Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Good bill, bad analysis

I'm listening to Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer promote HB 541 at the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. That bill would allow counties to release parolees on bail who are arrested on technical violations while they await revocation hearings. I think that's a good idea.

While this is a good bill, it's really not true, as Martinez-Fischer stated (or rather overstated), that "blue warrants" or parole violators are the main cause of local jail overcrowding. This is certainly a piece of the puzzle, but pretrial detention decisions by prosecutors and judges are the biggest cause of local jail overcrowding.

Rep. Terri Hodge rightfully pointed out that the bill may fail to achieve its goals by limiting its scope to technical violators, which are only 17% of statewide parole revocations. The better fix for "blue warrants," she said, would be to allow bail for parolees who've been picked up on new charge as well, especially low-level charges like hot check writing or other B misdemeanors. Since setting bail would be under control of local judges, she said, that wouldn't necessarily mean they would get bail, but it would help a lot more with local jail overcrowding to give counties that option.

So this is a good bill backed by a bad analysis. Though Martinez-Fischer seemed to be disagreeing with Rep. Hodge, she was actually offering him a much better solution that would improve his bill and help his county. All counties, actually. UPDATE: The Sheriff's Association supported Rep. Hodge's suggestion. Good for them. See the SA Express News' coverage.


Anonymous said...

Aren't you concerned that by tinkering too much with Martinez-Fischer's bill, that it would prevent the bill from being passed on the floor? Would it not be better to START with simple technical violators now and then add more in later sessions? If this gets too detailed, it could get bogged down on the floor and ultimately NONE of the technical violators will get out.

I think Martinez-Fischer stated that he wants to keep it simple. Ideally, his bill would deal with all contingencies. But some relief would be better than none at all.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Maybe. But everyone on the floor has crowded jails in their districts, too. And overcrowding is a crisis. They've waited too long to start with incremental changes if they really want to have an effect.

The Sheriff's Association supported expanding the bill - you'd think if there were serious law and order concerns they wouldn't sign off on the idea. It's a balancing act, but I'd rather pass something that actually has an impact, and especially in urban jails, Hodge is right that this won't do all that much to relieve overcrowding as written.

Anonymous said...

Mark the words. Hodges will throw a wrench in cog and shut the bill down due to too much convoluted debate. Start simple, add later, create a difference. Overcrowding did not happen overnight. It can not be corrected in the same manner.
Terri needs to stay with what she knows, nothing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

There is certainly a risk in improving the bill, but I see no reason to insult Terri Hodge, who in this instance knew more than the bill sponsor about the subject.

Martinez Fischer read off some big numbers in his presentation about how much counties were spending on blue warrant inmates, but he didn't mention that his bill only affects 17% of them. So he's a) ignoring the biggest sources of overcrowding (pretrial detention), and b) even on blue warrants ignoring 83% of the problem. Sure, start small, but start with something!

I support this bill as it is, and I would like it better if it were improved along the lines Hodge and the Sheriffs' Association suggested.

Anonymous said...

I agree that my county is not suffering from overcrowding due to parolees on blue warrants. I'm a bit confused by something though. If there's only a technical violation alleged, there's no basis to delay the revocation proceedings. In Hale County the parolee is held on the blue warrant pending the resolution of the new charges.

Secondly, I disagree with both Scott and Anonymous on the way to draft the bill. Draft it right the first time even if it is subject to defeat. If we want to sell a car or a house, we set the price higher than we'll accept because we don't want to be haggled down below what we wanted at the outset, because we all know that when we buy the house or the car, we'll offer an amount lower than we're willing to pay.

Make a bill as good as you can make it to begin with and accept Anonymous' truism, it will be whittled down in all likelihood. Hodges should offer the amendment. I have several clients languishing in jail with new charges pending.

That all said, I totally disagree with "bail" being the method of release on a technical or new charge revocation motion. If there's a new charge, the trial court can set the bail the community finds acceptable and that should be sufficient. I understand the need for the arrest on the blue warrant, but only insofar as giving the parolee notice and an opportunity to defend. Making him/her bail out on blue warrant, when the law allows him/her to be searched at any time and anywhere without probable cause seems to only benefit the bailbondsman or the government with more money in its coffers, like with the first-time DWI $1000 per year for three years surcharge.