Thursday, January 18, 2007

Somebody please get Sen. Estes a copy of the Texas Consitution

State Sen. Craig Estes has proposed SB 185 which purports to authorize the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to house prisoners convicted in Texas in private prisons in Mexico, particularly Mexican nationals. The only problem: The state constitution and at least two federal treaties prohibit the plan.

Estes says such prisons "would be built to Texas standards but we could save money on both the construction costs and the staffing costs." He thinks Mexico would welcome the idea as a plan for "economic development." I seriously doubt that, but Mexico's stance is far from the biggest obstacle to implenting this proposal.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee studied the idea in its recent interim report (pdf) after Estes proposed it in 2005. According to their analysis, "language in the Texas Constitution can be interpreted as prohibiting the State from transporting inmates out of Texas to any other country for a crime committed in Texas." If I were writing that sentence, I'd have said it HAS been interpreted that way, since the day it was written.

Indeed, I'm not sure how anyone could claim that part of the Constitution is open to ANY other interpretation besides one that forbids Estes' bill. The specific language states, "No person shall be transported out of the State for any offense committed within the same." That seems pretty darn clear. A 1985 amendment allowed tranfers of prisoners to other US states, but not out of the country.

So at a minimum the idea would require a constitutional amendment and a statewide vote. But even then Texas couldn't do what he proposes. Said the committee report,
The Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad and the United States -Mexico Treaty on the Execution of Penal Sentences both state that once a prisoner is transferred to a receiving country, that country assumes all responsibilities for care of the prisoner. So long as these treaties are in effect, the State is obligated to follow them and conditions of them. Without further changes to these federal treaties, the Committee cannot recommend the state of Texas establish or contract with a private prison facility in the country of Mexico.
The Committee noted that because of the "supremacy clause" in the US Constitution, these US treaties supersede any statute on the subject Texas might pass. Clearly the bill isn't making it through the Criminal Justice Committee in 2007 - not unless the United States plans to renegotiate these treaties anytime soon. All of this came to light years ago, btw, when then-Sen. John Leedom proposed the same thing during Texas' 74th Legislature, and nothing's changed.

Given this legal and political reality, it's hard not to view Estes' proposal as pure grandstanding, wrapping together two categories of folks for whom many people have little sympathy - prisoners and immigrants - and touting an idea in the media that can't happen and basically wastes everyone's time. Hell, just having to make these arguments in a blog post feels like somebody took a half hour from me that I'll never get back.

MORE: From Capitol Annex. AND MORE from the Lone Star Times.


Anonymous said...

As corrupt as some of the ones here, could you imagine how it would be there? And how about all the violence and death that happens in the mexican prisons? Riots,escapes,etc. TDCJ has enough bad press now. Don't need anymore. What is this man thinking?


Quismada said...

Thinking? This man isn't thinking. Seems like a moron on crack to me. Of course, I'm not working with facts here....unlike Estes who has the wording right in front of what should appear to be a big RED face.

Anonymous said...

This man does not think. First you have to have a brain larger than a pea and then learn how to use it.

That SB should be shoved so far the light never hits it again. This man has no idea how to get anything right.

Unknown said...

Oh mah gawd! stay out of Texas!

But then, Texas stopped following a lot of Constitutional laws (federal or state) awhile back.

Are the 'true' Texans with the Texas spirit going to put up with this quietly?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Naw, 127001, don't stay out of Texas. Mosey on down and help us fight the SOBs! (Truthfully, some private prison lobbyist probably just handed this bill to Estes - God knows it's clear his staff didn't research it, or for that matter the Lege Council who's supposed to vet it through a bunch of lawyers.)

Thankfully, the Texas legislative process is designed to kill crappy bills , which is most of them (75-80% die), and this will be one IMO that, after this committee report, is purely DOA. (I've been wrong before, but the Texas constitution and two federal treaties is a lot of legal baggage to overcome!)

I'm more concerned at the moment about a more serious threat from a bill Vince just pointed out to me that would conceal information about snitches who provide probable cause for search warrant affidavits. That's bad news and I hope the media lobby jumps on it. Those affidavits are one of THE key pieces of information for any researcher in identifying sources of police misconduct involving informants (think Sheetrock scandal). Trust me on that - I've tracked down details of more than my share of police misconduct cses, and these affidavits are truly lynchpin documents. More on this soon. Best,

elvez1975 said...

Since when did Texas legislators worry about silly little things like constitutions???

Anonymous said...

You guys are not against spreading the wealth are you? All this POS is trying to do for those in power in Mexico IS SPREAD THE WEALTH!

If we can trun our prisons in to PEOPLE RANCHING business for profit here in Texas while feeding off the misery and suffering of our own sons and daughters, WHY CAN'T MECICO! Heck they are just following OUR LEAD!

There Has To Be A Better Way!

Catonya said...

If I'm not mistaken Estes was the grandstander on the bill to limit cold medicine sales.
and we all know how that worked out with regards to the big picture.

(resisting urge to comment on where such genius hails from. geographically speaking)