Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sunday Quick Criminal Justice Hits

These items caught my attention in the last few days, and may interest Grits readers, too:

Texas jails struggle with mentally ill

In San Antonio, "An estimated 15 percent of inmates in the Bexar County Jail have a persistent mental illness," Sheriff Ralph Lopez told the Express-News. "
Local officials took a step toward mending part of Bexar County's broken mental health system with the opening of a 24-hour crisis care facility aimed at getting nonviolent detainees psychiatric help quickly while keeping them from clogging emergency rooms and jails." ("Crisis care center aids cops, detainees," Dec. 9) That's a smart and welcome move, one I wish other counties would emulate. "A jail is not a place for a person suffering from a mental health episode," Sheriff Lopez said. "This should speed up the process of getting people help and keeping them from going to jail unnecessarily."

By contrast, in Dallas it may take federal intervention to get the county to improve jail mental health services, and as of last week it's coming ("
Jail faces federal inquiry," Dallas News, Dec. 10). Dallas County hired consultants to examine the subject earlier this year. They issued a report citing "a litany of problems. Among them: Jail guards without medical training conduct medical screening as inmates check in, missing at least 35 percent of detainees with health problems; inmates with chronic physical or mental illness often go weeks or months without medication; the medical team is severely understaffed," the News reported. Now the feds are stepping in to see for themselves.

UPDATE: An expert testified this week in a lawsuit that the level of professional psychiatric care in the Williamson County jail is "unacceptable," reported the Statesman.

Inmates in isolation

The Statesman's Mike Ward reports ("
Inmates isolated for fear of gangs," Dec. 11) that nearly 7,500 inmates -- about 5% of Texas' prison population -- are isolated in "lockdown" cells for fear they'll instigate or be targeted by gang violence. In the past these isolation cells were used for a few days or weeks, but hundreds of inmates, Ward reports, have been there more than a year. Said David Fathi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project in Washington, "This is unmistakable sign of a failure of the prison administration to manage their system, that they can't maintain control without keeping inmates locked up all the time."

Dallas Bus Gestapo

Talk Left points to this grim Dallas Observer story about a man who had the crap beat out of him in front of his son by Dallas transit cops then spent 11 days in jail, all over a jaywalking charge. (Wanna bet Samuel Alito would think it's okay?)

'Nuther paper says TX drug task forces may be on their way out
n Friday,
Governor Perry announced what could be the last round of Byrne grants to Texas' drug task forces, the San Antonio Express News reports ("Anti-drug coalitions' future dim," Dec. 11), keeping the controversial agencies funded through the end of March 2006. The Express-News notes, as Grits reported earlier, money previously spent on drug task forces will now pay to staff South Texas sheriffs' departments
. Attentive readers will notice I was quoted in the story urging diversion of Byrne funds to more productive uses: "It's just time to spend the money on more important priorities," [Henson] said, such as drug treatment programs, drug courts and strengthening of probation services as opposed to "failed strategies."
Thanks to
Doc Berman I was glad to learn about this Bronx, NYC-based site,, which looks like a promising resource on the subject of prisoner reintegration, especially their Reentry Clearinghouse.

Sniffer dogs unreliable
Tom Angell at DARE Generation Diary rightly wonders why drug sniffing dogs' "alerts" count as reasonable suspicion justifying searches since they're wrong much of the time.

Bill of Rights protects immigrants, too

The Immigration Law Blog
brings the welcome news that the Fourth Amendment (or what's left of it) still protects the rights of undocumented immigrants to the same extent as citizens.


thehim said...

I have to imagine that the 4th amendment rights of Mexican immigrants is going to become a very contentious issue in the years ahead. We'll see how long that stays true.

OP said...

The issue of mental health care for inmates is a critical one, one the department I work for got its ass kicked for in federal court (we richly deserved it by the way).
Its nice to see the leader of a criminal justice agency address the problem in what appears to be a proactive manner.

You can stop blushing now Scott.

Anonymous said...

The only hope for some reversal on the path addressed here lately is Kinki for Governor, possibly Willie for head of the Rangers and Dept. of Public Safety.