Stop jailing Texans for debt
The Texas Tribune's Jonathan Silver has a story on the ramifications of HB 1125 by Rep. James White, discussed earlier on Grits here, which would forbid arrests for nonpayment of Class C misdemeanor fines. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa filed a companion on the eastern side of the building. The use of jail to collect debt was the subject of an excellent recent report from our friends at the Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed. That document makes the case for this legislation better than I could in a few sentences, so check it out for more background. Great bill.
First look at prison oversight
The House Corrections Committee this afternoon will hear HB 1421 by Rep. Jarvis Johnson to create an independent ombudsman for TDCJ comparable to the one aimed at juvenile facilities which was created after the 2007 sex-assault scandals. Borris Miles has the companion in the senate. Any skepticism I've had over the model has been long ago quelled by how the ombudsman functions on the juvenile side. And after repeated stories of inmates dying for lack of an asthma inhaler, heat related deaths, or being beaten or starved or sexually assaulted, Grits is convinced this is the best way to get a handle on the sprawling agency's problems. No fiscal note has been posted as of this writing, but financial arguments may be the proposal's Achilles heel in a session with budgetary red ink flowing like wine. One can make a strong argument it could save money in the long term - an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure - but maybe not in the first two-year cycle.
Harris to provide lawyers for the poor at bail hearings
The installation of public defenders at bail hearings for the indigent in Harris County is a major step forward. This would have never happened without litigation from the Texas Fair Defense Project and Civil Rights Corps. Now that the issue is out in the open, the Legislature should require it statewide.
More detail on new Harris County pot rules
Not everybody benefits.
For the data geeks
Some new BJS publications for the data nerds among you:
- Jail Inmates in 2015
- Correctional Populations in the United States, 2015
- Prisoners in 2015
- Probation and Parole in the United States, 2015
The phrase "penal populism" is new to me, but the concept is familiar. Wikipedia defines it as the "process whereby the major political parties compete with each other to be 'tough on crime'." This academic article argues that penal populism corrupts democratic institutions and wastes resources on counterproductive and even harmful punishment measures, constituting an "attack on the long established link between reason and modern punishment." Yup.