to become civilly committed is not as onerous as it would seem to most folks. Not everyone that is presently civilly committed is the huge danger that the state has placed on them. It's the uninformed citizens of our state that take most things that the state says as the absolute truth and throw their support behind it. There is at least as much, and quite possibly, a huge amount more corruption involved with the civil commitment program than there is with most all state mandated programs.

If you don't already have a family member or friend who is a citizen required to register as a sex offender, chances are good that at some point you will. Perhaps then you will see things with much more clarity than from afar. 95%+ to 97%+ of new sex offenses are committed by individuals such as yourself -- people not on the registry or in the civil commitment program. The laws aimed at those that are required to register are not actually in place to prevent new sex offenses from occurring, instead they are there as a feel good law and to hell with the consequences concerning the people that these laws affect.

Before yall who'll come on here and comment that these bastards deserve everything that's coming to 'em, consider that these people are still citizens of our state and nation and as such have just as much a right to protection under the law as you or other felons who do not have these draconian measures applied to them. The consequences go beyond just the registrants however, it is applied just as equally to the members of their families, including innocent children.

The courts, as mentioned in the article, are starting to do what's right. The 6th Circuit Court out of Michigan recently made a ruling that smashed the retroactive application of the registration laws to people convicted before these laws went into effect. This is very encouraging and it's high time that leaders start coming to their senses and not do things nillywilly and for short term gain, such as getting reelected. Educate yourselves and learn the facts. It's so easy to come on here riding someone's wagon and start spouting off whole lies and half lies, perhaps without even knowing it.

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary Grits!

Whether or not TDCJ classifies DUIs as "violent" offenses, from a policy standpoint they need to considered as such. I think our society has progressed to the point where there's general agreement that the dangers of driving under the influence are well known and to do so anyway is so reckless that to suggest intent is not as outrageous as it seems. I agree that it does not fit quite a neatly into legal categories as we might like but in terms of justice-related responses, DUI should be considered a violent crime.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks for the well wishes, 11:00.

I can see that argument for DWI-caused injuries, but on regular workaday, DWIs without a victim, it seems dubious. Are there other "violent crimes" without victims?

Anonymous said...

In my opinion: The judicial system is unconstitutional because it fails to give free speech to those accused. No two cases are exactly the same but the judicial system blankets them with one "law". Our Grand Jury has been corrupted, instead of protecting the people from corrupt prosecutors they only hear one side before handing down an indictment. The Trial juror's think they are doing right working for the court but they are uninformed of their rights.

wolf sittler said...

Grits: your statement that "violent crimes are committed with intent to harm a victim" is so blatantly false, I'm surprised it passed your inner censor.
Take the 16 year old who took a gun to rob ATM customers. He was using the gun to frighten the customer into giving him money. The customer grabbed the gun, it went off,and the customer got shot in the leg. The youth went to prison with a life sentence.
Then there's the guy with a life sentence under the law of parties. He's convicted of the most violent crime, murder, but pulled no trigger, had no interest in doing so, wasn't even at the scene of the crime and also has a life sentence.
Beware of the broad brush.

Catherine Luna said...

You don't know my husband. So who are you to judge. He regrets his crimes would do anything to change what he did. Think about it, would you want to pay for your sins the rest of your life. I believe we all deserve a 2nd chance. We deserve better, especially if you have been punished 3 times times for the same offense. You wouldn't want your freedom taken permanently for a crime that only has a sentence of 10 yrs in prison.

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Telling Itlikeitis said...

On October 23, 1993 my husband entered in to a plea bargain agreement that resulted in my husband being sentenced to 15 years for a theft by check charge dating back to 1988.

Prior to my husband’s 1993 conviction, my husband was incarcerated in Texas two prior times for similar offences, once for 3 years and the other for 2 years. My husband has never been charged or convicted for an aggravated, violent and or sexual offense.

After serving 5 years of his 15 year sentence, my husband was released from prison on parole in 1997. Approximately three years later my husband was arrested over a domestic violence incident with a former girl friend, which was later dismissed by the DA’s office for lack of evidence. Unfortunately, his parole officer filed a violation report on him that resulted in a blue warrant being issued for his arrest.

Instead of turning himself in 2000 for arrest on the blue warrant, my husband absconded and left the state of Texas. Nine years later in 2009, he was arrested in another state and returned to the diagnostic unit in Huntsville Texas.

After a pathetic parole violation hearing, my husband was again incarcerated and was released on his third consideration for parole, approximately 3 years later, in 2012.

Roughly four and a half years later, my husband remains on parole and is scheduled to discharge from parole in 2019. The first three and a half years of my husband’s parole, he was required to report to his parole officer once a month and be at home one time a month for a home visit by his parole officer. Approximately a year ago, my husband was put on quarterly reporting.

My husband was recently reviewed by his parole officer and we have been patiently waiting for what we hoped would be his release from reporting and or at the worst, put on annual reporting. Unfortunately, with no explanation, my husband was recently informed that he would remain on quarterly reporting for at least another year.

Although my husband was not a model citizen in his twenties and he did in fact abscond from parole in 2000, my husband has not committed a crime since 1988. During the past four and a half years my husband has never failed to report and has always been current on his parole supervision fees. My husband has never been admonished from his numerous parole officers and I have repeatedly heard them claim that he is doing outstanding.

My husband asked his current parole officer why he was not put on annual parole. The parole officers explanation did not match what we have read online concerning the process / procedures for a parolee being placed on annual reporting. My husband and I are convinced that either his parole officer did not recommend him and or there is something holding him back from being placed on annual reporting.

I would really appreciate the feedback of anyone knowledgeable on this subject. Additionally, should my husband push the issue with his parole officers supervisor and or at least ask the supervisor why he was not recommended and or found eligible?

Finally, one other question off the subject line. My husband’s case dates back to 1988 when mandatory supervision was still in effect. Additionally, my husband has passed the half way point of his remaining time on parole and should be eligible for MS, should he ever be violated for his street time. That said, he has approximately twelve and a half years flat time done on his sentence. I.E. , 5 years, plus 3 years on parole violation and 4 ½ years on parole.

My question is, although my husband has been granted parole twice on his current sentence, would the parole board be forced to release him on mandatory supervision if he was revoked on a technical violation and his good time and flat time equaled his maximum sentence? Our estimate is that if he was violated today he would have 2 ½ years remaining on his sentence which would roughly require him to serve about 7 months to earn enough good time to add to his flat time to equal his maximum 15 year sentence.