Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Corrections Committee starts to hear bills

CORRECTION: I misread the agenda date and these bills are up Monday, not this afternoon. I apologize for the error.

This week the Texas Lege gets rolling in earnest and bills are starting to be heard in committee. The House Appropriations Criminal Justice Subcommittee is meeting right now. And on Monday (at 2 pm or upon adjournment) the House Corrections Committee will hear its first bills of the session. (Webcast info here.)

Of the the legislation up in Corrections, all of three are relatively little bills. I like two of them, but think the third would be an unnecessary waste of money.

Restore tools to encourage better inmate behavior
Most important to guards and inmates in particular would be HB 44 by Rep. Terri Hodge, which allows good time to be restored to inmates at the discretion of TDCJ after it's been taken away for a rule infraction. The bill strikes one word: "not." It's easy to take a punitive stance and say if a prisoner breaks a rule, they should lose their good time as a consequence (good time counts extra, or is supposed to, toward an inmate's release). But as a practical matter the ability to take away and restore good time is a powerful management tool for guards and wardens running the prisons, and taking away that tool has contributed to making prisons a more dangerous place filled with hopeless people.

In time of grief
(See correction below.) Rep. Vicki Truitt has a rather innocuous bill up, HB 309, which extends the range of family members TDCJ must try to contact in the even of an inmate's death. I don't know if there was an incident where this came up - if an inmate died and no family could be found at all to even notify. That's a sad, grim, thought to contemplate. But it can't hurt and there's certainly nothing wrong with adding this language.

One bad idea DOESN'T deserve another
The one bill up Monday that I don't like is by HB 105 by Rep. Debbie Riddle, which creates a Violent Offender Registration database modeled on the Oh-S0-Successful Sex Offender Database, which is an enormous mess. The problem with the sex offender database is that it casts its net too widely and ostracizes people who are unlikely to be future threats. That would be even more true of a so-called violent offender database. Our community supervision systems are ridiculously overstretched, and I don't see how this is a remotely reasonable addition to their burdens.

NUTHER CORRECTION AND UPDATE: From the Corrections Committee staff:

We wanted to let you know that in your Feb. 14 blog entry, "Corrections Committee to Hear Bills," your description of HB 309 by Truitt is not quite right. Chairman Madden would like to put out a correction from the Corrections Committee (no pun intended!).

The bill actually has to do with who can represent a deceased victim in the parole process if the victim’s immediate family (siblings, parents, children) are deceased or incapacitated- not notification of relatives of deceased inmates.

Also, Chairman Madden wanted to make sure you knew that Hodge's bill on good conduct time last session, HB1421, did make it out of committee.

Obviously, I apologize for the error, and I'll try to do better next time. Thanks Mr. Chairman, for the heads up.


Anonymous said...

But out of those 3 bills, I think I know where I'd put my money on one getting through, unfortunately.

Full applause for Terri Hodge, she seems to have a sensible view of issues facing the incarcerated and their families ~ perhaps she could get a job with the BPP?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don't despair, Sunray. There's never been a horse that can't be rode, and never been a cowboy can't be throwed.

Actually I'd not put any money on Riddle's registry bill - it's pretty unworkable and will likely have a significant cost attached to it.

As for Hodge's bill, I've seen the Lege pass good bills before, when they understand why they're needed, and hopefully they're primed for some of this stuff because of prison overcrowding. Don't give up yet - we're just at the starting gate!

Anonymous said...

Hell, we could have a registry for everything and have identifable tattoos for each to be worn on the forehead. Kind of reminds me of Nazi Germany during their pursecution of the Jews. Better yet, we could have the accepted circle with the line across it like the no smoking signs. The sex offenders could have a penis, the violent offenders a pointing gun, the alcoholics a bottle of beer, so on and so on. Additionally, I would like to see those who have dandruff wear something so I don't have to stand behind them in line. I want all AIDS carriers to be clearly marked so that they will receive the proper amount of discrimination they surely deserve. Hep C carriers can just wear a big C on their lapel. I think everyone should have something to show the type of person they are so I am better equipped to decide whether to treat them nice or to treat them rudely and with disdain. By labeling everyone we are better able to determine which "caste" we can toss them in. Riddle's registry is just another assinine idea created by someone who has nothing better to offer the citizens of Texas. Riddle's patch will just have a big I. You figure out what it means.