Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Good stuff from Texas Prison Bidness

The blog Texas Prison Bidness has several informative posts up that deserve Grits readers' attention:

Harris County kids in TYC don't receive prescribed medications, treatment

For anybody who thought the Legislature has "fixed" problems at the Texas Youth Commission, this story of what's happening with one county's kids shows there's a lot of work left to be done. The Houston Chronicle reports today ("Harris County monitor reports TYC failings," July 31) that

The probation officer responsible for monitoring how Harris County juveniles are treated at Texas Youth Commission facilities said Monday that some youths have been waiting as long as 18 months to get into a sex offender program or have been released without taking part in it.

She also said that about a third of Harris County youths who have been prescribed drugs to curb hyperactivity or treat mental illness have not been receiving proper medication at TYC facilities.

Blame for failure to receive proper medications falls on UTMB, the university hospital system responsible inmate healthcare at TYC and in adult prisons. But UTMB's failures don't justify an 18-month wait to get into court-mandated sex offender treatment. Such lack of required programming means youth must remain in TYC much longer than necessary for no other reason than the state's failure to provide court-mandated services.

Moynahan only monitors outcomes for Harris County kids in TYC, but there's little reason to suspect others aren't suffering the same difficulties. I for one am tired of hearing pols brag about what they did to "fix" TYC. I want to hear them discussing the myriad problems still facing the agency and what they're going to do about them.

Private prisons profit from intersate inmate transfers, but at what cost?

It's not just Texas struggling with overcrowded prisons and jails. The New York Times reports today ("States export their inmates as prisons fill," July 31) that more prisoners than ever are being shipped out of state. Many come to Texas, like the poor fellows from Idaho whose plight has received national attention. But as Grits mentioned recently, now Texas private prisons are mostly full, so others wind up in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky. See the map above from the Times for details about who's going where.

Rotating prisoners from unit to unit can harm prisoner health and participation in rehabilitation programs, said the Times:
The frequent moves can also have a disruptive effect on prisons, whether the transfers occur within a state or not, corrections officials said. In California, a federal court official overseeing a revamping of the prison medical system reported more than 170,000 prisoner moves within the state in the first three months of this year. The moves were found to be inhibiting the ability of inmates to receive health care and draining resources.
Perhaps most ominously in the big picture, California may soon begin dumping untold thousands more inmates into this burgeoning national flesh market, but from what I've seen I doubt there's sufficient capacity anywhere to handle their overflow. Then what? How long will states continue to pursue the same failed strategies expecting to produce different results?

BLOGVERSATION: Tom Kirkendall at Houston's Clear Thinkers has more.

Why not make visiting prisoners easier?

English teacher John Crisp from Del Mar College in Corpus Christi recounts a recent trip to a South Texas prison to visit a young man who'd violated his probation on a marijuana charge. While he respected the need for rules and restrictions, he said, "I wonder if visitors aren't worked over with a little more attitude than is called for?" Read Crisp's account of the visit, which tracks pretty closely with my own experience, then somebody please tell me the answer to this teacher's central question:
why not make visiting easy, rather than difficult, since lack of interested human contact is already a significant contributor to many prisoners' incarcerations?
This isn't some bleeding heart concern; facilitating family visits for prisoners significantly helps reduce future crime and improves inmate behavior while they're incarcerated. The New York Times reported today that "Several recidivism studies have found that convicts who keep in touch with family members through visits and phone privileges are less likely to violate their parole or commit new offenses."

Why discourage such contact when logic and evidence tells us family visits help reduce recidivism and improve public safety?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Push to privatize prisons for young kids on hold

The Texas Youth Commission has temporarily canceled the bidding process for contracts to house 10-13 year old juvenile offenders, a Dallas news reporter confirmed via email.

Grits had reported earlier this month here, here, and here that the Texas Youth Commission was far along in the process of analyzing bids from private contract facilities to house 10-13 year olds, who make up about 20% of TYC's inmate population. But in a story yesterday, the Dallas Morning News reported that:
just days after detailed questioning by The News, TYC canceled bid requests for new contract facilities. Bidders included contractors currently operating facilities in Texas that had a history of problems in other states.
I confirmed via email correspondence with one of the writers, Holly Becka, that the bidding process for housing 10-13 year olds was one of those that was canceled: "there were three RFPs that TYC canceled out of the blue," she wrote in an email. "One was for the 10- to 13-year-old kids; two were for older male inmates."

For now at least, then, plans are on hold to farm out more TYC inmates to private youth prisons. So what will happen instead? Since the agency's budget was cut by the Legislature based on assumptions about inmate population reductions, does this decision affect other plans for reforming the agency and how? Maybe some time soon we'll get another conservator's report that will let us know more about what's going on. None of these questions were answered in TYC administrators' recent State of the Agency tour.

Alberto Gonzales takes "Stop Snitching" code to new heights

On Sunday morning I watched some of the national talk shows where the scandal of the hour was US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' alleged mendacity before Congress last week, and I must admit I've rarely seen someone who's been in public service as long as Gonzales perform so poorly.

If the President is Commander in Chief, perhaps we may consider Alberto Gonzales Chief Prevaricator?

But the big story, to me, isn't that a politician allegedly lied, but why he lied. Reports the Washington Post, "In each case, Gonzales has appeared to lawmakers to be shielding uncomfortable facts about the Bush administration's conduct on sensitive matters."

In other words: Alberto Gonzales doesn't snitch.

The US Justice Department in the last year issued dour warnings about the "stop snitching" campaign and websites that reveal identities of government informants. But actions speak louder than words, and nothing a DoJ spokesman tells the press sends as strong a message to the public as the Attorney General's alleged willingness to perjure himself rather than rat out his boss.

To my mind, after last week Alberto Gonzales has replaced the rapper Cam'ron as the national poster boy for the "no snitching" code; the fact that he's also America's top law enforcement officer makes the irony that much more delicious, and more disgraceful.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Thinking Blogger Award

Here's a shout out to blogs that make us think. Shawn Williams at Dallas South blog earlier this month was kind enough to bestow upon Grits a "Thinking Blogger Award," a meme-tag which he described thusly:
The award was initiated by ilker yoldas and in receiving it I am to select 5 blogs that in turn, make me think.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

So thanks, Shawn for the compliment for naming me. Here are 5 bloggers I've been reading recently who consistently make me think:

  • Subtopia: A Field Guide to Military Urbanism. A forward thinking antidote to creeping militarism in our daily environs, Subtopia has been an especially invaluable and thoughtful source of information on border issues and the practicalities of walls and border security technologies.
  • Ernie's 3-D Pancakes. Ernie is a college math teacher whose blog motto is "Let P be a set of n points in general position. Amen." He doesn't post as often as a lot of bloggers, though when he does it frequently makes me think, as evidenced by this Grits riff off of his most recent post. But what I especially like about Ernie's is his blogroll - today's highest-end math often seems to have nearly as much to do with theology as high-school algebra, and I've spent many afternoons jumping from post to post, link to link through blogs I've found at Ernie's shop. I don't read enough on those topics to blogroll them myself. So I visit Ernie's, which was actually one of Grits' earliest blogroll additions.
  • Schneier on Security. Bruce Schneier is widely considered one of America's premier security experts, and I've learned nearly as much from his blog as I have from reading two of his books (Beyond Fear is the one you want to try first, if you're looking to dabble). This is a high-traffic blog and Schneier gets a critical mass of knowledgeable commenters who add considerably to many of his posts.
  • Lawsagna. Designed as advice and encouragement for law school students, I find many of the discussions about learning methods and presentation are useful to me in much that I do. And Anastasia is always so cheerful!
  • The Deception Blog. The blog on the list I've been reading the shortest time, the Deception blog covers precisely the terrain you'd think from its title, and I never go there when I don't learn something new on topics ranging from brain chemistry to child psychology to police best practices to whether plants malinger or prevaricate.

So that's it, or at least who I'd answer today. In a week or two I might tell you differently, since of course much of it depends on what I'm thinking about! But these five I've definitely been enjoying lately. Thanks, Shawn, for the nice compliment and the tag.

And readers, let me know what blogs make you think.

Morning News expose' finds flaws withTYC private contractors

Are private contractors the answer for the Texas Youth Commission's woes? Probably not to judge by a good Dallas News piece today from Holly Becka and Jennifer LaFleur ("Texas youth jail operators have troubled histories" detailing previously unrevealed problems at Texas Youth Commission's contracted care facilities (13 statewide, in all). One of these is run by the Geo Group (see this Grits profile and this post about their juvie facility in Coke County)

The News article, however, fails to mention that TYC recently issued and received bids on another RFP for private contractors to begin to house 10-13 year olds by October 31 of this year. See Grits coverage of the RFP and the list of those who submitted bids.

Why isn't that part of a story on TYC private contractors? I know for a fact the reporters knew about it. That's a little frustrating, even though overall they did a good job with the story.

But coupled with that knowledge, the Morning News article raises an important question: If problems already exist at private TYC contract facilities (and there's little reason to suspect they do not), why rush into shipping out TYC's youngest and most vulnerable kids to private contract care? Why not at least have a public discussion of whether that's a good idea?

Let's hope the DMN story is just a first step toward forcing TYC's leadership to finally have that conversation more openly. After all, it has important implications for the future of the agency.

The News also provided these interesting links to prior stories and statistical resources on problems at TYC private contractors.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What happened to TYC conservator's reports?

A Texas Youth Commission central office employee emails to ask:
Do you suppose it’s significant that no conservator’s report has been posted since May? We have to report to [TYC Executive Director] Dimitria Pope on “accomplishments” each month. Does this mean that nothing is being accomplished?
It's true, there's not been a conservator's report released since this one on May 2, as far as I know. I wonder why?

I see no reason why changing conservators (it's now Ed Owens instead of Jay Kimbrough) means the new one should stop reporting what's going on to the Legislature and the public. Just spinning a few ideas off the top of my head, here are some things I'd like to see in a TYC conservator's report:
  • An employee satisfaction survey
  • A survey of youth on conditions and rehabilitation effectiveness
  • Any data on outcomes and recidivism for youth who've been released since March
  • An explanation of what will replace the "resocialization" treatment package in TYC and when it will be ready
  • Results from the "vulnerability assessments" at each unit promised in the last conservator's report and unit-specific plans for reducing vulnerabilities.
  • Some sense of when the "Blue Ribbon Panel's" recommendations be ready - some initiatives are waiting on them
  • An appendix listing each new rule or policy changes made since March 2007 as well as any contemplated
  • An analysis of how many employees have been terminated since March 2007 and for what reasons
  • A monthly macro analysis of sustained vs. unsustained complaints against employees by unit and complaint type (TDCJ should publish that data, too).
  • A monthly analysis of youth on staff assaults and crime committed by youth in custody
  • Monthly employment and education progress metrics for TYC parolees
So tell me, what else do you think the Texas Youth Conservator should report to the public about?

Around the Web

Lots of good stuff in the blogosphere and elsewhere online today; let's make the rounds. See:

Ritmo: Filling the jail cells American's can't, a piece about the immigrant detention facility in Raymondville dubbed "Ritmo" by the locals, from The Mex Files. Meanwhile in El Paso another immigration/customs agent was arrested on drug charges this week.

Sorry Judge, I was sleeptalking, Galveston District Judge Susan Criss was more lenient than I would have been (on the blog, anyway) with a lawyer who admitted sleeping in her court.

CERT to the rescue, at The Back Gate we get an extended look at Correctional Emergency Response Teams in prisons and jails, including some dramatic, SWAT-like pics.

Austin & High Crime Neighborhoods, at the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer Jamie Spencer suggests how attorneys could use public crime databases to challenge officers' assertions that part of their reason for reasonable suspicion to perform stops or searches was that they were in a "high-crime" area. "It’s almost a joke among defense lawyers that some cops are willing to testify that any area of Austin is 'high crime,'” he writes.

Friends of Justice is moving!, along with two of its founding members Rev. Alan and Nancy Bean to Arlington. Friends of Justice was a group founded in Tulia by families and supporters of those wrongly accused by Officer Tom Coleman who was later convicted of perjury. Good luck, folks!

More Legal First Aid, wherein Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett has created DWI, Search Warrant, and Arrest editions of "Legal First Aid" advice about what defendants should do in these cases until they get a chance to hire a lawyer.

Flashpoint: Jail Population, the SA Express News' Hearsay blogs says the fingerpointing continues regarding jail overcrowding in San Antonio.

Jam packed jails create state woes, wherein the Houston Chronicle catches on that Texas hasn't just run out of state and local prison beds, but all the private facilities are full, too.

Ability to detect lies a function of police interview styles, says the Deception Blog, citing evidence that information gathering approaches facilitate lie detection better than "accusatory" interview styles.

New Lineup Rules Pass in NC, from the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog we discover that North Carolina has required police to adhere to best practices in police lineups. When will Texas?

Knowing when to keep the lid on, Lawsagna has good advice that applies to two of my favorite topics: cooking and research. I'm also looking forward to reading more about Anastasia's planned research on persuasion.

Prison rehab at work, Simple Justice has news for those worried that inmates aren't learning usable skills in prison.

A motion to change the facts, from Mark Bennett, because sometimes that's all you've got.

Happy Fourth Birthday to Drug War Rant - that pretty much makes Pete a granddaddy in blog years.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Don't stop snitching, says Natapoff, but at least document it

One of my favorite thinkers on the subject of "snitching" or criminal informants, Prof. Alexandra Natapoff of Loyola (CA) law school, testified last week before a Congressional subcommitee on the topic. The thesis of her 7-page testimony, available here:
The government’s use of criminal informants is largely secretive, unregulated, and unaccountable. This is especially true in connection with street crime and urban drug enforcement. This lack of oversight and quality-control leads to wrongful convictions, more crime, disrespect for the law, and sometimes even official corruption. At a minimum, we need more data on and better oversight of this important public policy.
Much of the hearing focused on the terrible incident in Atlanta where Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year old woman was killed because she pulled a gun when police mistakenly raided her home. Realizing their error, police allegedly planted drugs in the apartment then tried to convince an informant to lie to defame her posthumously.

Natapoff argued that average people in crime-ridden neighborhoods don't benefit much from this investigative tactic, or rather its unintended consequences may outweigh those benefits. Indeed, because most street-level drug enforcement in practice targets low-income, often predominantly minority neighborhoods, Natapoff asks,
What does this mean for law abiding residents like Mrs. Johnston? It means they must live in close proximity to criminal offenders looking for a way to work off their liability. Indeed, it made Kathryn Johnston’s home a target for a drug dealer. It also means that police in these neighborhoods tolerate petty drug offenses in exchange for information, and so addicts and low level dealers can often remain on the street. It also makes law enforcement less rigorous: police who rely heavily on informants are more likely to act on an uncorroborated tip from a suspected drug dealer. In other words, a neighborhood with many criminal informants in it is a more dangerous and insecure place to live.

These negotiations between criminals and law enforcement occur largely off the record, without rules or public scrutiny. This is the heart of the informant problem: secrecy and lack of accountability. The Atlanta police could plant drugs on Fabian Sheats – the alleged drug dealer and the first informant in this case -- because the culture of snitching told them that it would never come to light. In our system, 95 percent of all cases are resolved by plea, not by trial. [Ed. note, that figure is greater than 99% in Texas.] This means that the processes by which the government obtains information – even when they are illegal -- will typically remain secret.
In light of this testimony, Natapoff suggested three specific recommendations to the joint committee, some of which have been discussed previously on Grits:
See her full testimony for more details, and also prior Grits coverage of last week's Congressional hearing:

Voronoi Cells, Personal Space and Boundary Functions

"Equations are the devil's sentences."
-Stephen Colbert

What do fractals have to do with personal privacy? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot.

In a recent Grits post summarizing a workshop at the national Restorative Justice conference in Kerrville, I briefly discussed fractals and Twila Hugley Earle's theories about how relatively recent higher math enabled by computers (a set of approaches which she broadly labeled "chaos theory") implied new ways of thinking about crime, punishment, and identifying just, situation-specific outcomes in the criminal justice system.

So I was interested to discover through this post over at Ernie's 3-D Pancakes a new (to me) blog called Flight404, and in particular this post on Voronoi cells and Magnetism. What's a Voronoi cell? "Voronoi cells represent an enclosure where all the points within that enclosure are closer to the seed than any other seeds." I know, I know, it makes perfect sense, right? Here's Flight404's example:

Writes the author, "In the above image, I have created 3000 seeds. The boundaries are the Voronoi cells. All the pixels within a specific cell are closer to the parent seed than any other seeds in the image. Okay, so I just said the exact same thing twice. I'm sorry."

For me, an interactive explanation worked better, so check out this applet created by Paul Chew in 1997 - just click anywhere in the frame to create the first "seed" point, then each additional click will divide up the terrain in accordance with the Voronoi-based mathematical calculations. Go try it now.

Why do I think this might have applications describing human behavior? Because I think people move in packs but also behave as individuals, that we are at once individual decisionmakers responsible for our own actions and simultaneously gravitate toward family, peers, the people closest to us with power, charisma, traditional authority, or other "parent seeds," in this analogy. They themselves revolve around larger centers of gravity the way moons revolve around planets that revolve around suns that revolve around galaxies, etc..

We are each both motivated and constrained by others, and also independent free agents. It's not an either or, thing, both are true, simultaneously. Indeed, such nonlinear truth is why I think social scientists have trouble crafting predictive mathematical models, much less workable solutions, for many extremely human concerns like crime, migration, or in this train of thought, privacy.

I don't have a clue about the math behind this concept, but I can appreciate its utility and dynamism, and think the idea may well have broader applications. To get a clearer picture of how such math might describe human interactions, see this video and explanation of an installation art called "Boundary Functions" from 1998 by Scott Snibbe based on the Voronoi cell concept.

I'm totally spitballing, here, but in Snibbe's video in particular you can see how this mathematical approach might be used to describe nonlinear human interactions in ways that might, theoretically, enable a dynamic mathematical definition of realms of "personal privacy," a definition previously left to the domain of jurists, not math geeks.

Am I reaching? Probably. And as a commenter warned me in the post about Twila Earle's talk, one should beware of mathematics by analogy. But those were the thoughts that filled my head as I learned more about Voronoi cells, FWIW, and I thought them interesting enough to share.

Let me know in the comments what other implications or possible applications come to mind from the Voronoi patterns? See also Scott Snibbe's Voronoi Portrait Series, and the Flight404 author's gallery installation of Voronoi-generated pieces. And in parting check out the Voronoi Beat video that first attracted me in Ernie's post: It's really cool:

Voronoi from flight404 and Vimeo.

News flash: Johnny Holmes thinks Johnny Holmes did a great job

For you nostalgia buffs, the Houston Chronicle this week ran an inexplicably timed hagiography of former Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes. (Was it his birthday or something?) All I can say in response to this puff piece is that Holmes' tenure, like Lubbock, apparently looks better when viewed in the rear-view mirror.

MORE: From Defending People, see Johnny Holmes and the Personal Moral Judgment.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Does $101 million compensate for four lives lost to a lying snitch?

Holy Cow!

Here's an important regional story that's not from Texas, but which casts a foul, new light on police who protect informants who then go out and commit heinous crimes. If you've never heard about the Whitey Bulger fiasco, to me it's perhaps the iconic American example of how police reliance on informants can go horribly awry. FBI agents protected their "supersnitch" Bulger and his compatriots as he spent decades working his way to the top of the Boston mob. Nobody knows where Bulger is now (probably dead, one imagines) but today AP reports on more fallout:
A federal judge [in Boston today] ordered the government to pay more than $101 million in the case of four men who spent decades in prison for a 1965 murder they didn't commit after the FBI withheld evidence of their innocence. The judge called the government's defense that the FBI had no duty to get involved because it was a state case "absurd."

Peter Limone, Joseph Salvati and the families of the two other men who died in prison had sued the federal government for malicious prosecution.

They argued Boston FBI agents knew mob hitman Joseph "The Animal" Barboza lied when he named them as killers in the 1965 death of Edward Deegan. They said Barboza was protecting a fellow FBI informant, Vincent "Jimmy" Flemmi, who was involved.

The two of the four who survived their prison stints were wrongfully incarcerated until 2001 when "FBI memos dating back to the ... case surfaced, showing the men had been framed by Barboza."

Imagine having 33+ years of your life taken away from you by a liar, and you knew it, and nobody would believe you. What a Kafkaesque nightmare!

Unreal! You have to wonder: How could the federal agents who knew about this live with themselves? How can you ever repay what was taken from these four men with money? And how many more people have been wrongfully convicted to protect police informants?

UPDATE: In the comments to this post at Prometheus 6 a commenter who knew Barboza years ago discusses recollections. At Largely says "this is something you don't see in America," but personally I'd dispute that claim. Shadowmedia.org said "I guarantee you that anyone who claimed that the FBI was withholding evidence that these 4 men were innocent was branded a 'liberal conspiracy theorist'." Fables of Reconstruction says the judgment doesn't seem like very much. TChris at TalkLeft said the plaintiffs were lucky to have an excellent judge, and Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice agrees.

RELATED: From Radley Balko, DEA Informant Admits to Lying

San Antonio Army Major at Center of Biggest-Ever Alleged DOD Bribery Scandal

I don't pay as much attention to corporate crime on this blog as I probably should, but this caught my eye: An Army major and his wife stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio allegedly took $9.6 million and were scheduled to receive $5.4 million more from a total of eight different defense contractors, some of them US-based, said NPR, citing an indictment handed down this week by a federal grand jury in San Antonio. Read more in the SA Express News or listen to the NPR story here. The couple are at the center of what an investigator said, if true, would be the biggest bribery scandal in the history of the US Department of Defense.

Meanwhile, an Army reserve major from Georgetown pled guilty this week to taking bribes related to Iraq procurement. It makes you begin to wonder exactly how deep this rabbit hole goes?

In both these cases they're prosecuting the officer but don't publicly name the companies in court documents. My question: Why aren't we seeing contractors themselves prosecuted, or the folks who OFFERED the bribes? I wonder if that's because the corporate guys become informants so the big fish get off while the little fish get eaten?

Wow! It's quite possible I'd never get out

A Florida inmate had his jail time extended for masturbating in his cell, reports The Back Gate, which adds, "No, you'll get no jokes from us about the penal system, doing "hard time," Alexander behaving like a jerk, or how his lawyer failed to get him off."

MORE, see also "Justice went blind ...", via Deliberations. Racy Mind correctly observes that this may be the "first crime ever with a guaranteed 100% recidivism rate." And I thought a commenter at Doc Berman's shop raised a great point:

Reason #405 Why Some People Will Do Anything to Get Out of Jury Duty

Honestly, I can think of few things that would feel more like a waste of time than taking a day to sit in a jury box to see evidence, hear testimony, and ultimately decide whether a prison inmate did or didn't masturbate in view of the guards.
No kidding! Can you even imagine? I bet I'd be pretty unhappy when I figured out after many hours of waiting that that's what they'd brought me in to do.

Some Brits see snitching abuses and move to act

If British judges and barristers can now remove their wigs, at least in civil court, perhaps they can also be the first nation to remove the cloak of secrecy around law enforcement's use of confidential informants.

An item from the BBC Monday ("Informant system open to abuse") declares that several political groups in the UK have launched a debate over whether and how to prevent informant abuses and to tally the real costs in treasures and tolerated crime. At a minimum they hope to find out how much police spend paying informants.

Despite the objections of some officers in the story, I fully understand the demand for greater accountability in spending on "snitches." Several of the problems in the UK sound precisely like the informant-related abuses that routinely crop up here in America.

Said one career informant, "I know of officers who have run non-existent sources and claimed the money themselves. Some use it for Friday afternoon drinking sessions." Me too.

The same informant said, "A lot of units turn a blind eye to these sources committing crimes. In fact they sometimes say to them, 'Just make sure you don't get caught'." That happens here, too.

A detective told BBC, "Most of these people lie for a living - the trick is to find the lie... and the truth." The problem, though, certainly here in the States, is that cops can't always turn that trick. Ask Regina Kelly and the other innocent people accused by a mendacious snitch in Hearne, TX.

Seems like the British have many of the same problems with informants we do here. Bully for those trying to change things. I hope they'll lead the way.

See related Grits posts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

TDCJ guard killed in car crash after working mandatory overtime

Did a Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy cost a prison guard his life when he fell asleep at the wheel on the way home from a mandatory overtime shift? This tragic news from The Back Gate shows the potential human costs to employees and the community from understaffing Texas prisons:
Officer Roy Cole was well liked by his co-workers, and even his supervisors on the Wayne Scott unit in Brazoria county. Many had great things to say about the father of one son, who leaves behind a pregnant wife. And yet through the grief many are experiencing, there remains unanswered questions.

Officer Cole, was working his day of mandatory overtime on the Scott unit that night, and he put in four extra hours per unit mandate. The Wayne Scott unit, which is like alot of TDCJ facilities, remains chronically understaffed due to the agencies ongoing staffing shortages that now top 2,800 officers.

The Backgate has learned that over a years time, there have been many more of these incidents that may be attributed towards the current staffing shortage that plagues TDCJ. Due to the shortage, officers are mandated by unit administration to work either on their off time, or after their original shifts, sometimes at a moments notice, or be subjected to disciplinary action.

Officer Cole was confirmed to be working after his original shift ended on the night he died as he drove back home some distance away from the unit.

This tragic event brings up once again the horrendous circumstances within TDCJ where officers are threatened with disciplinary action if they refuse to stay over to fill open positions on the units (emphasis added). Some employees, being single mothers, or fathers, have encountered child care issues that have forced them to quit, or be disciplined after they have had to refuse to stay over at a moments notice.

"These issues have been ongoing for years " stated one Huntsville administrator. That same administrator went on to say that even though most don't agree with the current overtime implementation plan, there seems to be no end in sight. "When Category one positions are in jeopardy of being unmanned, we have no choice" he went on to say.

Category one positions are those positions that are mandated to be manned on the units by the TDCJ staffing plans. Inmate housing areas are amoung them.

The Back Gate is right this event leaves unanswered several critical questions: How frequently had Officer Cole worked overtime recently, and did TDCJ's mandatory overtime policy contribute to his death? Are there other, similar incidents of which TDCJ is aware? Will the mandatory overtime policy change, now, or will anything be done differently to prevent this from happening again?

TDCJ's understaffing problems are longstanding and chronic, yet the Legislature plans to build many more new prison beds when there aren't enough guards for the ones we've got. Overtime should be a temporary staffing solution, not just how the agency does business. Given current trends, though, look for more understaffing and demands for COs to work overtime at TDCJ.

Fusion Centers in Texas: "What we have here is a failure to communicate"

One product of the 80th Texas Legislature was giving after-the-fact approval in HB 13 (amended at the end of session into SB 11) to Governor Perry's 2005 decision to consolidate intelligence gathering in "fusion centers," which are new intelligence gathering bureaucracies controlled by his political appointees instead of law enforcement personnel.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service explores state "Fusion Centers" in more detail than anywhere else I've seen, so I thought I'd pull a few highlights that jumped out at me from the lengthy study. (For those with a detailed interest, CRS also referenced a 104-page manual called "Fusion Center Guidelines" published by the US Department of Justice in August 2006 about a year after Texas' created its first center.)

Fusion centers' stated purpose is to prevent terrorism and crime through intelligence gathering. But the CRS report says in practice they don't prevent crime, but typically only react to events:
research indicates that while fusion centers want to become more proactive, many continue to follow a reactive model. Most fusion centers respond to incoming requests, suspicious activity reports, and/or finished information/intelligence products. This approach largely relies on data points or analysis that are already identified as potentially problematic. As mentioned above, it could be argued that this approach will only identify unsophisticated criminals and terrorists.
Indeed, right now, says CRS, it's "unclear if a single fusion center has successfully adopted a truly proactive prevention approach to information analysis and sharing." This will require a law enforcement culture change, says CRS, that has not occurred yet, "Moving from a 'need to know' rule to a 'responsibility to share'" mentality.

I'm still not sure what constitutes a Fusion Center in Texas. The map in Appendix B of the report lists two Texas sites - one in Austin (the Texas Security Analysis and Alert Center) and one in Collin County (North Central Texas Fusion Center). In addition, though, this spring it was revealed Texas also has 11 "joint operational intelligence centers" that I know very little about, nor do I understand the relation between those and the two Fusion Centers listed in the report. (Anybody with more knowledge about the relationship there, fill me in, please, in the comments or by email.) All told, different states have created about 40 nationwide, according to CRS, each with separate structures, rules and focus.

In any event, from the outset, CRS acknowledges in the report summary there's a good chance Fusion Centers are a reactive and unwise approach:
There are several risks to the fusion center concept — including potential privacy and civil liberties violations, and the possible inability of fusion centers to demonstrate utility in the absence of future terrorist attacks, particularly during periods of relative state fiscal austerity.
I'd add several more risks to that list, starting with potentially disrupting existing information flows and relationships, agreements and protocols established among public safety personnel over years of working together, particularly regarding natural disasters but also in criminal investigations. In Texas, for example, the Governor's "joint operational intelligence centers" don't communicate with state law enforcement regarding narcotics interdiction at the Texas-Mexico Border. That makes you wonder how "joint" these centers really are in Texas, and how "intelligent"?

In the MSM this spring, nearly all discussion of Texas' Fusion Centers spoke in now-familiar terms of sharing intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks, crime, etc.. But the devil is in the details, and the CRS forthrightly articulated some of the
hazards associated with creating fusion centers without the requisite philosophical and organizational changes necessary within the intelligence and law enforcement communities to sustain the work of the centers.
That's CLEARLY what's happened in Texas. Governor Perry and the 78th (2003) Legislature created a new entity now headed by Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw, who spearheaded creating Texas' fusion centers. He's butted heads frequently with the Department of Public Safety, and used grant funds distributed by the Governor to undermine DPS and muscle them out of their traditional intelligence role. In other words, by creating a fusion center the Governor launched a classic, still ongoing government turf battle. If you care about actual, on the ground homeland security, though, it's potentially one with real-world consequences.

I thought CRS raised another interesting and valid concern. Creating a fusion center is an action politicians can take to say the did something on the topic. But "if fusion center development occurs devoid of a more fundamental transformation, is any real progress made? Is the country any safer or more prepared with fusion centers or have we created a false sense of security?"

Good question! Speaking only of Texas, from what I've seen creating these competing agencies then snubbing DPS probably harmed security more than enhanced it, wasting time and resources on bureaucratic infighting instead of pursuing law enforcement goals, and missing potential opportunities. As the prison warden said to Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

The CRS report also questioned whether problems with data accuracy at fusion centers might lead to misdirected law enforcement resources or even civil rights violations. A footnote declared:
Some might argue that the entire concept for fusion centers, particularly those aspects involving the incorporation of private sector data that may not be accurate or based on any criminal predicate is fundamentally flawed. If there is little legal recourse for citizens to challenge information related to them that resides in commercially available databases, and such information is included in fusion center operations, privacy rights and civil liberties could be undermined.
Another criticism of fusion centers has been the secrecy and lack of public scrutiny surrounding their creation and management. CRS quoted national ACLU declaring, “We’re setting up essentially a domestic intelligence agency, and we’re doing it without having a full debate about the risks to privacy and civil liberties.” It's hard to argue with that.

Even some fusion center supporters recognized the potential civil liberties risks: "An official from a fusion center that advocated a proactive approach to civil liberties-related outreach warned colleagues of the dangers of civil liberties abuses, saying, 'even the perception of abuse associated with a single center, will be devastating for us all.'”

Most of the report offers a range of options for how to proceed regarding Fusion Centers, and I won't wade through all that speculative prose here. But anyone interested in a federal perspective and an exhaustive literature analysis on these "fusion centers" should definitely see the rest of the CRS report.

UPDATE: See a much more detailed and thorough account of the CRS report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and a good, shorter summary overview from the blog Homeland Stupidity.

Makes you wonder what they have to hide?

The Texas District and County Attorney Association yesterday removed a discussion string from their website, apparently in response to the publication of this Grits post reacting to their comments. On the string, prosecutors offered advice to a DEA agent who'd conspired with other law enforcement officers to remove the license plate from a vehicle driven by a drug suspect in order to manufacture probable cause for a traffic stop.

FWIW, that post generated more traffic than any other in Grits' history - more than 20,000 page views since it was posted over the weekend, thanks largely to visitors exploring links from Fark.com, Buzzflash and Overlawyered. There was a good discussion of the topic, too, I thought, in the comments to that Grits post.

It seems kind of silly to take the string down now, doesn't it? I'd already captured the money quotes on Grits and it's not like they can rewrite history. Makes you wonder what they have to hide?

Image presented with apologies for ripping off A Public Defender.

Current and former TYC employees asked to participate in documentary

Austin journalist and documentary filmmaker Emily Pyle is working on a project about the Texas Youth Commission asked if I'd post this request for TYC employees or ex-employees to participate.
I know many current, former, and soon-to-be-former TYC staffers are regulars of the blog, and have some interesting perspectives on what's going on with the agency. A recent poster in the comments section was lamenting the fact that it is harder to get journalists’ attention on continuing problems at TYC now that most major media have moved on from the story, so I thought I’d offer my contact information.

I’m a producer with an independent production company working on a film about TYC. The film will look at the history of TYC, the recent abuse allegations, and the current efforts at reform. The project is supported entirely by public and private grant money.

Much of our project has to do with interviewing TYC inmates and their families, but we don't want to neglect the point of view of people who work at the agency. Any story about TYC that does not explicitly include the viewpoint of TYC staff - especially frontline staff – would be incomplete and would also run the risk of demonizing the people at the agency who do the most demanding and important work. At the moment, I have a lot of kids talking about abuse they've suffered at the hands of TYC staff, and not enough staff explaining the over-crowding, understaffing, and other conditions that create violent situations.

I know there are many concerns for TYC employees about talking with the media. We are able to offer identity protections such as blurring faces and disguising voices, but our preference is for folks who are willing and able to talk on camera. If you would be interested in giving an interview, or want more information, please contact me at tycmovie@yahoo.com

The film is planned for release in January, 2009. In the meantime, our site will be up in August at www.tycmovie.com…hope ya'll stop by.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wikipedia on Eyewitness ID Problems

A new Wikipedia page examines problems with eyewitness identification and catalogs suggested reforms to prevent misidentification by witnesses in criminal cases. Good stuff, with terrific linked citations, to boot. H/T Eyewitness ID blog.

MORE: The Defense Perspective, a blawg by Bryan attorney Stephen Gustitis, has more on the topic of eyewitness ID.

Tarrant County shows improved case tracking can reduce jail overcrowding

Here's another installment in Grits' ongoing compilation of ideas for reducing county jail overcrowding being tried by Texas counties around the state.

In Tarrant County, a new record keeping system designed to process felony cases faster and reduce jail overcrowding won an award from the National Association of Counties last week:
Efficiently moving cases through the courts is a major cost factor for county government, especially as it impacts jail population. Tarrant County created the Differentiated Case Management System by combining modern case management techniques with sophisticated data processing systems. The results have been to greatly increase the flow of felony cases resulting in lowered jail population, and lowered costs. Tarrant County is the only large county in Texas to regularly dispose of more felony cases than are filed and the only one not currently experiencing jail crowding.
For those interested, here's a document from Tarrant County explaining the program in more detail, basically categorizing cases into three types: Expedited, Basic, and Complex. State jail and third degree felonies on the "expedited" list are moved through the system more rapidly.


Should Texas drug test prison guards?

Should Texas drug test prison employees? Right now it doesn't, but most Texas prison guards support mandatory drug testing for themselves and co-workers, an informal survey found at The Back Gate:
Many say that even though they think it should be mandatory, those same people also know the results would cripple the agency. Some speculate that if all TDCJ employees were tested tomorrow, the agency could lose staff numbering in the thousands statewide.
Since TDCJ presently operates around 3,000 guards short and performs many guard duties with prison trustees, you can see why managers might hesitate to enact a policy that could cost them thousands more employees. But what a Catch-22! The agency already loses around 6,000 employees per year and has a big problem with employee crime.

What do you think? Should prison guards be drug tested or is it worth letting it slide to keep the prisons minimally staffed?

Other shoes dropping

This morning's news is filled with the sound of other shoes dropping:

Abuse and neglect at Texas state schools
Serious allegations of abuse and neglect at Texas' state schools for the mentally retarded arose earlier this year at the Lubbock state school (see a report from the USDOJ), but according to Emily Ramshaw and Amy Rosen ("Abuse, neglect plague state schools," July 24) the problem extends throughout the system. More from Vince and Kuff.

First come ratings, then the lawsuits
The sister of a prosecutor in Terrell is suing Dateline NBC for $105 million over its "To Catch a Predator Series" after her brother committed suicide last year when police and TV cameras came to his door accusing him of pedophilia. The suit accuses Dateline of taking over police duties and then failing to protect her brother. The District Attorney in Rockwall County has refused to prosecute cases based on Dateline's accusations. See a good article exploring the issue from the perspective of journalism ethics from the Columbia Journalism Review.

DNA cases just tip of innocence iceberg
Cases of innocent prisoners exonerated by DNA testing tells just a small part of the story, writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times citing a new study that "strongly suggests, then, that there are thousands of people serving long sentences for crimes they did not commit but who have no hope that DNA can clear them." Scott Greenfield has harped on this theme for a while, and I touched on it recently, declaring "There's a risk to ONLY letting "slam dunk" cases involving DNA justify an innocence claim - most cases, after all, have no DNA evidence from offenders to match, even in many violent crimes." Via Doc Berman.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why do you think these stories haven't gotten MSM coverage?

Here are several criminal justice stories I've covered recently on Grits for Breakfast that I thought would receive more play in Texas' mainstream media (MSM):

Texas' Top Narc Testifies
I was surprised that testimony before Congress last week by the Deputy Commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics Division didn't receive SOME coverage, but it was reported more widely in Georgia than in Texas. He described significant changes in the focus of Texas DPS drug enforcement implemented after the "Tulia" debacle, giving "end users" no enforcement priority and finding new ways of measuring success.

Ten Percent of Texans Wanted for Arrest
The story about 10% of Texans having arrest warrants (mostly because of failure to pay high fees on common traffic citations) has received wide coverage in El Paso thanks to state Sen. Elliot Shapleigh, but nowhere else, even though it's a problem all over the state. In Austin the figure is 11%. I would have expected MSM statewide to localize this story for their communities, but nobody else picked it up. (See the "Methodology Update" below.)

Do Private Prisons Just Get to Do What They Want?
I'm still wondering why more hasn't been written about possible fraud by the Geo Group private prison firm (allegedly failing to provide contracted services to Idaho inmates in a rural Texas facility), and whether the Texas Attorney General will do anything about it?

Moving TYC Kiddies to Private Facilities
The Texas Youth Commission, which withered under the media spotlight this spring, now only gets coverage when they screw up, like the Abbott and Costello routine over which kids are eligible for parole. But an enormous policy decision - to move kids age 10-13 into private contract care facilities - has received ZERO MSM coverage, and indeed has been mentioned nowhere but this blog since Grits broke the story on July 12. Bidding has been closed for more than a month and the contracts could be let any day. Youth aged 10-13 make up about 1/5 of TYC's inmate population, so this is a pretty big deal.

What do you think is the over/under on when the MSM will finally pick up this story? Kathy says "never," but I think they'll ultimately have to cover it when TYC starts moving small kids to private lockups. My guess on the over/under question is 45 days. What's yours?

Will TDCJ Takeover TYC? Have They Already?
As one after another official from Texas' adult prison system moves into management slots at the Texas Youth Commission, I keep wondering who in the mainstream media will be the first to launch the discussion about why we're putting people with no juvie experience in these positions and whether TYC should be run like an adult prison agency?

METHODOLOGY UPDATE: With reference to the second item above, at the request of a commenter, I called Sen. Shapleigh's office to ask their methodology for calculating the percentage of local drivers with outstanding arrest warrants. Pretty simple: Call the municipal clerk in the town you're looking at and ask for a list of warrants on a given date (or just a total, if you trust you're getting good data). If they won't give it to you, file an open records request.

Then you're ready to make the calculation: Total arrest warrants is the numerator (X). The denominator (Y) is the most recent population estimates from the census. Then X/Y gets you the percentage in that jurisdiction who have warrants. (N.b., to do it countywide you'd have to include ALL municipalities and the JP courts - might be easier to start by picking the biggest town.) Crunch the numbers yourself then try to get your local media and politicos to do something about it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Odds and Ends: Didya hear the one about the field of pot growing behind the Dallas DEA headquarters? No punchline, that's a news item.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in this week's news:

No room at the prison inn, now even at private jails
What regular Grits reader didn't know this was coming? Now even private prisons are out of space. Reported the Houston Chronicle today ("Private prison facilities running out of room," July 22):
"Essentially, the supply side is not keeping up with demand" ... The reasons are many, from more stringent immigration enforcement nationally to Texas laws forcing county lockups to house state jail felons and parolees who commit technical violations of their release terms.

See also this Houston Chronicle item ("Inmate transfer creates anxiety for town," July 22) about the impact moving 400 Harris County jail inmates to a private prison in rural Louisiana will have on families in both places.

Homegrown, in DEA's backyard
You can't make this up: During recent storms more than 300 marijuana plants were accidentally found growing a few hundred yards from the DEA and FBI buildings in Dallas, while more than 10,000 plants covering seven acres were discovered growing in Grand Prairie on utility company property where the city limit meets with Dallas. Somebody tell me how these guys are going to stop international drug smuggling cartels when they can't keep dope growers from operating within rock throwing distance of their parking lot?

Counting pennies adds up
In Cherokee County, the local paper is calculating how much new state pay raises will mean to the local economy, mostly thanks to the preponderance of local prison employees and the state hospital for the criminally insane in Rusk.

Innocence claim in Dallas won't receive DA Watkins' blessing
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has made national headlines allowing DNA testing to move forward in old cases and acting swiftly to get innocent people out of prison. But he won't back the claim of Ben Spencer, who can present no DNA evidence but whose attorneys found two people who say someone else confessed to the crime. There's a risk to ONLY letting "slam dunk" cases involving DNA justify an innocence claim - most cases, after all, have no DNA evidence from offenders to match, even in many violent crimes. It's Watkins right to force the claim to be justified through the adversarial system and let a judge make the call, but there are more innocent people convicted than DNA will ever exonerate, so the absence of DNA evidence shouldn't preclude DAs or the courts from considering the possibility defendants like Ben Spencer may be innocent.

Forged credentials hard to check
Bruce Schneier has "written about forged credentials before, and how hard a problem it is to solve. Here's another story illustrating the problem:
In an apparent violation of the law, a controverisal aide to ex-Gov. Mitt Romney created phony law enforcement badges that he and other staffers used on the campaign trail to strong-arm reporters, avoid paying tolls and trick security guards into giving them immediate access to campaign venues, sources told the Herald.

When faced with a badge, most people assume it's legitimate. And even if they wanted to verify the badge, there's no real way for them to do so."

Last Words
See the last statements of Texas offenders put to death so far in 2007.

Kirkendall: Enron prosecutors' bullying caused more harm than good

Speaking of prosecutors, Houston lawyer Tom Kirkendall offers some clear thinking about the legacy of federal prosecutors in the Enron Task Force, unveiling a crumbling edifice behind the Potemkin justice touted in a celebratory USDOJ press release. Among their sins, says Kirkendall:

The Task Force engaged in a dubious tactic of fingering potential defense witnesses as either unindicted co-conspirators or targets of the Enron criminal investigation to deter those witnesses from testifying for defendants in the Enron criminal trials. Strong evidence exists that the Task Force threatened witnesses with indictment (see also here and here) if they testified for the defense in the Lay-Skilling trial.

The Task Force's tactics have had a negative impact on such fundamental rights as the attorney-client privilege, the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, not to speak of the negative effect on creation of wealth and jobs.

Good stuff, Tom!

Texas prosecutors reflect on 80th session

What did Texas prosecutors think about the 80th Texas Legislature? For $100 you can find out at a legislative update from the Texas District and County Attorneys Association near you.

These biennial seminars are designed to teach prosecutors and police about changes in Texas state criminal law, so expect the discussion to be pretty thorough and detailed in the three-hour session. For those who need it, you can get three hours of TCLEOSE or CLE credit by attending. TDCAA has events conveniently set up all around the state. See the event list and registration information.

NY Times promoting evidence based approaches to juvenile crime

Two recent items from the New York Times focus on research-based approaches to serious juvenile crime that deserve Grits readers attention.

First, an editorial published July 19 urges Congress not to take "The Wrong Approach to Gangs." The editorial argues for a targeted, intelligence-based approach like the one that dramatically reduced New York City's gang problem, but Congress is poised to take its cue from the opposite coast:

No city has failed to control its street gangs more spectacularly than Los Angeles. The region has six times as many gangs and double the number of gang members as a quarter-century ago, even after spending countless billions on the problem. But unless Congress changes course quickly, the policies that seem to have made the gang problem worse in Los Angeles could become enshrined as national doctrine in a so-called gang control bill making its way through both the House and Senate.

This issue is underscored in a study released this week by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. It shows that police dragnets that criminalize whole communities and land large numbers of nonviolent children in jail don’t reduce gang involvement or gang violence. Law enforcement tools need to be used in a targeted way — and directed at the 10 percent or so of gang members who commit violent crimes. The main emphasis needs to be on proven prevention programs that change children’s behavior by getting them involved in community and school-based programs that essentially keep them out of gangs.

Prevention programs have worked extraordinarily well in New York, where street gangs ceased to be a big problem decades ago. But these prevention programs are difficult to sell in Congress, where lawmakers like to show the folks back home how tough they are on crime, even if it means embracing failed policies.
That last line rings true, doesn't it? We have pols here in Texas, particularly in San Antonio, promoting these same failed strategies because their fed up constituents want them to look tough. But if this study is correct those "tuff" tactics actually make gang crime worse. Here's the full JPI report, via Doc Berman.

Meanwhile, the cover story in today's New York Times magazine focuses on the hot button topic of how the criminal justice system should handle juvenile sex offenders. It's titled "How can you distinguish a budding pedophile from a kid with real boundary problems?" It's a long piece, and contributing writer Maggie Jones did a good job with it. Here are a few highlights from the story that I considered particularly interesting:
  • "Juveniles account for about one-quarter of the sex offenses in the U.S."
  • "Texas lists more than 3,400 people for offenses committed when they were juveniles."
  • Juvie sex offenders need different treatment protocols: "There is no proof that what [a leading researcher] calls the “trickle-down phenomenon” of using adult sex-offender treatments on juveniles is effective. Adult models, [he] notes, don’t account for adolescent development and how family and environment affect children’s behavior."
  • Experts hyped bad science in the past to scare the public: "Robert Longo, now the director of clinical services at Old Vineyard Behavioral Health Youth Services, a psychiatric hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., remembers appearing on 'Donahue' and 'Oprah' in the 1980s, making pronouncements like: 'Sex offenders can’t be cured.' And: 'Victims are damaged for life.' Neither statement was based on good research, he now says. 'We were desperately trying to bring attention to the issue,' Longo says of himself and other sex-abuse experts, “and we went way overboard.”
  • "[W]hile most juveniles who have committed sex offenses are boys around 13 or 14, in other ways they are not a homogeneous population. Though a small percentage — no one knows how many — will become adult rapists or pedophiles, the vast majority, 90 percent or more, will not"
  • Community notification laws "undercut a central tenet of the juvenile justice system. Since juvenile courts were created more than 100 years ago, youths’ records have, with exceptions in some states, been sealed and kept out of the public’s hands."
  • Publicizing juvie sex crimes promotes shunning and recidivism: "In dozens of interviews, therapists, lawyers, teenagers and their parents told me similar stories of juveniles who, after being discovered on a sex-offender registry, have been ostracized by their peers and neighbors, kicked out of extracurricular activities or physically threatened by classmates. Experts worry that these experiences stigmatize adolescents and undermine the goals of rehabilitation."
  • "Of all the worries the public registries create, though, the most frightening for many families is vigilantism. In 2005, a man killed two adult sex offenders he tracked through a Washington State community-notification Web site. And last year, a 20-year-old Canadian man with a list of 29 names and addresses from the Maine Sex Offender Registry went to the homes of two convicted offenders, shooting and killing them"
  • "Another unintended consequence may be that some families will remain silent to protect their children from decades on an Internet registry rather than seek intervention that would benefit both the victim and the offender. One mother I spoke to regretted not keeping quiet."
  • When given polygraph tests, "adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to 'admitting' to more than they actually did. “A polygrapher might say, ‘You failed this part; is there something else you’re not telling me?’ Then you may give up more information to try to pass.”
  • Juvie sex offenders don't cross same lines as adults: “If you’re an adult child molester, you’re violating clear age and legal boundaries. You’re crossing over a lot of lines, so you have to be highly motivated,” [one researcher] said. “Kids typically don’t cross as many lines when they offend; they do stupid things all the time because their brains aren’t developed.”
UPDATE: Here's an example from Fort Worth of exactly the type of anti-gang policy the NYT editorial and the Justice Policy Institute study say created havoc in Los Angeles. Wasn't it Hegel who remarked that history teaches us that man learns nothing from history? MORE from Overcriminalized.com on counterproductive anti-gang proposals in Congress.

Via Doc Berman, Sex Crimes, and Talk Left

Friday, July 20, 2007

If you don't have probable cause just fabricate it, say drug enforcers and some TX prosecutors

UPDATE: TDCAA has removed this comment string from their site, probably because they realized the story was getting wide coverage in the blogosphere (this item has received >20,000 page views since I posted it this weekend, largely thanks to links from blogs Fark.com, Buzzflash, and Overlawyered), so the link to the DA forum no longer takes you to relevant string. But I cut and pasted the quotes included in this post verbatim, so you can still get a sense of their discussion even though they'd prefer we all pretend it never existed.

Speaking of informants, on the Texas prosecutors' user forum a self-identified DEA agent named Bill sought to justify a traffic stop where drugs were found using probable cause agents had overtly fabricated. They didn't want to admit in court they were acting an a possibly unreliable informant, so took the liberty of manufacturing probable cause for a traffic stop by stealing the front license plate from the car the suspect was driving. Here's his story:
I have a federal prosecutor who has some questions with this. Maybe some DA's can shed some light. The federal AUSA [Assistant US Attorney] just has some legal concerns, he is trying to do the right thing and is working with us. In any event, here it is:

An informant gets called to run a load of dope. Fine. He provides the load vehicle, which is driven away to the stash house by a criminal load driver. Prior to the load driver picking up the car, law enforcement removes the front plate, on purpose, so that marked patrol units, working with narcotics task force, will have PC to stop the car. Narcotics task force supervisors and police patrol supervisors discuss this gameplan and everyone agrees it will be fine.

Load gets loaded. Vehicle gets stopped, upon observation by Texas peace officers who witness first hand that the vehicle is in violation of traffic law, with no front plate. Drugs are in plain view thru the glass, and driver consents to search. Drugs seized. Driver arrested. Case expanded on. Everyone high-fives each other.

AUSA feels that the fact that law enforcement "created" the PC, that some issues may come up down the road, such as at discovery. AUSA is also concerned that he may have to "reveal" that this PC was pre-orchestrated to the defense and that an informant was really involved.

We explain the concept of "wall-off" and how PC did legally exist to make the stop, created by us or not.

(As an aside, UC agents use deception and dupery all the time to buy dope. Is the PC for those arrests "bad" because of such tactics?....etc etc)

Can someone share their insight and quote some case law so that I may talk my AUSA? Any "interdiction" experts or similar is helpful also.
502.404. OPERATION OF VEHICLE WITHOUT LICENSE PLATE OR REGISTRATION INSIGNIA. (a) A person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway during a registration period a passenger car or commercial motor vehicle that does not display two license plates, at the front and rear of the vehicle, that have been:.......

The code states "does not display" it does not say "if removed by law enforcement, this section is not in force" etc etc language

Again, the AUSA is a good guy but might benefit from some additional info from the field on this.

By the way, we could be 100% wrong on this too...

any info is appreciated however
Keep in mind, according to this passage, not just the DEA but an unnamed narcotics task force and also local police "
discuss[ed] this gameplan and everyone agree[d] it will be fine." In other words, this kind of skullduggery, to those officers and their agencies, anyway, is just business as usual.

To their credit, several prosecutors said it did not pass the smell test. One ADA declared "
The ONLY reason why they stopped the vehicle was because it was TAMPERED with by law enforcement officers! All that dope is fruit of the poisonous tree and you will be lucky if the prep doesn't turn around and sue you guys for violating his civil rights!!"

But I was astonished to see others suggest the scenario was okay, including an ADA from LaGrange who declared:
I don't see a problem with taking the plate off. Law enforcement will often hand the defendant the drugs and then arrest him for possession. The question is did the defendant operate the vehicle without the front license plate.
Damn! Just take off the license plate off then pull him over for not having it? Or more astonishing, hand them dope and then arrest them for possession? No, no entrapment there, huh? A regular commenter, Jimbeaux, suggested, "Why don't you just cut the brake lines and arrest him when he goes through a stop sign?" No kidding!

Here's my question: Why isn't the officer charged with theft of the license plate? No one suggested such a thing on the prosecutors string, but you have to wonder. And why would it be worth police engaging in all this mendacity to keep their informant from being scrutinized in court? Maybe because the informant is more culpable than his handlers are letting on. My guess: there's a lot more backstory to this informant's involvement than meets the eye.

MORE: See an excellent followup post on this subject from the blog Simple Justice, and more discussion from the blog Defending People. Also see the discussion string at Fark.com.

RELATED: See recent Grits coverage of a Congressional subcommittee hearing on problems with confidential informants: