Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Conservatives 💗 'progressive' prosecutors, risk-assessment deep dive, on the limits of a punitive approach on fines, and other stories

As Grits prepares for a brief hiatus, let's clear some browser tabs and perform a quick roundup of items that merit readers' attention (or which I'd like to look at more closely once I get back):

TDCJ heat deaths magically stopped when litigation started
TDCJ says that only ten people in the prison system were diagnosed with heat stroke or heat exhaustion, or given intravenous fluids for a heat-related illness, during the recent high-temperature spate, and that no one has died of heat-related illnesses since 2012. Both those numbers seem unlikely to me. Rather, it's more probable that TDCJ just stopped labeling deaths as heat-related after litigation began in 2012. Plus, given what they're counting, when heat-related illnesses arise, TDCJ can keep inmates from being counted simply by NOT treating them with IV fluids. These low numbers don't seem credible; another reason we need independent oversight so that causes of death aren't being spun to avoid accountability.

TPPF's lingering hunger for grand-jury reform
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is ramping up to support grand-jury reform in the 86th Legislature, and published this item arguing for allowing grand-jury witnesses to be represented by counsel.

Poll: Public warming to justice reform
A new national poll demonstrates widespread support for the FIRST-STEP prison reform act, which Grits endorsed here, as well as criminal-justice reform, generally. See coverage from The Hill.

Conservatives 💗 'progressive' prosecutors
We've discussed on this blog the memo from Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner detailing what prosecutors can do to scale back mass incarceration. IMO it's one of the most important justice-reform documents in the last decade - as important for operationalizing the critique of mass incarceration as Michelle Alexander's New Jim Crow book was to popularizing it. But we haven't yet discussed the bipartisan appeal of Krasner's message. The American Conservative published an article arguing that Krasner's "objectives dovetail closely with those of conservative and libertarian justice reformers. All share a broader vision of radically reshaping a criminal justice system that is deeply unjust and out of line with American constitutional and moral values."

Deep dive into risk assessment debate in PA
Grits has expressed disagreement with liberal reformers over sweeping criticisms of risk assessment instruments based on alleged racial disparities in some models promoted by private vendors. Based on analyses I've seen, Grits argued that "the maximal harm hypothesized from risk assessments simply doesn't outweigh harms from the status quo of requiring money bail for everyone." So I was interested to see that many of those same national critics got a new risk-assessment regimen in Pennsylvania put off for six months for evaluation based on allegations of racial bias. In particular, links to all the written testimony submitted to their sentencing commission were published online, and I wanted to post the link so I can go through them later.

It's not that I couldn't be convinced that liberal opposition to risk-assessment-based bail reform isn't throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I'm just unconvinced by the arguments I've heard thus far. Too often, such critics fail to acknowledge that the alternative isn't some un-biased utopia but the even-more-biased status quo where judges sentence less harshly after lunch and harbor myriad biases that may just as harmfully infect the system, but with far less transparency than risk assessments. At least risk assessments can (and should) be adjusted and re-validated over time. Perhaps the extensive testimony out of Pennsylvania will cast more light on this emerging debate.

On the limits of a punitive approach on fines
Some of what's happening across many vectors in the justice system today is that we've reached the limits of the tools traditionally used to fight crime that now result in diminishing returns. When penalties were low, raising them perhaps created more deterrent. But once they're high, raising them more can be counter-productive. That's what you're seeing in Chicago, where a move to raise ticket amounts for vehicle-sticker violations backfired. Rather than raise millions in revenue, as projected by the city, it drove thousands of predominantly black Chicagoans into "substantial debt," and caused many "to lose their licenses, lose their cars and even declare bankruptcy," according to an investigation by ProPublica. One can't squeeze blood from a stone.


Gunny Thompson said...

From The 3d Grade Dropout Section:

Grits, in my opinion, a more thoughtful change in eliminating grants of immunity of judges, prosecutors and police officers, would be a start. What say you??!!

Steven Seys said...

According to the case law establishing judicial immunity from prosecution arising from acts taken in the course of carrying out judicial duties, if a judge were held to account for the crimes he/she committed on the bench all judges would no longer have the necessary flexibility to render just rulings. IMHO, this is a smoke screen to cover the fact that judges have placed themselves and all "officers of the court" above the law.

DRo said...

RE: TDCJ Heat Deaths
Grits, have you ever thought that MAYBE since litigation the problem has been fixed? Don't get me wrong, I am not saying TDCJ is near perfection, no entity is. You have no evidence other than your apparent disdain for TDCJ. I charge Grits with "Speculation". I do think those deaths are awful and they should never have happened. Will Grits make the charge for other states that have never had a heat death that they too are covering it up? Maybe the past practices have been corrected and future deaths avoided. And no, I do not work for TDCJ. I am just wondering if maybe you could be a bit more neutral as a journalist? I enjoy many of your articles, but your slant is apparent. Looking forward to a slant-free article.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@8:05, the "past practices" you speak of are keeping inmates in un-air-conditioned units in the 100+ degree summer heat, and that has not changed. So no, I don't think they've fixed the problem. There's ZERO evidence for it.

Also, I'm NOT a journalist. This is an opinion site. If you don't like mine, you get to add your own, even if it's as baseless as the one you offered here.

Anonymous said...

The punitive approach is unfair, unjust and doesn't work. Judges and prosecutors should have no grants of immunity.

Anonymous said...

@8:05, I don't work for the TDCJ system, nor am I a reporter. However, I have been in several of the TDCJ prisons, and not as a prisoner either. I can tell you for a fact that the majority of the buildings are nothing but sheet metal construction, with minimal to no insulation, and when it is hot outside, it's even hotter in there. Yes, most of them do have fans to circulate the air, but hot air being circulated is still hot air and does nothing to help the body cool off. The lawsuits have resulted in a minimal amount of air-conditioning being installed, but even that didn't bring the temperatures down very much from their maximum highs.

The litigation has done nothing but change the way TDCJ reports heat related illness and IMHO, they are also fudging the cause of death of any deaths related to heat illness. In their warped way of thinking, this will help mitigate the lawsuits they have been dealing with because of the heat related deaths. Until some judge has the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the TDCJ system and mandate that "adequate" measures be taken to house inmates in a more humane way than they now are, this will be an ongoing debate every year during the scorching months of Texas heat.

When the TDCJ can build hog barns that are air conditioned so as not to cause stress on the animals, but refuse to do anything to make life remotely bearable for the inmates housed there, and even the officers that also have to work in that kind of heat, we will always have these discussions.

Anonymous said...

"The punitive approach is unfair, unjust and doesn't work. Judges and prosecutors should have no grants of immunity." Why, so that the punitive approach can be used on them? You just said that the punitive approach doesn't work.

Meanwhile, I strongly suspect that Chi-town's issue with tickets is a much bigger deal than it's given credit for, primarily because it appears to be no big deal when compared to things like false arrests, forced confessions, and emptying guns into people who are walking while carrying a knife.

The reason is because one's attitude towards the police is a matter of the totality of their presence in the community. Very few in "high crime" neighborhoods are actually criminals, especially if you were to remove possession and petty dealership of drugs from the equation.

So not many are actually going to be arrested for things like rape or murder, or even burglary. Getting ticketed because there are more police around looking for police things to do is another matter. That sort of thing is a concern to the people living there, because as the stats indicate, not only are your chances of being ticketed higher than someone living in a primarily-white neighborhood.

What those two factors add up to is a situation where the police can't be seen as doing much to keep the neighborhood safe when compared to the higher rate of negative interactions with the police, be it ticketing or bad police behavior that doesn't result in arrests or otherwise get up on the radar. That means that even the residents who can keep up with paying the secret taxes of tags, licenses, and so forth are still going to hear a lot more stories about the police making the lives of other residents miserable than someone in an otherwise equivalent non-Black neighborhood. And, of course, the less a neighborhood like the police, the less the police like the neighborhood, and their behavior will reflect that. You can say that cops are human, too, but that doesn't excuse the police, because they are getting paid to behave properly, rather than normally - at least in theory.

One element the problem is how the police have been turned into tax collectors, on top of their actual policing duties. Once you start depending on LE revenue as a part of the budget, you inevitably seek creative ways to raise that cash flow, because there has never been a big government entity that was never hungry for more money. The negative results from that thinking lead to things like Chicago's fine & fee schedule, or red-light traffic (s)cams, the latter of which actually making things less safe for motorists, in the name of increasing safety.

It won't happen, and it's probably as unworkable as liability insurance being required of police, but I wonder what would happen if all fine revenue were taken out of the city's hands, and given to indigent defense, instead, so that the more the city squeezed residents for money, the better the defense against such squeezing would become. It'll never fly, but it is fun to think about the apoplectic rage of the pols, if "their" money were taken away from them.

Getting around PR issues by calling those revenue streams by a name other than taxes is worse than dishonest, it's sneaky.

I wonder what a study of total non-positive interactions with police, by neighborhood, might reveal. Not just tickets and arrests, but getting stopped for questioning, and other non-arrest encounters. Might illuminate the context of the culture things are happening in.

D007 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D007 said...

On heat deaths and heat sickness. My husband is in TDCJ. Last week he overheated, stopped sweating, and started having diarrhea and vomiting. That is called heat stroke. He asked multiple guards for heat respite and medical attention. He was finally taken to medical after being yelled at and berated. They didn't allow him in the cooled medical area. Instead they locked him in a hot cage and gave him a bag to vomit in. No one examined or took his temperature. He was able to get to a phone to call me. It was only after I called and spoke to a ranking officer that he was allowed to stand in cooled hallway for a few minutes. There is no evidence of a reduction in heat death or illness. It simply isn't being recorded or treated. I have contacted the Edwards law firm that did the Pack case to see if they will keep in the fight. I am supposed to hear from one of the attorneys this week. No one is asking for inmates to be kept at a cool 72, but heat stroke can be deadly. It is reasonable to expect TDCJ to keep our loved ones alive while incarcerated. They are covering up the continued problems and their solutions of cold showers, ice water, and heat respite are put into action when convenient for the guards, when they get around to it, and if they feel like it.

Mark Hogberg said...


Have you seen the text for the Damon Allen Act? I have been unable to locate it but am interested in reading it.


Anonymous said...

Singer-Songwriter John Legend is calling on the people of Louisiana to alter their constitution to require unanimous juries to convict felony defendants in a Tuesday op-ed in the Washington Post.

It should require a unanimous jury to convict a Black man. Except for child rape--I don't approve of that.