Juvenile justice agenda detailed
Following up on the Texas Appleseed/Texans Care for Children report on school discipline, the Dallas News editorial board suggested this agenda for juvenile justice reform in 2017 at the Texas Lege: "Find funds to help schools hire more counselors and mental health professionals; eliminate the use of tasers and pepper spray on students if a weapon is not involved; improve data collection on police activities in schools to better understand the complexities of the school-to-prison pipeline."
Waco DA: We don't need no stinking evidence
The first trial of a biker charged after the 2015 Twin Peaks shootings will occur in April, nearly two years after the event. These are weird cases. In the overwhelming majority there is no individualized evidence against the defendants. A prosecutor in the story said the trials would take about two weeks, but that presumes there's evidence to present that these individuals participated in a conspiracy. By all accounts, for most of them there's not. Here's a Grits prediction: When all is said and done, when trials are all over and appellate courts are through with it, I don't believe the number of people convicted of any crime related to the shootings, out of the 155 who've been charged, will ever reach double digits. The McLennan DA long ago entered witch hunt territory regarding these cases, and so far the judiciary has declined to rein him in. But even in Waco, Texas, you can't convict dozens of people with no accusatory evidence at all. And in the main, that's the Kafkaesque situation in which the overwhelming majority of these 155 defendants seemingly find themselves.
Bail reform poster-child
This Dallas News story offers up a poster-child case for bail reform: "Why Dallas County can set $150,000 bail for a $105 shoplifting charge, and how taxpayers lose." We still haven't seen legislative proposals yet implementing the Judicial Council's bail reform recommendations. But in the meantime, New Jersey is implementing a risk-assessment based system which assumes most defendants will be released while awaiting trial. Grits hopes the Texas bill follows suit.
Here's a Fort Worth Star Telegram article detailing the various bills softening penalties for low-level marijuana possession being filed at the Texas Lege. The new Houston police chief, Art Acevedo, is predicting Texas will shift policies on pot. Also, in the Bryan College Station Eagle, retired District Judge John Delaney supported "decriminalization" of marijuna - a term which one discovers upon entering the debate means different things to different people. In Texas' context, "decriminalization" means backing HB 81/SB 170 creating a new civil penalty for pot possession instead of making it a criminal charge like a traffic ticket. Wrote Delaney:
Supporters of "decriminalization" argue it's a better approach because it doesn't result in the numerous collateral consequences of a normal conviction. One of those is an automatic 180-day driver's license suspension, regardless of whether the offense was connected to driving a vehicle. And license reinstatement isn't automatic, unlike release from jail after serving a sentence. To get a license back one has to file an application, pay a $100 fee, buy expensive "SR-22" insurance, and complete a 15-hour drug education course.
Another consequence is a permanent criminal record of the conviction. It can affect employment opportunities for a lifetime. Just ask any small business owner about how hard it is to hire an employee with any drug conviction on his or her record, even if it happened more than a decade earlier.
Another advantage to "decriminalization" is that it begins with a citation instead of an arrest. That avoids the two hours of police time it takes to process someone who's arrested, leaving officers free to respond to calls such as burglary or domestic violence.Cornyn key for D.C. justice reform
Grits fails to see why criminal-justice reform legislation couldn't pass under a Republican Congress. We've won reform measures in Texas with an all-R government. Maybe Texas Sen. John Cornyn can pass his sentencing reform bill now that there's no risk that a Democratic president might claim credit for the success.
Prison Policy Initiative 2016 retrospectives
Our friends at the Prison Policy Initiative ended the year with roundups of 2016's best criminal-justice commentary (including a couple of Grits items), the year's best research, and their own wish list for "winnable" reforms in 2017. Lots of good stuff amidst those links for those with a little reading time on your hands.