Thursday, February 09, 2006

Governor's Advisory Council Ignores Big Problems to Focus on Pork

Upon examining the recommendations to Governor Rick Perry from his Criminal Justice Advisory Council appointed last year, I find I can take credit up front for the following prognostication made in October after attending one of their meetings:
All the parties ... were there with their hands out. The unions wanted money for training, the chiefs wanted grants for in-car cameras, DA [Barry] Macha wanted centralized crime-scene analysis -- so the special interests only could identify problems that could be solved by giving THEM more money. ...

When Governor Perry first appointed this panel, I suggested he was "passing the buck." Now it's clear who he was passing it to: the same special interests who created this mess in the first place.
I couldn't have called the result more precisely. The Governor's criminal justice advisors essentially suggested only pork barrel solutions to the state's problems, and ignored the bigger issues that require fiscal restraint to solve instead of more, more, ever more spending. (But the Governor says he wants new property tax cuts, right?!)

Texas' criminal justice system faces an overincarceration crisis that this group completely ignored, which to be fair is how the Governor has dealt with the problem, too - Texas' prisons are full to the brim, our probation and parole systems are broken and dysfunctional, and the state hasn't budgeted enough to pay for incarcerating those already in the system. Nothing in CJAC's recommendations addressed that central institutional crisis. Why not? You'd have to ask the Council, or the Governor, or maybe Mary Ann Wiley who advises him on these topics. The disconnect, to me, begs explanation.

So who is advising the Governor on the state's most important criminal justice questions? Whoever it is, it's not the Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which appears focused more on pork than process

Where CJAC's recommendations address real crises, the solutions proposed were to throw money at institutional players represented on the council itself, but in most cases wouldn't resolve the problems even if fully implemented. By my estimate, CJAC proposed somewhere between $25-$30+ milllion in new spending
(including major capital expenditure to pay for new or expanded DNA labs) over the next biennial budget cycle, and proposed new life sentences for sex offenders that would cost many millions more in the out years.

By contrast, where CJAC studied substantive questions like the need for a state-funded public defender system or reforms to eyewitness procedures, they recommended, well, more study. How many more innocent people must be convicted before Texas decides to quit "studying" problems we've been studying for years and begins to enact real reforms? This report does not tell us. There's really no way to know. We'll have to study it some more and get back to you.

Next up: Analyzing CJAC's recommendations on crime labs.

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