Friday, March 31, 2006

Hug a drug task force officer - he's having a bad day

If you know a Texas drug task force officer, be especially nice to them today. Give them a hug, perhaps, a shoulder to lean on if they need to talk. It's kind of a rough time for them. You see, today the funding runs out for Texas' Tulia-style drug task forces - Governor Perry has shifted the money to the border and other priorities, leaving them to fend for themselves. There were 51 of these agencies in Texas just a few years ago, at their height employing about 700 narcotics officers. Now most are closing their doors.

The Texas Observer's March 24 issue has an article
by Tulia-author Nate Blakeslee on this stunning denouement entitled "End of an Era: The clock runs out on the state's infamous regional drug task forces." He quotes me pretty extensively and even cites Grits' role, calling it, "a clearinghouse for stories of task force malfeasance that Henson culled from small town newspapers and a variety of sources he had cultivated around the state, some of them in law enforcement. 'Grits' quickly became one of the most popular sites for criminal justice reform advocates, not just in Texas, but also in Washington, D.C.." That's a nice plug.

Nate gives me and ACLU of Texas executive director Will Harrell a lot of credit for the task forces' demise - especially for two ACLUTX public policy reports I authored, Too Far Off Task (2002) and Flawed Enforcement (2004) that exposed systemic task force flaws. But the truth is that hundreds of people from maybe a dozen or more different organzations were involved in the movement to end the drug task force system in Texas, which grew out of the organizing and research done in response to the Tulia episode.

At different points in time civil rights groups like NAACP and LULAC chipped in, as did the National Taxpayers Union, the Heritage Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance in D.C.. Local groups like Tulia Friends of Justice played pivotal roles, along with national columnists like Arianna Huffington and Bob Herbert.
My friends at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition played a huge unsung role. Perhaps most of all, one cannot overstate the important role played by House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Terry Keel and his predecessor, now-Senator Juan Hinojosa: Both men saw the task forces' flawed structure and insisted on fixing it, coming back to the topic year after year.

In the end, few thought this outcome was possible. Closing Texas' task forces sends a powerful message: 'Drug war corruption won't be tolerated and if it can't be controlled, we'll shut you down.' In that sense it's a huge win, which is why I told the Observer:

"I consider getting rid of the task forces the political equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing to the right-field fence [before his famous home run]," he said. "We completely changed the way people think about drug enforcement in this state. We said all task forces need to go away, and in just a few years, they're all gone. You don't get many victories that look like that."
See Grits' full drug task force coverage.

Judge spanks Austin council for misleading ballot language

WooHoo! A judge agreed with backers of two citizen initiatives that the Austin City Council's proposed ballot language describing the Open Government Online and Clean Water charter amendments was misleading and must change.

Judge Steve Yelenosky said the ballot language pulled out unrepresentative and sometimes false examples that were solely negative to the point it was tantamount to an argument against the measure instead of a description of it. In particular the judge said the city's portrayal that emails with personal information in them would go online in real time falsely read the amendment, ignoring caveats that gave the City discretion to be practical.

He also said the City's $36 million cost estimate was bogus - the city conceded under questioning the amendment would not require spending at a level that required a tax increase, even though on the ballot the city had predicted property taxes increasing at $.03 on the dollar!

See a more detailed writeup on the Open Government Austin blog, from this morning's Austin Statesman and from blogger Sal Costello.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Egg sucking dog

Do y'all remember this Johnny Cash tune?
Egg sucking dog,
I'm gonna stomp your head in the ground
If you don't stop eating my chickens
You dirty old egg sucking hound.
One of the neighbor's chickens got into my yard this afternoon and my two pit-bull puppies, I'm afraid, did what came natural. Ooops. The younger of the two, Domino, appeared to have been the main culprit

That's right, just to feed as much as possible into the national stereotype of Texans, I did indeed say my "neighbor's chickens" - and I live less than a mile and a half from the Texas state capitol building. You've gotta love Austin, unless, I suppose, you're an overadventurous urban chicken trying to take on a pit bull. That's like the poor fellow who brings a knife to a gunfight.

30 seconds is pretty good ...

Build the much-ballyhooed wall between Mexico and the United States and how long would it take would-be immigrants to breach it? Molly Ivins has expert testimony on the subject:
... it was '83 or some year right around there when we held The Fence climbing contest. See, people talked about building The Fence back then, too. The Fence along the Mexican border. To keep Them out.

At the time, the proposal was quite specific -- a 17-foot cyclone fence with bob wire at the top. So a test fence was built at Terlingua, and the First-Ever Terlingua Memorial Over, Under or Through Mexican Fence Climbing Contest took place. Prize: a case of Lone Star beer. Winning time: 30 seconds.

I tell this story to make the one single point about the border and immigration we know to be true: The Fence will not work. No fence will work. The Great darn Wall of China will not work. Do not build a fence. It will not work. They will come anyway. Over, under or through.

Viva Terlingua!

Gladwell on causes of crime reduction

Cool: Author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell has a new blog. Read what he has to say defending the "broken windows" theory of crime prevention from the authors of Freakonomics, who responded with this post on their own blog. Gladwell issued a congenial summary retort.

Don't really know where I stand on it - I'm intrigued but not convinced by the Freakonomics explanation, which is an unverifiable inference, but the feel-good "broken windows" theory - "proof" of which is in large part based on New York City's experience under Mayor Rudy Giuliani - does not explain large reductions in crime in other parts of the country that didn't implement those policies.

Interesting debate, though. I'll be checking back at Gladwell's blog regularly, in any event. Kathy's an avid New Yorker reader, while I liked both his books and actually belatedly reviewed The Tipping Point.

Effective Solutions for Texas

My friend Ann del Llano's terrific website, Effective Solutions for Texas, has undergone a Texas-style makeover and added a whole bunch of impressive new content.

See especially the
resources she's posted from the Texas Justice Advisory Committee's Third Annual Sentencing Conference in January. I've barely started through some of U. Cincinnatti's Edward Latessa's work on "evidence based" probation practices she has linked, but along with terrific Texas-CJAD specific program information and sentencing-related news stories, it gives anybody who wants to understand the push to overhaul Texas' incarceration-weighted sentencing scheme even more background than sitting through a long legislative hearing (though that's also pretty informative).

Ann posted a
newsletter (pdf) from Restorative Justice Ministries Network which announces its upcoming conference April 21-22 in Houston, and also notice of the May 6 "Quality of Life" conference of the Texas Alliance of the Formerly Incarcerated in San Antonio.

Finally, she posts detailed
information including results of open records requests to the Governor's office regarding HB 2193, Texas' legislation strengthening the probation system that the Governor vetoed last year.

Ann and I both work with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the ACLU of Texas, so be ye hereby notified of said terrible conflict of interest - then rush over and check out her new digs.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

'Judge's role isn't just to be a rubber stamp'

Judges shouldn't rubber stamp plea bargains, writes Judge Susan Criss in the Galveston Daily News responding to a recent editorial (Kuff has the background). Since more than 99% of Texas convictions result from plea deals, I wonder if that's how most judges view it?

Good stuff in the op-ed - read the
whole thing.

Prof. Alexandra Natapoff argues persuasively that police use of "snitches" or confidential informants constitutes an "informal" plea arrangment, so it's interesting to read Judge Criss describe what additional protections judicial oversight provides to victims, defendants and the public in the plea bargaining process. She writes:
Judges are required by law to make several findings before being able to accept a deal. If the judge does not accept a plea bargain, the defendant is allowed to withdraw a plea of guilty and enter a plea of not guilty.

Judges must determine if a defendant is knowingly and voluntarily giving up certain constitutional rights and has the mental competence to do so.

I am prohibited by law from accepting a guilty plea if the person claims to be innocent. I have rejected many pleas where that occurred. In some instances the defendant later returned and admitted guilt. In other cases the persons turned out to be innocent.
None of those protections exist when police or prosecutors coerce a confidential informant in more informal settings. The CI might protest their innocence or might not be mentally competent - it doesn't matter because the arrangement never has to pass the judicial smell test. That's particularly true in federal settings.

It's great that Judge Criss could take time off from monitoring probationers at the Galleria to write this piece. :-) She oversaw the case of millionaire killer Robert Durst, then
ran into him while shopping in Houston when he was supposed to be under house arrest. Durst was ultimately acquitted of murder (on grounds of self defense) after he killed his neighbor, chopped up the body, and tossed it into Galveston Bay - his wild story and legal journey are one of the oddest you'll ever encounter.

When Grits received notice recently of her new
campaign website, I emailed Judge Criss to suggest she add a blog - she politely replied that the campaign kept her too busy, but I see at least she's got the writing bug. We've got plenty of lawyer blogs, but besides Judge Posner, the blogosphere is definitely still short on judges.

USA Today covers 'Stop Snitching' trend

USA Today published a good article on the Stop Snitching movement. ("Anti-snitch campaign riles police, prosecutors," March 29) See prior Grits coverage of snitching here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Chambers, Orange and Harris Jail Updates

I mentioned last fall the Orange and Chambers County Jails were damaged during Hurricane Rita and unable to take new prisoners for some time, but according to the minutes (pdf) of the February meeting of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, both are back online. Now would be a good time for some ambitious academic to undertake the statistical analysis I suggested to see what effect reduced arrests in those counties had on crime.

Other counties were temporarily overcrowded when Rita caused 9,400 prisoners to be evacuated from coastal prisons. Damage to two prison units for a time last fall backed up transfers of convicted felons from local jails to prison. See coverage of TDCJ's evacuation of these prisoners and Hurricane Rita's damage in this
item from the TDCJ publication Connections, and this followup. (The facility pictured is a hurricane-damaged state jail in Beaumont.)

Also, remember the situation last summer when 1,700-1,900 inmates were
sleeping on the floor at the Harris County Jail? The minutes (pdf) from the February Jail Standards Commission meeting included an update saying Harris County still had 800 inmates sleeping on the floor at last report. Progress in reducing that number was hampered by housing overflow from neighboring counties last fall during and after Hurricane Rita. I couldn't find any other web mention of the jail's overincarceration status, but Harris County officials must give another report to the Commission at their next meeting in May. (See Grits' series on Harris County jail overcrowding linked here.)

Arkansas task forces may shut down

As Byrne-grant funded drug task forces in Texas this week sell off their assets and close up shop (funding for most of them officially runs out Friday), federal budget cuts may cause 19 drug task forces in Arkansas to shut down, the Texarkana Gazette reported ("Federal budget cuts to cause drug task forces to 'hit the wall,'" March 27).

The federal budget cuts will “gut” the task forces.

[18th Judicial District Prosecutor Tim Williamson] said the federal funding in Arkansas two years ago was $5.2 million. Last year, with the federal cuts, the Arkansas share was reduced to $2.8 million which required 60 percent state match and local governments making up the balance.

Williamson said beginning July 1, Arkansas will have only $1.5 million in federal money for drug task forces to fund 19 drug task forces.

“The results will be closing task forces and shutting down the operations unless other funding is located. It doesn’t appear any money will be available on the federal level,” said Williamson.

“The drug task forces are so significant to rural law enforcement including Miller County. Tallying the numbers in the last couple of years, more than 70 percent of the drug cases sent to the crime lab for testing involved meth and was worked by the drug task forces,” he said.
The March 24 issue of the Texas Observer (not yet online) quotes a representative of the National Narcotics Officers Association hoping the closure of Texas' task forces wouldn't cause a "domino effect," but that appears to have been wishful thinking. Similar budget cuts impacted all 50 states, so I'm sure Arkansas won't be the last place we hear is re-evaluating priorities for spending federal block grant money. The prosecutor quoted in the Texarkana Gazette didn't seem to think the old strategy was working that well, anyway:
“Just sending people on meth to prison is a dismal failure. The recidivism rate is so high,” said Williamson.

He said the long-term commitment treatment program doesn’t exist. The 28-day programs are usually full.

“They’re good for drying people out, but without a long-term commitment program, they revert back to their addiction. The drug court in the last two and a half years is one of the most effective in handling the problem I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor,” said Williamson.

The drug courts, he said, “help to give the hammer to make people comply with the law.”
That's similar to our experience in Texas. Drug courts work better than prison at reducing addiction and crime. With luck and perhaps a little prodding, Arkansas could soon follow Texas' lead and get rid of their task forces, perhaps shifting scarce funds to pay for treatment, drug courts, and other priorities instead of continuing to finance failed strategies.

See prior Grits
coverage of drug task forces.

Monday, March 27, 2006

What's conservative about opposing immigration?

I'm glad the US Senate backed off the harshest anti-immigrant measures proposed by the House of Representatives, but I still think the bill they're left with ignores reality.

I've never understood self-avowed "conservatives" who disdain free markets, in the case of immigration, labor markets. Most of the amped up anti-immigrant rhetoric entirely ignores the truth of America's economic dependence on immigrant labor: One out of 20 American workers is an illegal immigrant. In some industries a majority of workers entered the country illegally. Send them away (which anyway, is impossible barring totalitarian measures) and your housing, grocery and restaurant prices will skyrocket among many other things. Would that be a good thing?

Would it be worth it if housing prices increased 50-100% and diminished access to home ownership for average Americans? Can the United States
realistically afford to radically restrict immigration? Personally, I don't think so. As I've written before, I honestly don't understand what's the big deal? We need the workers, and they want to work. So we need a path to legitimacy for those already in the country and a more realistic assessment of how many people should be allowed to legally enter from Mexico each year.

The only rational answer to the US immigration crisis - which is fundamentally an economic crisis driven by high US demand for cheap labor and a lack of good-paying jobs in Mexico - lies in expanded LEGAL immigration, not nativist policies motivated by reducing the number of Spanish speakers or those with brown skin.

Tea-leaf readers were right on Chief Justice Roberts and the Fourth Amendment

Sometimes you'd prefer if your predictions were wrong.

Last fall, based on an
academic analysis of Chief Justice John Roberts' judicial record on the Fourth Amendent to the US Constitution barring unreasonable searches and seizures, I offered up this predictive blog post declaring that, "Given Roberts' pro-search positions in every case that came before him [as an appellate judge], it seems unlikely that he'd throw his weight on the court behind new restrictions on searches." That turned out to be an understatment.

In Georgia v. Randolph, Justice Roberts authored a dissent characterized by an unusually personal tone and disingenuous arguments, including at one point comparing police wanting to enter someone's home looking for evidence of crime to an uninvited guest who arrived to help celebrate someone's birthday. Please! Since when does that kind of fuzzy-headed thinking pass for conservatism? Though the majority (barely) voted to protect the Fourth Amendment in Randolph, Roberts' position bodes ill for the future of constitutional privacy protections.

RatcliffeBlog declares that with Chief justice Roberts' dissenting opinion, "the Supreme Court is headed down the path of confrontation politics that has already destroyed much of what was valuable in American discourse." An especially interesting take: Joint Strike Weasel points out that Justice Scalia in his own dissent inadvertently defended the idea of a living Constitution. Go figure.

For more see the New York Times' coverage as well as blog discussions from Concurring Opinions, Flex Your Rights, SCOTUS Blog, Orin Kerr, The Fifth Column, Lawyers Guns & Money, Angel&Demon, and the ACS Blog.

Read the opinions here. The transcript of oral arguments is here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Complaints against police won't be destroyed if Austin charter amendment passes

Debunking false claims from local politicians on the Open Government Austin blog.

More on Texas' jail building boom

I mentioned yesterday Texas appears headed toward a jail building boom. Here are the jail construction projects mentioned in the minutes (pdf) of the most recent (February 2) meeting of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, representing more than 2,000 new jail beds recently added:

Jail Construction Projects Recently Completed:

  • Tarrant County, new 528-bed Green Bay unit, December
  • Hidalgo County, new 453 bed "lockdown building," December
  • Wise County, phase II completed, bed number unspecified, December
  • Galveston County, new 1,170-bed jail nearly ready, inspection in March, scheduled to open in April.
In addition, the minutes say, Parker and Anderson counties both have jail construction projects underway that will be completed in 2007. The new addition in Parker will have 323 beds, while the new Anderson County unit will add 198 beds.

Howard County was ordered to prepare plans for a new jail to present to the next Jail Standards Commisison hearing on May 4 in Austin, but Kathy Lusk, a citizen of Howard County, opposed an expansion. According to the minutes, Ms. Lusk raised issues about "renovations to the existing jail that had not been addressed," plus "a flat population (no increase in many years), taxing rate is at the maximum that it can be, so she doesn't know how they are going to fund the new jail. There are ongoing maintenance issues that are simple and routine and are overlooked, that may cause the jail to fail," said Ms. Lusk.

In Howard County, at least somebody is asking "How are we going to pay for all this?" With 11 jail construction projects underway statewide and 51 more in the planning stages it's worth asking, "How will Texas taxpayers pay to construct dozens of new jails, fix school finance, insure more kids, build more prisons, and
lower property taxes, too?"

You'd think something has got to give.

Tarrant court appointment system improved but still not fixed

Tarrant County has consolidated most attorney appointments in one locale, improving both consistency and quality of indigency evaluations, but the system still suffers from gaps. Last year Tarrant (Fort Worth is the county seat) hired a new magistrate judge and four staffers whose sole job it is to determine indigency and eligibility for appointed counsel for the 25,000+ defendants annually who require it.

Not everybody's using the new system, though, especially in misdemeanor courts, and significant problems remain
, says a new report (pdf) by Wesley Shackelford, Special Counsel to the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense. Yesterday the Fort Worth Star-Telegram covered the subject ("Reduction sought in jail population," March 25), reporting:

Magistrate Matt King, who has been working part time for the county for eight months through a state grant, will continue working with four financial information officers to process indigent defendants' legal aid requests. ...

County officials also plan for King to conduct daily misdemeanor "jail runs" -- or reviews of cases involving poor defendants accused of nonviolent offenses but who are incarcerated. Officials hope that by settling those cases quickly, they can save taxpayers the $50 a day it costs to keep defendants behind bars.

The Startlegram quoted a Tarrant commissioner who is a member of the indigent defense task force lavishly praising the county's appointment system, even though the report itself wasn't so glowing:
"I think Tarrant County has been an example of how to do things right," said Commissioner Glen Whitley, a member of a statewide task force that oversees indigent defense programs. "Overall, I think it has been successful. I don't think we hear where someone sat in jail for months and isn't getting charged."
That's a pretty low bar for success, though, isn't it? - that defendants don't wait months before they're charged! When that happens the system has completely failed. How about defendants who've been charged but who sit in jail because they can't make bond? That's a big cause of the Tarrant jail's overincarceration crisis, but Judge King's system for appointing counsel won't affect it.

I also wonder whether the new system creates redundancies with Tarrant's underused Pretrial Services division - how many times is the county going to interview these people, after all? It doesn't sound from the report or the press coverage like information from Judge King's interviewers is used for determining eligibility for personal bond, but that's what's needed to really dent the jail population. Only 16% of Tarrant defendants presently qualify for personal bonds, while according to the most recent jail population report (pdf), 59% of Tarrant jail inmates are incarcerated awating trial.
According to the task force study, several significant problems still exist under the new system - especially regarding appointments in misdemeanor cases and probation revocation hearings. Even more worrisome, in a couple of instances Tarrant's current practices appear to violate the state Code of Criminal Procedure.

The report cites numerous gaps where lawyers are being appointed from the bench by various judges instead of using the "wheel" system operated by the Office of Attorney Appointments (OAA), especially for misdemeanors where a majority of appointments are still made from the bench, often after the defendant has spent a lot of extra, unnecessary time sitting around in jail on the taxpayers dime. Reported the Startlegram:
On Tuesday, there were 288 unsentenced misdemeanor defendants in the jail at a cost of about $14,400 a day, or nearly $5.3 million a year, she said. If King can move at least 10 percent of those cases a year, the county would save more than $500,000, she said.

"If this will make the misdemeanor courts use the [attorney-appointment] system and use Matt it will be a much better world for all. Not only for the taxpayers, but also the defendants," said Don Hase, an Arlington attorney who has been critical of the system.

Well, it will if they fix it. Right now Tarrant judges still make most misdemeanor appointments themselves instead of using OAA.

In a couple of cases, bench appointment practices led to judges apparently violating state law, said the report. Some judges appointed lawyers who weren't on the approved attorney lists, in the most prominent case as a favor to a former prosecutor while she waited for the judges to vote on her formal selection.

Also, each judge keeps his or her own list of appointable attorneys to represent clients in probation revocation hearings, a practice the report says also appears to violate the Code of Criminal Procedure Section 26.04 because how the attorneys are selected is inconsistent, varying by judge. Shackelford suggested creating a separate "wheel" for attorneys qualified to handle probation revocations, or possibly a specialized public defender division for that purpose.

Speaking of which, the Startlegram's coverage didn't mention Shackelford's suggestion that an "alternative for consideration would be the creation of a public defender office." "Public defender offices are by far the most common approach to providing indigent defense representation in urban areas and in a 1999 survey were shown to handle about 82% of all indigent cases in urban counties," he wrote.

recommended the same thing last year after another study revealed Tarrant's indigent defense costs increased 87% after passage of Texas' Fair Defense Act, compared with 40% statewide and 10.6% in Dallas, which has a public defender. Judge King's new system is nice, but it won't ever generate that kind of savings.

See related Grits coverage:

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Texas entering jail building boom?

Staff at the Texas Commission on Jail Standards reported to the commission in February that "Fifty-one (51) jails are in the planning stages, and eleven (11) jails are under construction. (See their minutes, pdf, p. 10.)

That would be a major jail building boom.

According to the staff report, 250 jails are currently operating in Texas (213 presently are compliant with state standards and 37 are noncompliant). They are collectively operating at 81.39% capacity, though "as of January 1, nine jails were at more than 100% capacity."

See the most recent Texas jail population report (pdf).

Austinites sue over misleading ballot language for Open Government, Enviro charter amendments

More at the Open Government Austin blog.

Wow! Texas League of Women Voters Adopts Policy Positions Supporting Needle Exchange, Medical Marijuana

The Drug War Chronicle reports that the Texas League of Women Voters' (LWV) new official position on medical marijuna is that "Laws regarding drug abuse and drug addiction should include no criminal penalties for cannabis (marihuana) possession when recommended by a physician." Good for them! The Texas LWV also backed needle exchange programs as part of an array of education programs to keep kids from starting to use drugs as well as outreach programs aimed at adults. Congrats to Noelle Davis of Texans for Medical Marijuana and Suzanne Wills of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, who are credited in the article for shepherding the new policies through LWV's policy development process.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Austinites: See the new Clean Austin campaign website supporting the Open Government Online and Clean Water charter amendments on the local May ballot.

Follow details of the campaigns for these two citizen initiatives at the
Open Government Austin blog and the new Clean Water Austin blog.

And the survey says ...

Okay, we got to 100 respondents on the first ever Grits for Breakfast site survey. With 500-550 visitors per weekday, that seems like a pretty good sample. (I was pleased, BTW, with the functionality of the Survey Monkey tool I tried out for the occasion.) Thanks to everyone who participated. Lets quickly run through the top line findings and a few comments people left.

For starters, I was thrilled to see that 38% of you visit Grits daily, with 85% visiting once per week or more. Thanks!

Just as exciting, 51% of readers have forwarded a Grits link to someone else, and 38% of you have searched in the archives. (I strongly encourage you to do both!) That tells me a lot of folks are finding what they read here useful.

The most common way people find Grits is through links from other blogs, so if you're a blogger and haven't blogrolled Grits yet, I'd sure appreciate the link - that appears to be the main way people get here, at 62%. Next most common were folks who learned of Grits from a friend - 15% of those surveyed. A few others found it off a Google search or read about Grits in the print media.

Thirty percent said they'd sign up to receive Grits posts via email if the service were available, so I'll probably be looking to add that function soon. Others pointed out that I didn't ask about readers using RSS feeds - "dump the by email idea and push RSS," one reader advised. (Here's the link to Grits' RSS feed.)

Grits readers appear to be largely folks who get their news online - 78% said they primarily get their news from websurfing and blogs. That's certainly where I get mine. Only 8 out of 100 said they get their news from the print version of a daily newspaper.

Almost half of Grits readers (48%) work in a field related to criminal justice.

A plurality of Grits readers (40%) consider themselves "Independents," with a roughly equal number identifying with one or the other major political party. That's fitting - with Friedman and Strayhorn petitioning to get on the governor's ballot, I guess this is sort of the year of the Independent.

Most of you are from here: A whopping 68% of you are Texans, with another 9% Texas expatriates. Only 23% of readers said they were from out of state.

Finally, I thought I'd print a few of the comments left in response to the question, what do you like, what do you hate, and what could Grits do better? Here's a sampling:

  • Working as a legislative policy aide for a state elected official, the blog gives me good insight into a variety of criminal justice issues in both local and state implications. Your blog has been very insightful and educational. Our office has filed and supported legislation based on information acquired from your blog........for that I thank you.
  • As a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio, I find Grits is a great source of news and commentary focused on Texas justice but always with an eye on the rest of the nation. Thanks.
  • More boobs! (kidding)
  • I like the consistent coverage of the issues, ways the justice system needs improvement, etc. Basically I look at the site to steal story ideas (I'm a media guy).
  • I find the discussion of criminal justice issues at the state level most useful. I'm a lawyer and I practice exclusively in federal court, so I wouldn't otherwise be tuned in to what's going on in state courts in Texas.
  • Many of the postings are too long.
  • The keen insight and unparalelled covereage of Texas criminal justice issues. The writing tone is fun too.
  • All claims are backed up with sources and facts.
  • There is nothing I hate about your worthy offering. Your blog is a very rare find. You have views that are consdierably left-of-center. That's not rare of course. The fact that you base your opinions on facts, not emotional appeals is.
  • I like how Grits' tracks a variety of subjects from the "drug war" to sentencing to Texas law pretaining to criminal justice, etc. I can't think of anything in particular I do not like, although I'd like to see more on major cases and the impact they may have on Texas Law, both those from the SCOTUS but also from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
  • It's interesting seeing the character displays of some of our narcotics officers. I like that they are recorded publicly so that those who might not have been privy to the despicable character and behavior that some of them exhibit can see it for themselves. It's also good to know we have some decent, even noble, officers who post here.
  • News about what's going on that might be trying to slip under the radar in other media is what I like most of all.
  • It's really well written and full of interesting ideas. I hate that it shows how messed up the whole CJ system is. It's a really good way for me to see what it happening state-wide, with an occasional ear to the national scene.
I'm actually not cherrypicking quotes here - almost all the comments were really positive and I appreciated them a lot. Thanks to everyone who took the survey. It's fun for me to get to know a little more about who's reading this stuff.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More Texans on probation than any other state

The handout (pdf) on the Texas probation system TDCJ's Bonita White gave to the House Corrections Committee yesterday has been posted online, and it contained this interesting statistic: Texas has the largest probation population in the United States - much bigger than California whose population is 60 percent larger.

States with most people on probation

2005 probationers

2004 population
















No wonder caseloads are too high and probation officers have no time to supervise offenders. Texas has so many more people on probation because probation terms are too long. Typical felony probation lasts for ten years in Texas, but most who re-offend do so in the first 2-3 years. That's why shorter probation would strengthen community supervision, letting probationers earn their way "off paper" through good behavior while probation officers focus resources on those most likely to pose a threat.

In the scheme of things, these numbers actually mean most Texas probationers are pretty well behaved. In 2005, 24,030 or about 5.6 percent of Texas felony probationers had their probation revoked and were sent to prison, according to the handout. Officials estimate that stronger probation using evidence-based practices could reduce revocations by 10-30 percent.

CORRECTION: A gentleman from the state prosecutors' association emails to say:
Scott, I think you erred in saying "24,030 or about 5.6 percent of Texas FELONY probationers had their probation revoked and were sent to prison ...." The probation population of 429,857 includes felons AND misdemeanants -- so 24,030 revocations to prison is 5.6% of ALL probationers, not felony probationers.

I don't know the # of felons vs. misdemeanants, but I'm guessing it's no better than a 50/50 split (and probably more misdemeanants b/c there are more misdemeanor cases), so the real figure is probably more like 10-15% of felony probationers get revoked each year.
Good catch - I appreciate him setting the record straight.

Gallows humor

Best line (if a bit macabre) from yesterday's Texas House Corrections Committee hearing:

"What's our prison population?" asked Chairman Madden. "Full," replied LBB's Michelle Connolly. Right now it's at 151,585, she said. "But there's an execution today," deadpanned Rep. Jim McReynolds, "so that's 151,584."

Worst idea from the hearing:

Rep. Harvey Hildebran thinks Texas needs a "new definition of child abuse, or maybe two definitions," because when a TYC guard handles a juvenile too roughly they could be charged with child abuse.

Didn't I read that somewhere in an Al Gonzales memo?

See Grits' full coverage of the hearing
Preview and Sunset suggestions
House Corrections Highlights
Juvenile justice bashed and defended
Advocates: Texas needs stronger probation
More Texans on probation than any other state

News flash: Kids can buy dope despite 'drug-free zones'

A significant but seldom-discussed aspect of the Tulia cases covered well in Nate Blakeslee's book was the frequent "enhancement" of minor criminal charges to more serious levels, often requiring decades-long sentences, because the alleged transaction occurred near a school or in some other "drug free zone."

Using a methodology first developed by the New Jersey Sentencing Commission, the Justice Policy Institute today
released a report analyzing sentencing data on the subject from four states. Their finding: Drug free zones failed to limit youths' access to drugs and worsened racial disparities in prison. Here's the full report (pdf).

Thanks to JPI's Jason Zeidenberg for the head up.

Advocates: Texas needs stronger probation

Texas' weak probation system needs an overhaul, members of the Texas House Corrections Committee were told in a hearing in Austin yesterday. The Fort Worth Star Telegram and the San Antonio Express News both had good coverage of the meeting.

After I had to leave, my colleagues from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and ACLU of Texas spoke to the committee about how to strengthen probation. I didn't get to hear them but TCJC's contribution was summarized yesterday afternoon in a press release. Here's what it said:

“The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition today testified before the House Corrections Committee that Texas cannot sustain a broken probation system and the burgeoning costs of prison overcrowding that it produces.

Today, Texans are bearing a huge, unnecessary cost due to a failed probation system; a system in immediate need of improvement,” said Ana Yáñez-Correa, Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “Unfortunately, the cost is an increasing crime rate. Many Texans would be shocked to know that bad probation policies in our state are only serving to waste tax dollars while actually diminishing public safety.”

Specifically, Yáñez-Correa focused on the need to relieve overwhelming caseloads carried by Texas probation officers by reducing the number of non-violent low risk probationers in their charge. The inordinate number of cases officers must keep up with is affecting their ability to perform site visits and maintain contact with more dangerous probationers. Currently, some officers have a caseload of as many as 150 probationers.

“Texas’ community supervision resources are stretched to the limit,” stated Yáñez-Correa. “The stress created by overburdening probation officers with non-violent offenders can allow higher risk probationers to slip through the cracks. Texas can change this by investing in programs, such as drug treatment, that could pull as many as half of our probationers out of the criminal justice system and put them on the road to becoming productive citizens.”

Ann del Llano, also on behalf of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, urged committee members to play an active role in solving the prison overcrowding crisis. House Bill 2193, from the last session, would have empowered judges by granting them greater discretion over probation decisions for low risk offenders while strengthening probation supervision for violent and sexual offenders. The bill would have increased support for community supervision, decreased probation officer caseloads, and increased funding for drug courts which have proven to reduce crime where they are used.

House Bill 2193 --authored by House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden (R-Plano), Reps. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin), and Pat Haggerty (R-El Paso), and Rep. Ray Allen (R-Grand Prairie) in the House, and sponsored by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the Legislature during the 2005 Regular Session. The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, along with over a dozen conservative, religious, and civil rights groups, was joined in supporting the legislation by the editorial boards at the Austin American -Statesman, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, and other newspapers around the state. Nevertheless, HB 2193 was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.

“It is unfortunate that House Bill 2193 was stopped by Governor Perry,” said Ann del Llano. “I would have liked to come here today to report to the committee that probation officers are keeping up with caseloads, public safety is improved, the recidivism rate is dropping and violent criminals are being adequately supervised. Sadly, that’s just not the case. Texas’ probation system is riddled with weaknesses and, if strong action is not taken, it is hard to see how we will avoid wasting even more tax dollars and, worse, more lives.”

We could have less crime in Texas if we simply followed current research about “what works.” The Coalition cited the need for evidence-based treatment programs as effective means for reducing crime. According to a study by the state’s Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, offenders who received appropriate treatment were four times less likely to commit more crime and return to prison than those who did not.

Even more alarming, a mega study by the United States Department of Justice, National Corrections Institute, found that Texas-style “tough on crime” penalties actually result in an increase in an individual’s inclination toward criminal activity. On the other hand, treatment and programs, such as cognitive skills programs, resulted in a 15–29 percent decrease in an individual’s criminal behavior. [Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections ; reported by Minnesota Judge and scholar Dennis Challeen]

“The greatest benefit our probation system can provide is to break the costly and destructive cycle of low risk probationers returning to prison,” said Ana Yáñez-Correa. “Today, we spend billions of dollars to keep these people behind bars, yet relatively little to prepare them for probation and a successful return to society. By making proven, pro-family changes to Texas’ system, it is possible to be smarter and safer when it comes to probation.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Juvenile justice system bashed and defended

Most of the fireworks on juvenile justice at the House Corrections Committee hearing will occur later this afternoon after I'm gone, but this morning I heard two speakers on the subject who gave a preview of the types of complaints swirling about Texas' juvenile justice system these days, and the state's initial response.

State Rep. Harvey Hildebran

The number of "complaints, criticisms and alarming incidents" at Texas Youth Commission facilities have been escalating, he said, especially in the last few months. TYC is underfunded, can't attract or retain staff. It's not just a money problem, though, but a "policy and procedures" problem, he said.

"What is the definition of 'restraint'?" he asked. There is "confusion among staff," he said, "about what they can and can't do."

He's concerned that juveniles are "getting privileges but aren't earning them." Wants TYC to reduce the population of the facility in San Saba, and to segregate older and younger juveniles.

Need a "new definition of child abuse, or maybe two definitions," he said. When a staffer deals roughly with a juvenile in TYC they could be charged with child abuse following the statute.

Dwight Harris, Executive Director, Texas Youth Commission

TYC has 4,358 beds, 218 halfway houses, and > 400 contract beds. That total number has roughly tripled in recent years after the Legislature expanded the department. Most new facilities were built in rural areas. In new facilities like the ones in Marlin and San Saba, inmates don't see the light of day inside the facility, sleeping and living areas are "very small," recreation and educational space is "very very limited." "Security rooms" in the facility are similar to ad seg rooms in the adult population.

He gave an interesting economic analysis on the uncertain labor basis for Texas juvenile facilities: Many communities where facilities were built were economically disadvantaged at the time, but the economy is improving so they're having trouble finding staff in these rural towns, and even more difficulty attracting people to move to those small towns on TYC's wages.

He gave members a written report on officer recruitment and retention.

Rep. Scott Hochberg asked how employee issues relate to the allegations of abuse and neglect discussed by Rep. Hildebran. Harris replied, when you don't have enough beds to hold kids accountable, he'll "push out kids who are the best behaved" and be left with the "worst ofthe worst." Staffing ratios are 1-24, 1-27 when its crowded. The relationships aren't there. So they're going to be involved in more restraints. Most of these accusations are excessive force cases. Guards are working too much overtime, back to back shifts, and sometimes they make mistakes.

Advocacy groups have really clamored and said "this is an abusive agency." We tried to "tweak" that policy, but then there was some confusion about when could you put your hands on kids. The intent was never that guards couldn't control juvenile inmates. "You can do what you must do to take care of the situation." Hochberg asked if there's a formal policy. Harris replied yes, if you have a "reasonable belief of imminent threat harm to yourself or others, guards can protect themselves."

When Rita forced them to move kids to other already crowded facilities, it increased the violence and problems at the seriously overcrowded units. Unlike the state prisons which use county jails for overflow, Harris said there is no source for TYC overflow beds except "contract care," and there are too few private sector programs to take up the slack.

UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle today (3-22) covered overcrowding at Texas juvenile detention facilities.

House Corrections Highlights

All the usual players in the room at the Texas House Corrections Committee hearing this morning, plus newly minted House member Kirk England who just won a special election to fill Ray Allen's seat in District 106. Welcome to Rep. England, and congrats. The wireless appears to be working fine, but I didn't get a seat for blogging purposes for the first few invited speakers, and I have to leave during the noon hour. The full hearing is linked here for those who are interested, otherwise here are a few brief highlights from testimony I sat through this morning describing Texas' probation system:

Bonita White, TDCJ Community Justice Assistance Division (probation)

This is the sixth "charge" this committee has had since 1999 on strengthening the probation system in Texas, Sen. Whitmire has done it four times over the years. She gave them a report listing all the charges and what legislation resulted. Bottom line: Texas needs to reduce caseloads, increase access to drug treatment and increase use of "evidence based practices" and progressive sanctions to better supervise probationers.

There was an infusion of money last session for more treatment in conjunction with a progressive sanctions model. Counties receiving the money had to target a 10% reduction in probation revocations and implement a progressive sanctions model. They prioritized agencies with caseloads above 95 per officer. The money was granted and the new programs have been implemented over the last five months. Judges, prosecutors and probation officers are excited right now for change, and this money "greased" that. They've already seen results, she said. Where the money did not go, the revocations are stable; in counties that got the money there was a 12.6% reduction in revocations so far, though data is preliminary.

TDCJ is trying to improve its ability to track the 429,000 people in Texas are on probation right now, overseen by 121 local probation departments.

In January 26 CSCDs selected to receive money from these budget riders came to Austin to lay out their evidence based practices models to share and learn from each other and compare their programs to current research. "This is a huge state with a huge number of stakeholders," she said, especially with the large number of district judges in Houston and Dallas, making the politics of local reform complex.

"It's more successful to give rewards than sanctions, but we've built a criminal justice system mostly around sanctions." Evidence shows they could reduce the likelihood of probationers entering prison by as much as 30%, limiting prison for those who were more dangerous.

Peering from beneath long white bangs, Rep. Scott Hochberg asked, "Should we change the rules about who gets revoked?" "That's your decision," replied White, but she said more money for the agency would help. Hochberg suggested that the Lege should just be more specific about when people could and couldn't be revoked.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy, Travis County CSCD

She's in the middle of a two year Travis County process to re-engineer the Travis County probation system. Got a grant from a foundation to do ongoing reporting about the process. When she was a probation officer there was no way to measure effectiveness. Now evidence based practices allow them to measure their performance. Using scientific evaluations of programming has resulted in new body of knowledge about best practices: She expects that a 30% reduction in revocations would be a realistic goal.

Delwin Jones asked if increased caseload was because of increased staffing. Yes, she said, they've hired 40 new officers recently, 13 of whom were entirely out of the new probation funds. Rep. McReynolds asked if the reduced caseloads were allowing closer supervision, home visits, etc. Dr. Nagy replied that field visits and closer supervision is "absolutely essential" to progressive sanctions working, but probation officers must also be trained to deal with offfenders differently. The goal isn't just to revoke wrongdoers but to help offenders succeed.

It's important to use the right approach in the right situation Low risk offenders should be cycled out of the system quickly, "social problem" offenders should be monitored closely, and high-risk offenders may well cycle through the process and be revoked fairly quickly if they don't behave. Each of these three categories have about 5-6 subcategories, each with their own protocols.

Caseloads in Travis County are currently 108 but will soon be down to 95.
She said though that to have maximum benefit, new money for probation officers must be leveraged by switching to evidence based practices. More intensive supervision of high risk offenders should increase public safety, and many departments are spending the new state money that way

She fears current practices waste resources on the wrong people and don't fund other effective tactics like outpatient drug treatment, where appropriate. Currently Travis County has more than 500 people on a waiting list for outpatient treatment with a need for additional funding.

Michelle Connolly, Legislative Budget Board

LBB is studying spending in five Texas counties that revoke probationers most often: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis. LBB did field interviews and data collection for probationers revoked in October, partnering with TDCJ's Community Justice Assistance Division and local probation departments. Studied 877 felon probationers - collected profile information, offense information, violation report information, terminating offense. Officially scheduled to release the report in January before next session. Chairman Madden wants the information by the special session.

"What's our prison population?" asked Chairman Madden. "Full," replies Connolly. Right now it's at 151,585, she said. "But there's an execution today," deadpanned Rep. Jim McReynolds, "so that's 151,584."

Cat blogging

Busy day today - I'm going to attend a Texas House Corrections Committee hearing this morning then am booked all afternoon, though I might do some liveblogging from the capitol later if the wireless connection is good. You can watch it or the Juvenile Justice Committee hearing this morning on the web as they happen, if you're interested - see the links to streaming video on the House website.

While I'm gone, check out regular Grits commenter Catonya's
2withspirit site, especially her new summary page documenting discrepancies in the police version of her late husband's death in a high speed chase. Cat brings news of another dangerous high-speed chase in Wichita Falls involving 30 officers, asking:

Tell me which do you feel more endangered by-

  • a young adult male driving a pick-up. the crime- unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (translates to someone loaning out their vehicle and it not being returned on time) ;


  • 30 members of law enforcement speeding around the city in an adrenaline induced high.
Good point. In the current post Catonya laments the death of Jim Phillips, founder of which advocated for law enforcement to adopt safer high-speed chase policies. She also brings word of a Wichita Falls rapper "C-Nile" jailed for his anti-police lyrics - apparently he named officers in the Wichita Falls PD with "specific threats" in a record sold in local music stores, reported the TV news. Free speech questions aside, I wonder if there's something extra they could charge him with for that stupid name? Anyway, go check out Catonya's wonderful blog, where these darker subjects are supplemented with her accounts of family life and the occasional, equally wonderful Half-Naked Thursday.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

From the blogs

Lots of juicy Texas criminal justice items around the blogosphere:

Investigating innocence an "attack on the judicial system." Via Sentencing Law and Policy blog I noticed this SA Express News article by Maro Robbins says it'll be difficult to get to the bottom of Ruben Cantu's allegedly wrongful conviction because the case hinges more on politics than evidence. Of Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed, Robbins noted, "Whether true or false, to her [claims of Ruben Cantu's innocence] represented a partisan strategy. 'It's an attack on the judicial system,' she said in a December interview. 'It's an attack on the death penalty, referred on down here by those who are so adamantly opposed to the death penalty.'"

Free at last. Talk Left brings the news that Gregory Wallis has been released from a Texas prison after serving 18 years for an attempted rape and burglary he didn't commit. DNA evidence proved Wallis' innocence after an eyewitness falsely accused him. I've said before that requiring corroboration or other checks on eyewitness testimony is an area ripe for legislation.

Abuse alleged at juvie detention: As the Juvenile Justice Committee prepares to consider the topic on Wednesday, South Texas Chisme points to two articles discussing abuse at Texas Youth Commission facilities. Rep. Pena chimed in yesterday with a preliminary post describing his visit to the Evins TYC unit. See also Rio Grande Valley Politics' post, "Locked up in Juve" linking to full coverage of problems at the Evins Unit.

Unorthodox jail overcrowding solution.
South Texas Chisme also notes that the Nueces County Jail (Corpus Christi) accidentally released an inmate due to a "clerical error" for the third time in just over month - that's another way to combat jail overcrowding, I guess.

Mental retardation and the death penalty.
Via Stand Down Texas, Lyle Denniston at SCOTUS blog looks at the Penry case and its fourth trip to the US Supreme Court.

Written consent reduces unnecessary searches.
The Flex Your Rights blog praises Austin PD for its dramatic reduction in no-cause searches at traffic stops after implementing a policy requring motorists' consent to be obtained in writing. FYR cited an Austin Statesman story in which I was quoted declaring, "What (the statistics say) to me is that when people actually knew their rights, they didn't want to be searched."

Who called San Angelo "godforsaken"?
Oh yeah, I think that was me. Pink Dome contemplates opening a line of faith-based businesses to bid on government contracts modeled after a proposed "faith-based prison" being discussed in San Angelo.

Forget Clyde.
Texan Bonnie Parker (pictured above) was remembered with this interesting write up, mostly from FBI documents, as part of Women's History Month by Public Domain Clip Art.

Help me improve this blog. Finally,please take a minute to complete the first-ever Grits for Breakfast site survey
if you haven't taken it yet (and thanks to the 65 readers who have). The free version of the nifty survey tool I'm trying out, Survey Monkey, accepts 100 responses, at which time I'll pull the survey down and discuss the results.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Criminal justice gets preview of Texas Legislature's return

I know everyone is as excited as I am that the Lege is coming back to Austin in April, right? :-/ Those of us who follow criminal justice topics get a preview on Wednesday (March 22) when the House Corrections and House Juvenile Justice Committees each meet in morning and afternoon sessions.

Most interesting to me, they'll discuss
three "interim charges" Wednesday morning at a 9 a.m. House Corrections hearing: a once-a-decade "Sunset" review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, strengthening Texas' probation system, and evaluating recommendations from Governor Perry's Criminal Justice Advisory Council. (UPDATE: Just Another Matt reports that the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition intends to offer testimony.)

All three charges on the Corrections committee agenda are things Grits for Breakfast has written about extensively, so I thought I'd link to some background reading for interested parties:

Interim Charge 1:
Study the organizational structure of the department to determine if the current system is effectively and efficiently addressing the needs of all components of the criminal justice system in conjunction with the Sunset review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in 2007.
Clearly the answer here is "no," the needs aren't being addressed. For starters, as Chairman Madden himself pointed out last year in a letter to Governor Rick Perry (pdf), the Governor's vetoes included line item funding to pay for prison overflow capacity and drug treatment at a time when Texas prisons are full to the brim . That means, because of the vetoes, the state has too many inmates and too small a budget to pay for them. Texas presently is 2-3,000 prison guards short of full staffing. TDCJ is so broke it quit paying current guards for overtime. Hurricane Rita exacerbated the crisis - now extra rented beds mean Texas will likely exhaust its prison budget well before the biennium is through. The Legislature contributes to the problem when fiscal notes attached to bills consistently fail to accurately predict how much new penalty enhancements cost.

Inside Texas' prison walls, sentences are too long while treatment and education programs are unstaffed and underfunded. In the big picture, TDCJ spends about 90% of its budget on prisons and only 10% on probation and parole programs, even though perhaps 4-5 times as many Texans live under community supervision as are in prison. I'd like to see that number migrate to something more like 80-20 or 75-25 over the next few years, but the trend's heading in the other direction.

On the outside, probation and parole officers are as understaffed as prison guards, and little time is spent on tactics like
drop-in visits because caseloads average 150 clients per officer. Technological solutions are available that might help, but mostly what's needed is shorter, stronger probation and parole supervision aimed at monitoring the worst offenders while reintegrating the rest more rapidly into society. We need more help for children with incarcerated parents. Outcome measures for probation and parole officers do not evaluate officers based on their charges' employment or recidivism rates, and programs don't exist to help ex-offenders succeed. That must change.

One in twenty Texans is currently under some form of TDCJ supervision, including everyone in prison, on probation and on parole. Bottom line: Big government solutions have failed. The state simply can't afford to monitor 5% of its population on the budget the Legislature has assigned to the task, especially when the state's leadership opposes new taxes. Short of spending
billions on new prisons, Texas must shift gears.
Interim Charge 2:
Examine the probation system and reforms debated during the 79th Legislature, including using strategies such as graduated sanctions and specialized courts for reducing revocations and recidivism. Study the the organization and cost of our probation system and make recommendations about how to prioritize and strengthen general supervision.
As mentioned above, Governor Perry's veto of HB 2193 was perhaps the most short-sighted and certainly the most underreported Texas political blunder of 2005. That legislation, authored by Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, would have given offenders ways to earn their way off probation through good behavior while reducing caseloads so probation officers could more closely supervise those who remain. The system is broken : So many probationers have absconded the state can't count them all.

While some
new money was approved to help counties reduce probation revocations, without Chairman Madden's bill it's unclear whether they have the tools to do so. Give me my druthers and I prefer the version of HB 2193 Chairman Madden passed out of his committee in 2005 to the one that was vetoed by the Governor - the weakened version just won't do enough to resolve the pending crisis, and the Lege would be back two years later facing the same problem.
Interim Charge 8:
Monitor the agencies and programs under the committee's oversight and monitor the Governor's Criminal Justice Advisory Council.
While the CJAC was still preparing its recommendations, I pointed out how the body seemed to have been captured entirely by special interests looking for pork . Regrettably, that Grits prediction more or less bore out. See what I thought was good about their recommendations , plus discussions of CJAC's inadequacies. I still intend to do another post about CJAC's stance on consent searches, but the Corrections committee wouldn't take up that issue, anyway.

As the Houston Chronicle editorialized recently, Texas' criminal justice system is
broken at every level, and that includes TDCJ. The whole concept of the agency's role needs revamping. The Sunset review process offers a great chance to do that kind of careful rethinking, if the Legislature has the will.

As an aside: Special session really is coming too soon, isn't it? This is a $7,500 per year part-time job - how do these guys earn a living coming back to Austin every few months? The only good thing you can say about it, IMO, is that
Pink Dome and In the Pink's session kickoff party ought to be fun (they're still seeking donations, if you think the Legislature's arrival might put you in a drinking mood).