Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Annual Halloween scare tactic on sex offenders doesn't improve public safety

You want to know what's really scary? How ill-conceived and hype-driven are public safety policies aimed at reducing sexual assaults on children.

Last year I wrote that scare tactics aren't just for kids on Halloween, and I could and for the foreseeable future probably will do some version of this blog post annually to criticize the foolish policy many police and probation departments have adopted of rounding up all the registered sex offenders in their community into custody on Halloween night to keep them from having children come to their door.
As McLennan County’s most recently convicted sex offender, the 82-year-old businessman has been ordered to gather with about 85 other convicted sex offenders at the Adult Probation Office during prime trick-or-treating hours tonight.

It’s not for a party. It’s so those being supervised on probation as sex offenders won’t have the porch light on and a welcome mat out for young ghosts, goblins and potential abuse victims.

Curtis Hand, director of McLennan County Adult Probation, says the gathering is not optional or just for those who can make it. It’s an order for those on the sex offender caseload — and those who don’t show are going to jail.

This is the third year that Hand has ordered sex offenders to be at the office at 504 N. Sixth St. from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Halloween night. Some complain, but most don’t, Hand says.

In years past, probation officers went from home to home of sex offenders on probation to make sure they didn’t have their lights on and were not answering the doors on Halloween, Hand says.

“We found that this makes more sense to us,” he says. “This is one night during the year that there is a high concentration of children on the street, and to better assure the safety of those children from this population, it just seems like it is better to have them in one spot so you know where they are.”

This is sheer foolishness. At least if you're going to do it, respect their privacy and don't issue a damn press release or contact the media.

The only Halloween abduction in US history was in Wisconsin in 1973, and the killer did not have a prior record. This is a solution looking for a problem, and finding none, hyping a non-existent one almost purely for purposes of political grandstanding. Stranger rape of children isn't the problem (93% of child sexual assault victims knew their assailant), so there's very little public safety justification for this "Round up the usual suspects" routine.

By comparison, petty juvenile crime, vandalism, underage drinking and driving, fights among kids, and all manner of graffiti and property crime skyrockets on Halloween. It'd be easy enough from analyzing previous years' Halloween reports to identify what crimes police should focus on in what parts of town. Why not focus extra resources there, instead of on an over-hyped scenario that's far less likely to ever occur?

Texas justice system oversees more people than live in 4 states and Washington D.C.

With Texas adult prisons nearly 4,000 guards short, and voters about to decide whether to approve debt to build three more units, it's worth pausing for a moment to observe with awe the vast number of Texans under control of the criminal justice system:
  • Average number felons under direct TDCJ supervision: 156,981 (2004)
  • Average number of Texas offenders on probation: 430,200 (2004)
  • Average number of parolees on active supervision: 77,000 (2005)
  • Total county jail population: 73,289 (2007)
Since I couldn't easily find numbers for the same time annual periods, this is just a rough estimate, but assuming those numbers haven't change much, that puts the total number of adults incarcerated or under direct supervision in Texas at any one time at approximately 737,470. That's more than total 2004 populations of Washington, D.C. and four US states: Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. A sizable majority of these offenders committed nonviolent offenses. (Texas has labeled a total of 2,324 separate acts "felonies," eleven of them involving oysters.)

Indeed, that's a significant proportion of Texans overall. In 2003, Texas' total adult population was 15,878,347. So about 4.6% of Texas adults, by these calculations, are under control of the criminal justice system at any one time - nearly five out of every hundred.

Texas also pays quite a lot of people to track down and confine the bad guys:
  • Average total number active peace officers licensed at TCLEOSE: 84,850 (2005)
  • TDCJ employees including prison guards and parole officers: Approximately 38,000 (2004)
And that doesn't include support staff, county employees, and a lot of other folks.

Discussing staffing shortages at TYC with a juvenile probation chief in Lubbock on Monday, he darkly joked that we're getting to the point in Texas where half the state will be incarcerated, and the other half will be paid to guard them. The only problem with that scheme: Apparently nobody wants the job.

Data from agency evaluations submitted to the Sunset Commission, see: TCLEOSE, TDCJ, TCJS.

Understaffing makes prison guards' job less safe

While the turnover rate is not as severe as at TYC, which loses nearly half of its juvenile correctional officers every year, Texas' adult prison system also can't hire and retain sufficient staff to safely operate its prisons. The number of unfilled guard slots has shot up to nearly 4,000 statewide. According to the Dallas News ("Assaults on prison guards increase," Oct. 29):

Assaults on prison guards and staffers have doubled in the last five years, according to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News. And turnover at the second-largest prison system in the country is at a record level with one in four employees leaving the department last year. The TDCJ workforce was down 3,935 employees at the end of August.

Corrections department officials and prison experts blame the increase on everything from widespread staff shortages and low pay to a new breed of tougher criminals and prison overcrowding. There is one corrections officer for every 6.8 prisoners at TDJC facilities, where the inmate population is roughly 152,000, spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

The News' analysis of assaults at Texas prisons found inmate-on-guard attacks have gone up considerably in the last few years. More than three dozen staff assaults with weapons have been reported so far this year, up from just 18 in all of 2003.

And those don't include the higher number of offender-on-offender assaults that guards have to break up and police. More than 900 cases of inmates attacking inmates have also been reported this year, up more than 30 percent from 2002. ...

Full-time salaries for Texas prison guards start at $23,040 a year and max out at $33,948 – near the bottom of the scale nationally, prison guard unions and industry experts say. That drives away employees – and drives up stress and overtime, they say.

"These staff shortages, and the pay, they're part of a larger problem," said Brian Olsen, deputy director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 4,000 workers. "This is a dangerous environment and, if you don't have the right resources, it creates obvious, possibly fatal, problems."

Maj. Troy Selman, who oversees the agency's training center near Huntsville, said budget cuts and exhausted applicant pools play a big part in the prison system's staff shortage.

"You have a high national rate of unemployment and, just like any other business, our applicant pool is small," Maj. Selman said.

In the 1980s, for example, the correctional officer ranks were filled with former oilfield workers, Maj. Selman said. Now, you're more likely to see baby-faced teenagers looking for a first job or mid-career hires filing in for prison guard training.

I've been harping on this theme for quite a while, now, particularly with voters poised to decide next week whether to approve new debt to build three new prisons. Somebody please explain: How does that make sense when Texas can't staff the prisons we have?

Half of teens in adult TX prisons from Houston

Here's a frustrating trend that only has an electoral solution: Harris County disproportionately certifies youth offenders to stand trial as an adult than any other county, and the trend is worsening in response to reform legislation passed earlier this year by the Texas Legislature. Wanting to incarcerate youth longer than the SB 103 allows, the Houston Chronicle reports that DA Chuck Rosenthal anticipates increasing the number of certifications sought to try teenagers as adults ("More youth are tried as adults in Harris County," Oct. 28):
Harris County accounts for half of all underage teens in the state's adult prisons, despite youths here accounting for just 15 percent of all juvenile crime in Texas, according to a review of state and local statistics.

Judges and prosecutors expect the number of teens in prison will continue to increase. The recent sex and abuse scandals within the Texas Youth Commission prompted legislators to require offenders to be released at 19 rather than 21 or be sent to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

"The irony is that the Legislature's intent was to keep more kids out of institutions" by overhauling TYC, said Judge Michael Schneider of the 315th District Court. "It may cause more kids at younger ages to end up in the adult system."

Prosecutors may seek more adult certifications of juvenile sex offenders because of the lowered age cap on TYC stays.

"If a sex offender enters TYC at 16 or 17, that's only about two or three years," said Assistant District Attorney Bill Hawkins. "That's not enough time to rehabilitate them."

Texas permits courts to certify juveniles as young as 15 to be tried as adults for murder and other violent crimes.

For the past decade, Harris County has prosecuted more juveniles as adults than Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant and Travis counties combined.

I attended a workshop yesterday at the Lubbock conference of the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas where defense attorney Mel Hazelwood described the certification process in some detail. Bottom line, he said, it is extremely easy for prosecutors to meet the requirements in Texas' statute to certify a youth as an adult for most serious crimes. If the prosecutor wants to do that, he said, they will usually succeed.

The Chronicle story said as much: "'The process has become somewhat perfunctory,' said Marc D. Isenberg, a juvenile defense attorney."

So these are choices being made by elected officials, not legal requirements - youth committing the same offenses in other counties are more likely to go into the juvenile system. And it's not like the strategy is producing results: Juvenile crime is increasing in Harris County faster than the overall crime rate. My guess: A big part of the reason is the county's penchant for punishment over rehabilitation for criminal youth. The 16-year old brain doesn't work the same way as adult offenders, and it doesn't make the public safer to ignore those differences and miss an opportunity for reform. Kids can change, and a lot of them do.

Unlike teenagers, though, old dogs don't learn new tricks - at least the mean ones don't - and there's little reason to believe the Harris DA will reverse his misguided path. Rosenthal and quite a few of Harris County's most punitive judges are up on the 2008 ballot, and one hopes voters will help solve this problem.

Tricks instead of treats: TYC halts overtime for JCOs

Talk about chickens coming home to roost!

Yesterday morning in Lubbock, someone rushed up to me, PDA in hand, to share a story from the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward that any regular Grits reader should have seen coming ("Youth prisons halt overtime, Oct. 30"):

In its latest official stumble, the Texas Youth Commission spent more than half of its yearly budget for overtime payments in just one month, and it will temporarily stop paying overtime to its 2,200 guards.

Officials confirmed Monday that the agency spent $735,933 on overtime for correctional officers in September — about 55 percent of the $1.3 million that the Youth Commission expected to spend in an entire year.

As a result, the agency's acting executive director, Dimitria Pope, has suspended all overtime payments effective Wednesday "until controls are verified at each facility for ensuring critical needs for the continuing high usage," according to an internal memo from Pope.

It's easy to see how this happened, and it was predictable as the sunrise. SB 103 required TYC to staff dorm facilities with a minimum 12-1 staff to youth ratio, compared to a 24-1 ratio when the West Texas sex scandal broke earlier this year. Most observers blame high staffing ratios directly for increased abuse at TYC in recent years. (As an aside: a couple of different directors of county detention facilities told me they keep 8-1 ratios during waking hours, though another told me he had difficulty keeping staffed at 12-1.)

So the Lege mandated TYC to keep more staff on the floor, particularly in dormitories. Reducing the number of youth incarcerated at TYC by about 1/3 helped some, but not enough to reach 12-1, mostly because the agency continues to hemorrhage staff. As the New York Times reported October 16:
State officials say chronic job vacancy rates and critical employee turnover are at the root of many of the system’s problems. Employee terminations since September 2006 have far outpaced recruitment. The agency has hired 870 juvenile corrections officers since September 2006 to October 2007. In that period 1,241 officers left their positions, or about half the juvenile corrections officers.
With that kind of turnover still occurring, it's inconceivable on its face that TYC could meet new staffing ratios for JCOs. (The agency's staff turnover rate hovers around 50% per year.) The Mart facility, for example, is currently about 145 JCO's short. Even though the agency has fewer kids incarcerated overall, TYC closed three units earlier this year, which means kids from those facilities now must be housed elsewhere.

In August, Ms. Pope informed the Legislature staffing ratios at TYC facilities complied with the new statutory mandates. I didn't believe it when she said it, but to the extent that claim was remotely accurate, widespread use of overtime clearly was the only way it could happen. Now we see that adequately staffing TYC probably can't occur within the appropriated budget, a fact which should have been a major concern for the new administration long before this late juncture. As Rep. Debbie Riddle said at the time, "We're tending the flowers around the house while the house is caving in."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Homemade jail hooch sounds really gross

Here's a new one on me: Inmates in the Brazoria County Jail, reports The Facts, use rudimentary materials to make their own homemade alcohol. In an article (10/28) about jail contraband, The Facts reports that:
Cell phones aren’t a problem at the Brazoria County jail, but rudimentary alcohol is, jail Capt. Rex McCall said.

“We haven’t had a cell phone in here for about five years. The trustys assigned outside are searched every time they come back into the facility,” McCall said.

To make alcohol, inmates use bread, any kind of fruit, water and a plastic soda bottle, placing the fruit and bread — for a yeast culture — in the bottle with water. They sometimes strain the chunky mixture through a second slice of bread in about 2 weeks, making what McCall said is a “pretty nasty brew.”

Inmates also dry banana peels and roll them to smoke. There is no mood-altering effect, “just something to smoke,” McCall said. Texas jail facilities are tobacco-free.

Contraband is less of a problem in county jail than in Texas Department of Criminal Justice buildings because local inmates have more to lose. Prisoners serve between two days and two years in county if they can’t make bond before facing a judge.
Smoking banana peels, making alcohol from fruit, water and bread - I don't know whether to admire the ingenuity or to be really grossed out by behavior that sounds like some damnable cross between the TV shows MacGyver and Prison Break.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Survey results: What is the structure of the US market for illegal drugs?

Time to round up responses to this week's reader survey which asked, "Several well-known cartels dominate most Mexican drug trafficking. Do you believe there exist American criminal cartels similar to those in Mexico?"

I posed the question after Governor Perry's security guru Fred Burton from Stratfor asserted that America had no large cartel-style criminal organizations because US law enforcement was too efficient and hard to corrupt. It turned out, only 3% of Grits readers agreed with Mr. Burton, but a surprising number overall - around 42% - agreed generally that America did not have large, Mexican cartel-style organized crime gangs.

With more than 200 responses, 14% said the US drug market is dominated by small, regional distributors, while 24% thought that the cartels' organizations themselves already extend into the US and control drug-smuggling crime gangs here in the states. Fifty-eight percent agreed with my assessment in this post that, since most of the huge sums of money spent on drugs comes from the US, some American capitalist crook was probably controlling the US portion.

I'm glad I asked the survey question, because having it up there made me think about the topic all week, and the range of responses actually made me reconsider my position (even though most readers agreed with my original stance). The more I read and think on it, the more I believe it likely that Mexican cartels work directly in America with decentralized networks of regional distributors and corrupt law enforcement. One commenter suggested that prison gangs were the de facto national network, and that could be partially true as well.

Of course, maybe there is one or more big-league American Gangster who's been successfully shielded from media and law enforcement scrutiny. We can't know for sure. But capitalism is a messy and dynamic thing, and it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Mexican crime organizations have extended their reach far enough into the United States to control their own distribution channels.

In any event, it's hubris in my view to believe, as Burton and 3% of Grits readers do, that US law enforcement is significantly shielded from corruption. Hell, we've seen elected sheriffs and drug task force supervisors shepherding drug trafficking caravans through their jurisdictions!

I've argued before and still believe that border security money should first go to root out official corruption on both the US and Mexican side before wasting money on "training" corrupt police. (In the worst case scenario, the US brought a team of Mexican commandos to Fort Benning, GA to receive special forces training who went back home, defected, and became Los Zetas, a feared mercenary band who fight on behalf of the Gulf Cartel.)

I'm increasingly frustrated that US border policies not only seem to ignore but worsen the threat of powerful Mexican criminal gangs operating in America. While a whopping 73% of Americans currently think illegal drugs are a "serious problem," honestly you haven't begun to see real trouble until Los Zetas show up in your town.

UPDATE: Mark Bennett from Defending People emails to say:
I don't think there exist American druglords. I've seen lots of cases involving American drug dealers, and all of them end with small-scale (tens of kilos) purchases from Mexicans. If there were American druglords, I would expect to have seen at least one case where the trail petered out with someone who wouldn't talk about his American boss.

There is undoubtedly corruption in US law enforcement, but there are too many agencies with jurisdiction over drug crime for a druglord to confidently preserve his freedom by bribing cops.
NUTHER UPDATE: A reader forwarded a link to this article from Mad Cow News (Oct. 29) in response to the assertion that there are no "American drug lords": Bush fundraiser linked to CIA drug plane.

Bexar partners with religious charity to divert youth from TYC

With the Texas Youth Commission no longer accepting misdemeanant offenders, and new TYC rules pushing kids onto parole much sooner than in the past, counties must now manage more problem youth in the community or in locally funded post-adjudication facilities who previously might have spent years in TYC, out of sight, out of mind.

Most impacted are the five largest counties, who account for around half of all TYC commitments. So I was pleased to see Bexar County (San Antonio) experimenting with alternatives to TYC placement, partnering with a Baptist charity to provide "intensive family preservation services." According to Haley Smith at The Baptist Standard ("Bexar County youthful offenders find second chance with KAPS," Oct. 26):
A growing number of South Texas juvenile offenders are hearing good news—jail is not their only option—thanks to an expanding relationship between the Juvenile Probation Department and Kids Averted from Placement Services.

KAPS, a program of Baptist Child & Family Services that has provided intensive family preservation services for youthful offenders for nine years, recently received an additional $325,000 from Juvenile Probation. This has allowed the program to increase from four to six the number of three-person teams—which translates into helping an additional 56 families a year.

“We think programs such as KAPS are ultimately going to take the place of (incarceration in Texas Youth Commission facilities) and other traditional methods,” said Jeannine Von Stultz, director of Mental Health Services for Bexar County Juvenile Probation who championed the funding increase.

Bexar County courts, realizing the positive effects of KAPS, are ordering the counseling for more teens as the last chance before being sentenced to juvenile detention. Because of the substantial length of the waiting list to get into the program, juveniles often get in trouble with the law again and find themselves back in court before they receive the chance to benefit from KAPS’ services—one reason behind the additional funding.

“Our waiting list is anywhere from 25 to 30 families at any given point who usually wait a time period of about three months or longer,” said Janie Cook, BCFS executive for teen and youth services. “The additional funding should cut the waiting list in half.”

Until recently, the Texas Youth Commission was assigned to handle young people through the age of 21 who had committed a variety of misdemeanors. However, because of serious allegations of physical and sexual abuse, TYC now is allowed to handle offenders who commit serious felonies until age 19.

Due to this change in policy and the fact many youth in TYC were released early from their sentencing, the state gave money back to juvenile services, which—in turn—redirected a portion to KAPS.

Because research that shows non-traditional counseling programs such as KAPS produce a better success rate than traditional psychotherapy methods, the juvenile probation department continues to rely on KAPS, Von Stultz said.

“I believe the reason for this is that the families sent to these programs usually have multiple issues in addition to the legal issue at hand regarding their child. Often things as simple as transportation keep the family from going to their assigned counseling,” Von Stultz explained.

“KAPS goes into the family’s home, breaking through initial apprehension and practical barriers such as transportation, to get to the heart of the matter.”

KAPS’ goal is to support the family as a whole, offering other resources not part of traditional treatment methods and addressing practical needs such as food and housing.

“When families come to be part of the KAPS program, they obviously are not always happy about the court order. But by the end, they usually tell us that they appreciate the fact that we don’t give up on them. Our staff is pretty tenacious,” Cook explains. “Many of these families feel that the system has let them down, and we want to show them that’s not the case.”

With the additional funding, KAPS is forming two new teams to meet the growing need to minister to the youth assigned to their care. As part of the team expansion, KAPS is in the process of filling four new staff positions, including two case managers and two case manager aides and one therapist, to increase capacity to handle more teens.

Although 75 percent of the funding will go to serve young people who might have originally ended up in TYC, the money also provides adequate resources to improve the KAPS program as a whole.

“The ultimate goal of the Juvenile Probation Department and KAPS is to serve the kids in our community, using TYC as a last resort,” Cook said. “Any additional funding we receive helps significantly in these efforts.”

Friday, October 26, 2007

I Love a Parade! Another Dallas Exoneree ... Strike Up the Band!

The parade of innocent men exonerated thanks to DNA testing in Dallas continues today, reports Unfair Park with the release of Eugene Ivory Henton, who was "exonerated of a 1984 sexual assualt after DNA evidence showed he was not the perpetrator," according to the Dallas News.

Check out Restorative Justice Ministry Network's November newsletter

Here. It's good to see the group back up and running strong after a fire gutted their headquarters in Huntsville last year.

Advocates: Not enough detail in TYC grievance procedures

On Wednesday afternoon, the Texas Youth Commission held its first, post-conservatorship public hearing to receive input about agency rulemaking - a landmark, of sorts, even if the agency only grudgingly admitted it should use official mechanisms for accepting community input.

The subject was creation of new youth grievance procedures at the agency as required in SB 103 passed earlier this year. I couldn't attend, but Isela Gutierrez of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition took detailed notes and agreed to let me publish them here along with her testimony, which I've uploaded here into a Google document. Here are Isela's notes:

Today’s public hearing was slightly less than an hour long. It was presided over by Wade Phillips, Deputy General Counsel, with Mary Strong, Director of Youth Rights Division, and DeAnna Lloyd, Manager of Policy, Grants, and Accreditation, also sitting on the dais.

Phillips thanked everyone for coming and for their comments which were ultimately intended to help make TYC a better place. He clarified that the purpose of the hearing was to take comments and hear suggestions, not so much to debate. He asked speakers to limit their time to 10-15 minutes per person and said that TYC had already received a number of written comments from Texas Appleseed, Texas Legal Services Center, Advocacy, Inc., and others. The hearing was recorded. Phillips said TYC will respond in writing to any written comments made before the rule is published.

Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas Foundation: She thanked TYC for holding this public hearing at the ACLU of Texas’ request. ACLU is just as interested in the process of the reforms as in the substance. She used to work for the US Department of Justice in the Special Litigation Section doing the very same kinds of investigations that DOJ is doing at Evins. In her experience, transparency is integral to process of reform. Hearings like this are key parts of that process. ACLU is also very interested in substance of issue, of course, and did a lot of work (via former ED, Will Harrell) on the legislative reforms that took place this session. She urges TYC to continue to keep the process open.

Monica Thyssen, Advocacy, Inc.: Advocacy, Inc. (AI) is the federally designated Protection & Advocacy (P&A) group for Texans with disabilities. Inside of TYC, their primary focus is incarcerated youth with disabilities. AI goes in and out of facilities; she went just this week. Thyssen recommends that the policy establish a designated staffer to receive grievances at each facility. She also would prefer that people outside of the facility review the grievances, possibly the Ombudsman.

She said that youth have no faith in the complaint process. She is also concerned about youth being able to access the forms. The current structure of youth receiving the complaint form from another youth on the dorm (the Youth Grievance Clerk) results in some youth feeling a sense of intimidation based on what kind of relationship they have with that youth and the JCO on that dorm.

Also, as P&A, Advocacy, Inc. has authority to speak with youth with disabilities. If youth are minors, they get permission from the parents to file complaints about any allegations of abuse or neglect. Once AI files a grievance, they become a legal representative of the youth. But, some of the grievances AI had filed were followed up on by TYC staff speaking directly to youth and not including AI. TYC staff would ask youth “did you mean to file this?” Sometimes youth would forget that they had filed the grievance, and sometimes they were intimidated, so then the grievance was dropped without AI’s knowledge. Thyssen said that this interferes with AI’s attorney-client privilege as defined in Rule #4.02 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Phillips asks: What does the form look like? Who are the parties to the document?

Thyssen: I can send you a copy of the form, I don’t have on with me, but with a minor youth, we ask the parents to sign it, and if a youth is over 18, they can sign it themselves.

Phillips: So, you think you’ve got a situation where someone is going behind your representation and disavowing that relationship?

Thyssen: Yes. I hear from kids that the complaint process is a joke and that they don’t have any faith in it. They feel like they can trust us because we are outsiders.

Ms. Clark-Kingery (didn’t catch her first name), Parent: She is the mother of a child that was in Corsicana and is now in Ash. What Monica Thyssen said is true about kids being intimidated. She said she still hasn’t heard back about the grievances she filed on her son’s behalf, who is afraid and easily intimidated. Her son was assaulted at Corsicana, had been injured, had surgery, and she couldn’t get any response on her grievances.

Lynn White, Texas Appleseed: Thank you for inviting us to this hearing and for having the hearing. It is very important for advocates and others to be able to give feedback. Submitting the policies to the Register and holding hearings like this shows a good faith effort to adhere to the transparency required by SB 103.

The primary issues TX Appleseed is concerned about are: access to grievance process, resolution of the grievance process, and the appeals process. The State Auditor’s investigation revealed systemic issues with the grievance system. But, the problem was not so much the written policy that created the problem, but the culture in the agency. Of course, a strong written policy is very important.

The biggest problem with the proposed policy is that there is not enough detail. In written comments, Appleseed suggested language to make the policy stronger, including: creating grievance officers, which would help ensure uniformity and responsiveness; language indicating TYC accommodate disabled youth in filing grievances, which proposed policy doesn’t address at all; grievance forms must be available to youth without contact with staff; need a definition of the role of the “youth advocate.” One of the most serious issues revealed in the State Auditor’s report was the lack of access youth in security had to complaint forms. Proposed policy doesn’t address that at all.

In terms of attorney-client privilege problems addressed by Monica Thyssen, Appleseed suggests that facility staff be trained to understand issues of attorney-client privilege rather than inadvertently undermining the attorney-client relationship. The proposed policy should: provide for someone on staff to explain the appeals process to youth; allow access to legal counsel in case of violation of federal, state or constitutional law. Also, language regarding retaliation needs to be strengthened.

Other states have taken a more hard line approach to the issue by making retaliation grounds for immediate dismissal. Even though it seems that implicit references to the executive director appeal in GAP 93.35 are interwoven throughout the proposed rule, there is no explicit reference to it. The new policy also implements an extra level of appeal, which seems like it would delay opportunities to exhaust the administrative process.

Isela Gutiérrez, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition: Read her full testimony here.

Editors' note: Here's an important excerpt from her testimony voicing concerns about a pattern of pending TYC rulemaking proposals where the details are filled out in administrative directives that allow no public input:
[T]he proposed rule does not provide sufficient detail about how this new grievance process will actually function to strengthen, standardize, and enforce the youth complaint system. The lack of specific information in the proposed rule about how this improvement will take place is troubling. The proposed rule fails to provide clarification on a number of key issues, including:
  • How the complaint process will be standardized and centralized;
  • How the agency will ensure that the period for resolving grievances will be shortened;
  • Which staff member(s) will be responsible for receiving, responding to, and resolving grievances;
  • How the agency will prevent youth from being retaliated against;
  • How long a child, parent, or advocate should expect to wait for a response to a grievance;
  • Whether attorneys, advocates, and others will be able to assist youth in presenting and resolving a grievance, any limitations placed by the agency on that assistance;
  • How the internal grievance system will interact with the Independent Office of the Ombudsman and Office of the Inspector General created by S.B. 103;
  • How the agency will accommodate the special needs of disabled youth in filing complaints;
  • How the agency will guarantee that the new informal conference process is not used to intimidate or otherwise coerce youth who have complaints, and;
  • How to appeal to the executive director.
In addition to our concerns about the lack of specific detail in the policy, TCJC is further troubled by the change in how the agency now plans to write and implement its policies. Previously, TYC’s administrative policies were very detailed and provided a great deal of information to outside stakeholders, such as parents and advocacy groups, about how the system was supposed to be run. Since this information was contained in the Texas Administrative Code, youth, agency staff, and outside stakeholders were able to submit proposed changes to policy at any time for the agency to consider.

Currently, it is our understanding that the new administration plans to implement a bi-furcated administrative rule/administrative directive system, in which the published administrative rule is only a shell of the policy, which will actually be implemented according to the content of a lengthy, internal, administrative directive that contains the actual “meat” of the policy (i.e., practices and procedures for the implementation of the policy).

Although the agency has agreed to make these administrative directives available to the public via its website, TYC has no avenue or process in place to receive public comment on these internal administrative directives. Since these administrative directives are not a part of the Texas Administrative Code, the development of these directives and any significant changes to them may be made behind closed doors at any time with no input or oversight from anyone except agency staff, as there is no requirement that these directives be published in the Texas Register or advertised in any other way. While TCJC can appreciate that this new system may increase TYC’s ability to expedite any needed changes to procedures implementing policy, we also believe that it impedes the public’s ability to participate in the policy-making process, which is critical in this time of rapid and far-reaching change for the agency.

'The Jail That Ate Tyler' and other stories

Here are a few items updating regular Grits themes I've noticed this week while I've been working on other stuff:

'The Jail That Ate Tyler'
The Tyler paper has been full of debate over whether to build a new 10-story jail downtown, including a thoughtful letter to the editor titled, "The Jail That Ate Tyler." Mary Lindsey writes:
One thing I have not heard anything about as we prepare to spend $125 million of taxpayer money is the growth rate in jail inmates.

Check this out: (adp means average daily population) 2000-01 - 811 adp; 2001 - 796 adp; 2002 - 792 adp; 2004 - 795 adp; 2005 - 925 adp (+130); 2006 - 1035 adp (+110).

Why the increase in jail population in 2005 and 2006? This is real important going forward. If you look at a seven-year window (2000 - 2006) this represents a 4.5 increase in ADP per year.

If this continues, by 2017 (11 years later) we will be looking at an ADP of 1,588. If we can't stop this trend we will not be able to build a jail large enough to keep up.

We don't need five acres (what our current plan calls for) we need 100 acres and a building format that is easy to expand. See what I mean by "The jail that ate Tyler?" I am so glad I live in a country where we can agree to disagree and settle issues by voting.
I was flattered that my father, who still lives in Tyler, mentioned receiving several comments about the piece I wrote about the Tyler jail. "Without exception," he said, "they complimented your letter as being well-written and 'right on the point' regarding the issues involved." From what I've seen, and given overwhelming opposition to jail bonds last year, I predict jail buiders in Tyler will lose again this time at the ballot box. Of the county jail votes up on November 6, the one in Smith County is easily the most contentious.

Bryan jail bonds also on November ballot
Brazos County makes the fourth I've identified so far with a jail bond up before voters on Nov. 6 - this one for $55 million, up more than $20 million from earlier estimates. As elsewhere, the biggest source of jail overcrowding is expanded use of pretrial detention by local judges. New jail bonds will require the Brazos Commissioners Court to raise taxes to make annual debt payments. Voters in Harris, Smith, and Howard Counties also have jail bonds before them that day.

Galveston jail only profitable to run if overcrowded
Galveston can't find a private contractor willing to run its old jail after building an new one, though jail proponents touted prospective leasing fees as a revenue source that would offset new debt costs. Private prison contractors told the county it would be profitable to run at the overcrowded levels the county operated at under Texas Commission on Jail Standards variances, but not at its actual capacity of just over 500 inmates.

Is coverup worse than the crime for bribery?
A Texas helicopter firm, the Bristow Group, discovers that if you report bribing foreign governments to federal regulators, they won't punish you for it.

Lufkin school survey: Marijuana easy to get, kids try it young
In Lufkin, "More than 80 percent of local seniors say [marijuana] is 'easy to get' in Angelina County, according to the survey. The average age of first use among Texas students is 13.5 years old, according to the Texans Standing Tall Report Card, meaning most students are in middle school when they first try the drug."

'Smart on Crime' means smart on mental health
From what I've seen, Bexar County leads every other part of the state demonstrating how local officials should step up to address mental health needs, not just among criminal offenders and the community at large, but among their own employees. Not only are they creating a mental health court for recidivist offenders with unmet mental health needs, they're expanding insurance coverage for 3,000 county employees. Bully for them. I'm willing to bet both initiatives pay off in ways they can't even imagine yet.

More of the same on TYC privatization front
Having just sat through a hearing where TYC leaders and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee listened to hours of testimony about lack of oversight at private youth prisons, squalid conditions discovered at a facility contracting with the Texas Youth Commission, and the dangers of relying on corrections spending for rural economic development, why should it surprise me to read that TYC may contract with a private jail in Brownfield outside of Lubbock to house its youngest offenders aged 10-13. Reported the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, "The project also would bring about $1 million in annual payroll to the town, according to Jack Cargill, Brownfield's director of economic development. 'It would be a great deal to us because we would get about 45 employees,' Cargill said."

Hey, I have an idea: Let's repeat the same stupid mistakes over and over again and call it "reform"!

Hunting and overcriminalization
Mike Leggett at the Austin Statesman sounds surprised to learn that increasing the penalty to a state jail felony didn't eliminate deer poaching in Texas. Nor did increasing penalties for shooting road signs to a third degree felony stop hunters from using them to sight in their scopes. "Poachers once held, and still do in some areas of the state, a kind of exalted place in hunting circles," writes Leggett. "Whether they poached for meat or trophies, there was a kind of Robin Hood aura that some of them wore. It was misplaced, of course, because it was still poaching and was still against the law, even if local judges often looked the other way when the cases got to court."

Sunset Self-Evaluations
Finally, for those with an interest, here are the self-evaluations submitted to the Texas Sunset Commission for criminal justice agencies under Sunset review in the coming year:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine: New gun law won't unleash new crime wave

Glenna Whitley at the Dallas Observer blames a study I authored, in part, for helping pass a new law allowing law abiding citizens to carry a gun in their car. She writes that the law passed with "hardly anyone noticing."

Hmmm. Where was she? I was interviewed about the bill by media all over the state during session, and it was even covered in the New York Times.

I know where Whitley picked up this meme, anyway. Anonymous Dallas officers in the article told her the new law forces them to let drug dealers drive around with guns and that nobody knew about the bill during the Legislative process:
"It's insane," says one Dallas officer, who asked not to be named. "They basically destroyed the concealed gun law. We're letting drug dealers with Glocks under the seat go and say have a nice day. In the past we could have charged them at least with a weapons violation and confiscated the gun. Texas is wide open now. It's a huge story. This has just gone under everyone's radar."
That's just not true. The new law specifically says drivers can be charged if they're committing any other crime besides a traffic offense. Convicted felons or others legally barred from gun ownership can still be arrested for carrying a firearm in their vehicle. Also, gang members can't carry guns under the law. If Dallas police are letting drug dealers with Glocks get away, they're not doing their job.

Though I authored the study Whitley referenced, I wasn't contacted about the story and I can't tell if she spoke to anyone who supported the new law - but the story is full of law enforcement critics complaining about having to respect the rights of legal gun owners.

The truth is, the Legislature knew exactly what they were passing with HB 1815, so much so that they essentially passed the same bill - or two different ways to get at the same result - two sessions running, in 2005 and 2007. The current Texas Legislature supports legal gun owners rights, even if law enforcement or DAs don't.

Juvenile 'Boot Camps' in Texas

I've been reading through the Government Accounting Office's latest report (pdf) on juvenile "boot camps," which finds three common themes in their analysis of 15 deaths at boot camp facilities: Untrained staff, lack of adequate nourishment, and "reckless or negligent operating practices"

So when I read in the Waco Tribune Herald recently that a local juvenile judge wanted to send misdemeanants to "private facilities such as boot camps," I was under the impression that the reference was sending youth to private, contract "boot camp" facilities like the ones under fire in Congress. But I was told today by someone who should know that none of these private facilities operate in Texas. However, of the 32 county-operated post-adjudication detention facilities in Texas ten of them are registered with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission as "Boot Camps," collectively housing just over 500 kids.

These appear to be boot camps modeled on similar approaches to those described in the GAO report. For example, the Harris County boot camp offers an "adventure based treatment program," which sounds similar in type to the "wilderness" programs criticized by GAO. (Or perhaps the reference is to what an adventure it is to sleep on the floor with a room full of miltiarized juvenile delinquents; see their sleeping quarters at left.)

Here is the complete list and latest reports from these boot camps. I can't tell what period they cover, but the linked reports show wide variances in the number of physical and mechanical restraints at the different facilities that might indicate problems like those described by GAO that merit further investigation:
I've no firsthand knowledge of what type of programming goes on at these facilities, I was just interested to learn of this Texas subset of juvenile "boot camps" at a time when the national spotlight has been focused on this genre of juvenile justice. See the recent Government Accountability Office report on boot camps, which:
found thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death, at residential treatment programs across the country and in American-owned and American-operated facilities abroad between the years 1990 and 2007.

Allegations included reports of abuse and death recorded by state agencies and the Department of Health and Human Services, allegations detailed in pending civil and criminal trials with hundreds of plaintiffs, and claims of abuse and death that were posted on the Internet. For example, during 2005 alone, 33 states reported 1,619 staff members involved in incidents of abuse in residential programs. GAO could not identify a more concrete number of allegations because it could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, or other entity that collects comprehensive nationwide data.

GAO also examined, in greater detail, 10 closed civil or criminal cases from 1990 through 2004 where a teenager died while enrolled in a private program.

GAO found significant evidence of ineffective management in most of the 10 cases, with program leaders neglecting the needs of program participants and staff. This ineffective management compounded the negative consequences of (and sometimes directly resulted in) the hiring of untrained staff; a lack of adequate nourishment; and reckless or negligent operating practices, including a lack of adequate equipment. These factors played a significant role in the deaths GAO examined.
None of the case studies in GAO's report specifically discussed any Texas program (though a Texas youth who died in a Utah wilderness program was one of the case studies), but the concerns raised addressed "programs across the country referring to themselves as wilderness therapy programs, boot camps, and academies, among other names," both publicly and privately operated. (TYC's Victory Field might be another facility that falls into that category.)
Here are a few more pictures from the facilities. From El Paso:

Sleeping quarters in McLennan:
Dimmitt County, girls dorm:
UPDATE: A commenter made the assertion that boot camps "increase" recidivism, so I did a quick Google search to check that claim and ran across corroboration in this 1998 report (pdf) from the National Institute of Justice listing "boot camp" approaches among "What Doesn't Work," declaring that correctional boot camps "fail to reduce repeat offending after release compared to having similar offenders serve time on probation or parole, both for adults and juveniles." According to Maia Szalavitz at the Huffington Post, "One study even found that boot camp participants did significantly worse than their incarcerated counterparts--with 50% of former inmates being re-arrested while a whopping 72% of boot camp participants were."

It doesn't surprise me, I guess, that some Texas counties are embracing strategies proven ten years ago to increase crime, but maybe with everything that's going on in Texas juvenile corrections, it's time to rethink this approach.

Which do you prefer: More organized crime, drugs and violence, or more Mexican immigration?

Choices have consequences, would-be US border enforcers are learning, especially when we choose to focus our resources on the wrong problems.

According to a Wall Street Journal story ("Shift is afoot at the Mexican border," Oct. 25, A8), "A security crackdown on the Mexican border is believed to have reduced the number of people trying to cross illegally into the U.S. while increasing business for professional smugglers with ties to the drug trade." Reports WSJ:
With politicians deadlocked over how to deal with illegal immigration, trying to seal the border to catch and deter illegal immigrants has become the main policy tool.

But the crackdown also appears to be affecting the markets for smuggling people and drugs in Mexico. As tighter security makes crossing the border trickier and more hazardous, the traditional mom-and-pop operations in Mexico that used to ferry people across have been replaced by larger, more-professional criminal gangs, often with ties to the illegal-drug trade.

U.S. officials are reporting increased violence along the border, including gunfights between rival smuggling gangs, gangs hijacking each others' customers en route to U.S. destinations and the rape or assault of migrants.

Special Agent Alonzo Peña, chief investigator for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona, says as the border gets harder to cross, fees to smugglers have increased from next to nothing to as much as $6,000 a head, making the smuggling business an attractive new market for drug gangs.

"It's one of the unintended consequences of sealing the border," Mr. Peña says.

Border Patrol agents have noticed that smaller-scale smugglers on the Mexican side are being replaced by more-sophisticated ones who appear to have ties to Mexico's cocaine cartels. Smugglers are carrying higher-caliber weapons and sometimes dress in camouflage uniforms and use military tactics to evade capture.

Meanwhile, the reduction in illegal immigration doesn't necessarily stem from fewer immigrants coming to America, but fewer who routinely make the journey back and forth:
The higher risk of getting caught and higher cost of crossing has prompted many illegal workers in the U.S. to stay put rather than return home every year to do things like celebrate Christmas with their families. For those who still want to cross, the higher risk means putting their lives in the hands of more-organized criminal groups with the means to get them through.

So here we see the unintended but entirely predictable consequences of the "Secure the border first" strategy. It hasn't stopped illegal immigration - the big news is that the total number of estimated crossings is less than one million for the first time in several years, but that's still a lot of folks. Plus, much of the reduction in border crossings has been in back and forth traffic, not new arrivals, said the Journal. However, the policy's immeasurable social cost has been to enrich and empower Mexican organized crime, which has a firmer grip now on black market smuggling of humans AND drugs at the border than at any time in history, all thanks to the US crackdown.

The border crackdown, like many state and federal policies, seems designed to make drug cartels wealthier and more powerful instead of limiting their power.

IMO the cartels are a more grave danger to public safety and the economy than poor Mexican workers. Cartels bring with them widespread violence and corruption of legal institutions, while immigrants who come to work tend to commit fewer crimes than US citizens and don't endanger the public safety to nearly the same extent.

To his credit, President Bush has belatedly proposed to spend $1.4 billion over three years on a "Plan Mexico" to combat cartels, but as has often been the case during his presidency, he suffers from receiving extraordinarily poor advice. Plan Mexico from most accounts appears to be modeled after failed US drug strategies in South America and Afghanistan operated by corporate mercenaries. (I'll see if I can get more concrete details about how the money would be spent in the coming weeks.) If so, there are a lot more productive ways we could spend that money in Mexico to enhance security.

It's a completely false claim that it's possible to "secure the border first." The only workable solution is to fix US immigration laws first, to allow more Mexican workers to come and go. That would leave drug smugglers isolated and let border enforcement focus on the more dangerous adversary: the cancerous spread of powerful organized crime.

While it can be amusing to watch a child squeeze a long balloon and express shock when it bulges on the sides, it's frustrating bordering on infuriating to watch the US government play out that scenario as our national security policy on the southern border. When it comes to border security, the President should stop listening to the cops so much, and start listening to the economists. We've seen this movie before.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Question: Why test Texas high school athletes for steroids but not police officers?

The Texas Education Agency has received 14 bids to provide steroid testing for Texas high school athletes, but plans to wait until next year to implement the program to allow time for public comment and vetting the proposal, reports the Houston Chronicle.

My question: Is this really the highest priority group we need to test? We're talking about a lot of kids. "Neither the NCAA nor International Olympics Committee tests as many athletes for illegal steroid use as the proposed Texas high school program," reported the Chronicle.

Meanwhile, no tests exist for many designer steroids on the market, as troubles in Major League Baseball attest.

I recently finished a pseudonymous book by a former Texas police officer and steroid abuser (discussed earlier here) who writes "there are a lot of men and women in this country who continue ot use steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, and a surprising number of them work as police officers and firefighters." Titled "Falling Off the Thin Blue Line: A Badge, a Syringe, and a Struggle with Steroid Addiction," the book tells the officer's personal story and gives new insight into how widespread the problem is.

Finishing the book left me relieved that Mr. Johnson has left law enforcement. He went in for all the wrong reasons, the same reasons why he took up bodybuilding and began using steroids: He considered himself a "nerd" and was "tired of being picked on." I'd hope that sort of revenge-oriented psychological motivation could be screened out during the hiring process, but I'd guess Johnson isn't alone in entering law enforcement hoping to get even with some psychic shadow from his past.

We also get a picture of an officer unafraid to take advantage of the perks that come with the position. "Working as a police officer is ideal for bulking up because of the free and discounted food we receive when going to restaurants and fast food establishments. Of course, not all places give discounted or free food, but there are enough of them to keep hunger at bay," he wrote matter-of-factly. In another scene where he boasts how much weight he's gained from using growth steroids designed for horses, he describes dropping by a McDonalds drive-thru for "an armload of free food," exuding, "You can't beat free food."

Johnson also enthused at how easy it was to transport illegal steroids and rigs in his vehicle, comforted by the knowledge that if an officer pulled him over for a traffic violation, "professional courtesy" would dictate they'd let him off with a warning.

The author's main steroid connection told him he sells to other cops they mutually knew from their gym, including members of Houston's SWAT team, and boasted that cops had given him information about ongoing investigations in steroid cases. "'The cops at HeavyWeights are good guys. In the past, when something was going down with any local busts, sometimes they would give me a heads up so I would lay low for a while. It's good to have that on your side,' he explained." "I can imagine," Johnson replied, though it apparently never occurred to him to report his fellow officers' serving as snitches for a major steroid dealer.

Johnson began selling injection equipment at his gym and online to other steroid users, and even used rigs and steroids to barter for other services, including contact lenses and an optometrist's exam. He claims at his business' height he made more money selling this equipment (legal in Texas, he insisted), than at his police job. But the countless justifications in the book that his business was technically "legal" fell flat the moment he began to be investigated. Johnson describes in excruciating detail how he sold his website and systematically destroyed all evidence related to his business selling needles and rigs.

The two agencies named that "David Johnson" worked for were the Sugar Land PD and the Harris County Sheriff's Office, but there's pretty strong evidence the problem is more widespread than just Mr. Johnson or those two departments.

In the scheme of things, I don't think banning steroid use will work much better than banning other illegal drugs, particularly when there's no test for certain highly effective designer steroids. But at a time when steroid testing in sports makes headlines nearly every day and politicians insist even high school students must be tested, I can't see any serious argument for not also testing law enforcement.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gallup: Americans victimized less, think crime is worse

The mainstream media must shoulder much of the blame, I think, for the public's widespread ignorance about crime in the United States, if we are to believe the annual Gallup poll on public perceptions about crime. Most Americans think crime is getting worse:

But Americans are less likely to be victims of crime than at any time in recent memory:

(Click images to enlarge)

If you ask me, local broadcast media - especially nightly television broadcasts - are largely responsible for this persistent public disconnect. The reason can be summed up in five words that have come to characterize TV news decision making from the smallest market to the largest networks: "If it bleeds, it leads."

BLOGVERSATION: Karen Franklin says "There's more to it than that, of course. Opportunistic politicians playing on fear of crime as a sure-fire way to get votes comes to mind." Doc Berman looks at the same statistics and reaches an opposite conclusion: That the public must be particularly perceptive. I disputed his reasoning in the comments.

: Chris Kromm at Facing South examines murder rates in 10 southern states including Texas to discover they're lower across the board. Kromm agrees local TV news is partially to blame. "Combine that with national TV's endless parade of cop shows and court coverage, leavened with bouts of politicians stirring up crime hysteria (usually with racial overtones), and you have the makings of a national perception about crime far out of pace of reality."

TYC defiance over pepper spray policy sends agency back to court

Grits readers should have known this was coming; from today's Austin Statesman, "Advocacy groups claim Youth Commission isn't following court order on pepper spray use."

Last week TYC acting commissioner Dimitria Pope told the Legislature that any staff still using forbidden pepper spray techniques were either "corrupt" or lacked "reading comprehension." Now the two groups that sued TYC have called the agency on that claim in court, reported the Statesman:
Jim George, an Austin attorney who chairs the Texas Appleseed board, said: "We had an agreed order signed by a judge, and they have not complied with it. It's unusual for people to say to a district judge, 'I will do something' and then just not do it."

In the court filing, the two groups claim that Youth Commission staff have used pepper spray in violation of both the court order and agency policy. They also claim that Billy Humphrey, the agency's deputy director of juvenile corrections, has instructed administrators at Youth Commission facilities to use pepper spray on youth, in violation of the Sept. 28 court order.

No hearing date has been set.

In their original lawsuit, the groups claimed that Dimitria Pope, the agency's acting executive director, illegally widened the use of pepper spray as a first response to control youths. Under state law, such a change should have been made only after giving the public a chance to comment on the change, the lawsuit stated.

Not only did the notification to staff sent out by "Bronco" Billy Humphrey fail to clearly tell JCOs when pepper spray could and couldn't be used, commenters in this post revealed internal emails (forwarded to me privately) where Humphrey openly instructed trainers at the units to continue teaching the policy trumped by the lawsuit. "The guidance to staff will not change," Humphrey wrote. "The [September 28] memo is in no way to be interpreted as TYC going back to the old way of doing business!" Here's the relevant portion of the email (forwarded by someone who's not on the string):

Forwarded Message
Subject: RE: OC Spray
Date: Mon, 1 Oct 2007 19:25:24 -0500
From: "Billy Humphrey"
To: "Marty Martin" , "Ashley Berry"
CC: "TYC - Trainers - Field" , "TYC - Trainers"

Chemical agents has always been authorized by policy, staff have just been instructed not to use it. There are situations where physical force is necessary as there is circumstances where in the interest of preventing injuries we will use chemical agents. The guidance to staff will not change. If we must use physical force, it is a last resort and we are to do it in such a manner so as to prevent injury to any party involved. The memo is in no way to be interpreted as TYC going back to the old way of doing business!

-----Original Message-----
From: Marty Martin
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 3:47 PM
To: Ashley Berry
Cc: Billy Humphrey; TYC - Trainers - Field; TYC - Trainers
Subject: RE: OC Spray

Thanks Ashley. I will follow-up. Billy can you provide some additional guidance on the use of OC? Are we changing the continuum to move OC as the step before physical restraint? If so, this has a big impact on how we train this portion of UOF. Please advise. Thanks.

-----Original Message-----
From: Ashley Berry
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 1:12 PM
To: Marty Martin
Cc: Ashley Berry
Subject: RE: OC Spray

I left you a voicemail on your cell concerning this. The memo appears to apply to all facilities not just halfway houses, since it doesn't appear to stipulate in the memo. I have gotten some phone calls from trainers as we have to train this soon. Basically, it appears to read that we are returning to limited use of pepper spray. I think we need some clarification on this memo sent out so that everyone isn't teaching something different because I am picking up on a lot of confusion.
Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
No wonder the advocacy groups are headed back to court! Days after TYC told the court it would retract policies expanding pepper spray use, their head of security instructed trainers they wouldn't "go back to the old way of doing business."

That's pretty brazen, just as it was brazen for Ms. Pope to blame employees for any confusion about the policy. Clearly the administrators she brought over from the adult prison system - particularly Humphrey and Martin - knew that wasn't true when she said it. And if she didn't know, it wasn't that she wasn't told; if nothing else, she coulda read it on Grits.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Will DynCorp or other corporate mercenaries operate Mexican anti-drug initiative?

The new Mexican anti-drug aid package President Bush requested today from Congress will probably include funding for private, US-paid mercenaries to run counter-drug operations in Mexico and train Mexican police and troops. That hasn't worked out so well in South America or Afghanistan, so I wonder what if any changes to the standard, cookie-cutter, "spray the herbicide and hope for the best" strategy the Bush Administration has in store that makes them think it will work better in Mexico?

A friend emailed wondering whether the private contractor they referred to might be Blackwater, whose Iraqi troops have been much in the news, recently. But if I were laying odds, I'd guess this news bodes well for the bottom line of Dyncorp, a competing mercenary firm that operates the drug-interdiction programs in South America and Afghanistan. See an earlier Grits profile of Dyncorp, who I'm happy to notice has made Congressman Henry Waxman's oversight list. Several Texas Congressmen would even like to hire DynCorp to supplement the US Border Patrol, which sounds like a particularly terrible idea. Those further interested in DynCorp, since they may become a more important player in the regional anti-drug effort, may also want to see this report on their training program for Iraqi police to get a sense of how they handled that job - i.e., overall, badly. Auditors from the Inspector General:
did not have the information needed to identify what DynCorp ... provided under the contract or how funds were spent. [The government] has a number of initiatives to improve its management and oversight of the contract and recoup funds inappropriately paid to DynCorp. Because of these problems and initiatives, [the government] has temporarily suspended this work.
That's a pretty rough recommendation from DynCorp's last employer, which if it lands the Mexico anti-drug contract will also be its next employer. One begins to wonder, how badly do you have to screw up to get fired if you're a private mercenary?

When is TYC's public rule making process going to start?

So, looking again recently at the text of SB 103, I noticed that TYC's commissioner is required develop and implement policies that "provide the public with a reasonable opportunity to appear" and voice their opinions on major issues facing the agency.

This certainly didn't happen with regard to closing the Coke County private youth prison. And when the agency changed its use of force policy without a public process, the result was litigation that overturned it.

Where are these rules that allow public input into Texas Youth Commission decisions? I haven't seen them. Outside of a string of legislative hearings, what we got instead was TYC's "State of the Agency" tour, essentially a one-way and largely futile series of presentations, not a place to receive public comment on specific policies prior to their implementation. From SB 103:

Sec. 61.0423. PUBLIC HEARINGS.

(a) The executive commissioner [board] shall develop and implement policies that provide the public with a reasonable opportunity to appear before the executive commissioner or the executive commissioner's designee [board] and to speak on any issue under the jurisdiction of the commission.

(b) The executive commissioner shall ensure that the location of public hearings held in accordance with this section is rotated between municipalities in which a commission facility is located or that are in proximity to a commission facility.

Perhaps one question the joint committee can ask TYC next Monday: When is that going to start to happen?

Can it happen in time for new rulemaking on use of force policies? Or will TYC hold such a public hearing before it rolls out an ill-conceived privatization scheme for the youngest kids in its care? After all, this is an agency which contracted with a private youth prison, reported The New York Times, where within the last month:

Juvenile detainees as young as 13 years old slept on filthy mats in dormitories with broken, overflowing toilets and feces smeared on the walls. Denied outside recreation for weeks at a time, they ate bug-infested food, did school work that consisted of little more than crossword puzzles and defecated in bags.
That being the case, can the public have input on new rules to improve contract management and oversight at TYC before changing policies to shovel the youngest kids in the system into private youth prisons? Or before changing use of force policies. Isn't that the kind of the purpose of the public rulemaking process envisioned in SB 103?

Madden touts new report on alternatives to Texas' overincarceration crisis

Texas won't need three new prisons financed with new debt on the November 6 ballot, says a new report analyzing 2007 Texas probation legislation.

A better strategy would be to "reinvest" funds in preventing crime on the front end, says House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden in a press release received today via email from the Council of State Governments:
Justice Center Releases Texas Case Study on Cost-Effective New Criminal Justice Policies to Increase Safety, Control Prison Growth
Texas State Rep. Jerry Madden to meet with key policymakers in D.C. to discuss the report

Washington, D.C.—The Council of State Governments Justice Center today released a new report outlining steps that key members of the Texas legislature are taking to improve the state’s approach to criminal justice policymaking. The publication, Justice Reinvestment State Brief: Texas (pdf) is the first in a series for state policymakers interested in how particular states across the country have employed a data-driven strategy called justice reinvestment to reduce spending on corrections and increase public safety.

Texas State Representative Jerry Madden (R-Plano), chairman of the House Corrections Committee and a member of the Justice Center board of directors, will meet with key members of the U.S. Congress and officials from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. to discuss implementation of the new policies and potential strategies for federal policymakers to provide support to their counterparts at the state level.

“In Texas and other states around the country, there is a growing need to address rising prison populations and high recidivism rates,” Rep. Madden said. “This new report will help policymakers better understand how to reduce spending on corrections and increase public safety, while improving conditions in the neighborhoods to which most people released from prison return.”

As described in the report, the Texas House and Senate, under the leadership of Rep. Madden and State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, enacted a legislative package this year to avert the projected growth of the prison population and avoid spending nearly $523 million to build more prisons.

The package included provisions to improve parole and probation policies and procedures and expand treatment and diversion programs. These new policies—regarded by many policymakers as the most expansive redirection in state corrections policy since the early 1990s—have already saved the state $210.5 million for the FY 2008-09 biennium. If the legislative plan is implemented effectively, and no new prisons are constructed, the state will avoid spending an additional $233 million.

In addition to meeting with key members of the Texas congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., Rep. Madden also plans to meet with officials from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Pew Center on the States, a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The meetings will focus on ways in which federal and private grant makers can help leverage state funding to support policy implementation.

In the coming months, the Justice Center will issue state briefs on the application of the justice reinvestment strategy in Kansas and Nevada.

“Across the country, prison populations are escalating,” said Justin Jones, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. “States need effective policies that will manage this growth and make communities safer. Corrections officials and policymakers should consider a justice reinvestment strategy, like the one recently implemented in Texas, to help achieve these goals.”

Assistance provided by the Justice Center was funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

For more information, or to view the Texas report, visit the Justice Reinvestment website.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies—informed by available evidence—to increase public safety and strengthen communities.
See a related presentation from Dr. Tony Fabelo giving more detail about Texas' proposed alternatives to prison overcrowding.

Arrests for pain, anxiety drugs worrisome for legitimate patients

I get a little edgy when police start making arrests for a legal pharmaceutical that I've been prescribed recently by my personal physician: It makes me wonder under what circumstances I could become a target?

Over the last year or so I've struggled with some health problems that caused my doctor to prescribe one of the medicines now named by drug enforcers as a primary target, according to the Houston Chronicle ("Southeast Texas called 'mecca' for pill pushers," Oct. 22). So if I'm driving or out in the world and have my medication with me (as I've been advised to), if a cop sees me with it will I be arrested?

I wonder: How much documentation must I carry with me to imbibe prescribed medication? Under what circumstances would possession be illegal and when would it be okay?

I was also disturbed to learn about a bill signed by Governor Perry that I'd missed during the 80th Legislature, expanding DPS regulatory authority to include most medicines. That's just wrong: I want doctors regulating my prescriptions, not cops! Reported the Chronicle:

The DEA classifies drugs in "schedules" or levels, based on the risk of abuse. Drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and heroin are considered level 1 and have no accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.

The level 2 drugs, such as the painkiller OxyContin, are available by prescription but are regulated at the federal level by the DEA and at the state level. Pharmacies electronically transmit prescription information to the Department of Public Safety, which works with licensing boards to identify doctors and pharmacists who may be inappropriately prescribing or dispensing drugs.

This summer, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that would expand monitoring by DPS to include level 3 through level 5 drugs, which would include Xanax and drugs combined with hydrocodone, which are levels 4 and 3, respectively.

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said he sponsored the bill to give Texas law enforcement agencies the tools to investigate drugs that are classified as less prone to abuse by requiring all prescriptions for controlled substances to be sent electronically to DPS. The official enforcement date for the law is September 2008.

Still, some law enforcement officials in Texas argue that hydrocodone and Xanax should be grouped with more addictive drugs and targeted separately — not with other schedule 3, 4 and 5 drugs. They are pushing for the Legislature to reclassify hydrocodone and Xanax as level 2 drugs, which would make them subject to far greater scrutiny, similar to OxyContin, officials said.

"We have to change the overall approach that the state has in regards to regulation, " said Houston Police Lt. Gray Smith, with the narcotics division.

Honestly, I don't want my prescription information transferred to DPS, and I don't think most Texans know that that happens. Did you? I'm fairly shocked by it. I wonder what they do with all that data?

What do you think? Why should state troopers have access to Texans' prescription information? And should criminal law enforcement focus its limited resources on tracking what drugs your doctor gave you or how often you renew your prescription? Does that make you feel safer, or less safe?

ADDENDUM: This story from KHOU gives a fuller picture of the real problem: If the real source of crime is stolen or black market drugs, how does it help to gather information on legal prescription holders?