Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sheriffs snubbed by blue warrant bail veto

The main bill promoted by the Sheriffs Association to stem jail overcrowding, HB 541 by Martinez-Fischer, earned a Governor's veto yesterday in a move that typifies most of Perry's vetoes I've examined so far - it leaves a longstanding problem unresolved and tells the parties involved who spent years working out a resolution - "No, you can't, do something else. And no, I don't have any suggestions."

Sheriffs complain that Texas parole officers issue "blue warrants" for offenders over technical violations when they have no intention of recommending revocation of the offender to prison. The PO's slang for this practice is "jail therapy," i.e, to let the parolee spend a little time in jail to cool off and consider their options. Counties rightly complain the state-employed parole officers are exercising this authority at the locals' expense, and that judges should be allowed to release non-violent blue warrant offenders on bail pending their parole hearing, especially when incarceration might cost the offender employment that allows them to pay fees and maintain a more stable existence.

HB 541 would have allowed judges to issue bond for parolees arrested on "blue warrants" or warrants for arrest based on mostly technical parole violations. Here was Perry's stated reason for the veto:
House Bill No. 541 would allow some parolees who have been arrested for violating the terms of their parole to be released on bond from jail. Currently a parole violator is not authorized to have bail set so that they may be released on bond. Although House Bill No. 541 applies only to administrative violations and certain misdemeanor offenses, these offenders should not be given freedom when their return to prison or other sanctions are imminent, particularly considering that the top 10 fugitives being sought by the Department of Public Safety are parole violators. I understand and am sympathetic to the concerns of counties that are experiencing capacity problems at their jails because of the number of parole violators they must house, but I believe this bill will have negative unintended consequences, and other alternatives should be considered to lessen the burden on county jails.
Of course, the veto message nonsensically contradicts itself. Obviously the "top 10 fugitives being sought by the Department of Public Safety" are not wanted for administrative violations or misdemeanors. That's just silly grandstanding, a flimsy justification for an politicized "tuff" stance.

Gov. Perry says he's sympathetic to local jail overcrowding woes, but deeds demonstrate sympathy better than words and he's done little to help the problem. Sheriffs identified finding a solution to overcrowding due to blue warrants as their number one legislative priority. Indeed, only one other bill that passed this year, HB 2391 by Madden, even addressed overcrowded jails. Perry's insensible veto of HB 3200 (discussed here) further undermines efforts to reduce high probation caseloads and technical probation revocations, which will also indirectly contribute to jail overcrowding woes.

Another vetoed bill, SB 1097 by Whitmire, would have helped reduce jail overcrowding by giving making criminal trespass a C misdemeanor on the first offense instead of a B misdemeanor which requires the offender's arrest. (Officers can still arrest for a C misdemeanor but are not required to do so). Giving officers more discretion whether to make arrests on petty offenses frees up both jail space and scarce officer time to perform more important policing duties.

The Governor really got some bad advice on some of these criminal justice bills he vetoed - if he's not going to propose answers himself, he needs to quit shooting down workable, bipartisan solutions crafted by the Legislature.

MORE: See JobsAnger for an opposing view.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's another unanswered question for the sheriffs: why don't they just tell their deputies to not arrest for minor offenses if they are clogging up the jails? There is nothing in the law that requires an arrest except for some intoxication and domestic abuse crimes.