Monday, August 04, 2008

Dumping Debra and Donna: Counties should reduce pretrial incarceration if they can't afford health costs

Over the last decade or so, even as crime has declined, most Texas jails have gotten fuller mostly because of a dramatic expansion in pretrial detention - in particular requiring bail instead of releasing offenders on personal recognizance bonds. Indeed, for reasons I cannot explain, this pattern constitutes a statewide trend even though the decisions behind it are all made by local judges. According to Dr. Tony Fabelo, overall jail populations in Texas increased 18.6% between 2000-2007, while the number of pretrial detainees increased 49.2% over the same period.

With this decision, though, comes all the costs resulting from jail overcrowding - particularly health care for inmates.

In two ugly cases this year in Henderson County, a judge refused to offer a female defendant a personal bond, then while incarcerated they became sick unto death. Reports the Athens Review ("Second inmate dies after jail release," Aug. 1):
Like Debra Lee Newton, Donna Carroll, 49, of Mabank was released from jail on a personal recognizance bond a few days before she died earlier this month.

The cases of the two women are similar in some respects.

Both were handled by area police on drug charges. Both became ill while in the Henderson County Jail. And both were released on $5,000 personal recognizance bonds once it was determined they needed major medical attention.

Both also died within several days of being released from Henderson County Sheriff’s Department custody.

While Newton’s body was disposed of without an autopsy being performed, Carroll’s body was autopsied.

The difference?

Carrol’s death was “unattended” at her home in Mabank. State law requires that all such deaths undergo autopsy.

Newton died at ETMC as a patient of the hospital.
The article goes on to speculate that health problems related to meth abuse may have caused these women's deaths, but there are policy concerns that won't be satisfied with that explanation.

In the case of Debra Newton, she'd been in the jail two months before a judge released her on a personal bond and deputies took her to the local hospital where she later died. So even if drug abuse caused her problem, she'd presumably been off drugs and under the jail's care for two full months. If either a) she was able to get drugs in the jail or b) the Sheriff did not provide adequate health care, the county may still be at fault.

Finding another, similar case makes me think the county simply has too many people in its jail to provide adequate health care. These women had not been sentenced, they were being held pretrial on drug charges because they could not make bail and a judge denied them personal bonds. Then, when healthcare costs became too dear, probably the same judge decided they were safe to release on their own recognizance, conveniently eliminating the county's obligation to pick up the tab for their health care.

When judges require bail for low-level offenses, they're undertaking costs to the taxpayers that can easily rise if the person gets sick or must stay in jail many months awaiting trial. Counties unwilling to meet their obligation to provide health care to inmates shouldn't incarcerate so many of them prior to sentencing. But once they do, they're the county's responsibility when they get sick; jailers and judges can't just dump sick inmates at home or in the local E.R. and wash their hands of the matter.


Anonymous said...

If there is one thing that politicians hate more than drugs it is taxes.

If everyone arrested on drug charges demanded a jury trial the choice will be end the drug war or triple the taxes.

Anonymous said...

This sort of thing goes on all the time. It is so sad these ladies had to die to make the point about how badly our justice system works.

For the jail or judge to say they didn't know would these ladies were ill would be a bold faced lie.

Charges should be brought against these people for their careless neglect of people in their care.

Anonymous said...

Friend of mine is a DA and swears that crime is lower because all the bad guys are locked up.


Anonymous said...

Some mess up and learn a lesson but some people are just plain bad.

It doesn't really matter which law they are actually convicted of breaking, the bad ones will keep breaking laws until they are imprisoned and they will do it again when they get out.

Its too bad we can chop off their package to prevent them passing these bad genes on to the next generation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nice, 4:08 - very courageous of you to speak that way anonymously about dead people you don't know.

Having said that, given that both deceased inmates were women and you suggest "Its too bad we can [sic] chop off their package," one wonders whether your Daddy perhaps neglected to have a very important chat with you somewhere down the line?

Why don't you find a friend or co-worker to explain to you why women don't have a "package"? Maybe somebody will draw you a diagram. ;)

editor said...

The Henderson County Jail does not rely on a medical doctor, instead they use a Physician's Assistant who comes in periodically. Henderson County is notorious for cutting medical costs any way they can. Of the jails I've visited, it probably has the lowest per inmate medical cost and they brag about it! They "coerce" the inmates into feeling better. "We can't let you go to rec on those kinds of meds." "If you take those meds you will have to stay in the med tank for observation." Although this may be true for a few meds, it isn't for most.

Soronel Haetir said...

This finally seems like areasonable thread to put forward my alternative rehabilitation/punishment scheme even though these two cases are almost certainly misdemeanors and thus wouldn't qualify.

I produced the following under the basic theory that any convict chosen for rehabilitation deserves enormous resources dedicated toward that end, while those not so chosen deserve nothing more from society..

The basic plan goes as follows:

1) Upon felony conviction, of whatever level ranging from first degree murder to passing bad checks a new quasi-jury pool is chosen. These panel members, unlike the guilt jury, come from localities where the crime did not occur. Also unlike the guilt jury they are not actually convened into a sitting panel. The size of the pool is inversely proportional to the severity of the crimes of conviction, though never falling below a minimum threshold.

2) Each member of this new pool is approached in turn, one at a time. They are not told their order within the pool. The pool member is presented facts about the convict, though some material is held back (race and name as race proxy being two that come immediately to my mind). A defense representative will be part of this process to ensure that no improper information is conveyed. If any such information is conveyed then the results of that pool member are disqualified if adverse to the convict.

3) The pool member is asked whether they wish to rehabilitate the convict. If the answer is "yes" then the convict is placed in the pool member's home in some form of legal guardianship and is once more considered to be a juvinile for legal purposes. A stipend calculated to make the convict's presense and rehabilitation financally neutral shall be paid in order to negate at least most cost-benefit analysis from the pool member's mind.

4) If all pool members say "no" the convict is placed in prison where they are given a chance for a normal set of appeals. When those appeals are exhausted the convict is executed, not for the crime of conviction, but for being considered unfit for living within society.

5) Upon completion of the term of legal guardianship, the the convict is returned to full civil status with no restrictions whatsoever on their liberty. The only time the prior conviction can be discovered through legal means is during a subsequent penalty determination.

This system is intended for use only in felony cases, misdemeanors should be reduced strictly to incarceration/fine with no other effects outliving whatever term of probation is also given. Also no actual juvinile is to be placed in this system, though many juvinile cases make the natural parents appear as a significant issue.

I realize the distance requirements of step 1 would be far easier to acheive in the federal system and large states like California and Texas than smaller states. I believe this could be overcome by setting up some form of convict exchange. I include this step for the purpose of removing the convict from an familiar environment, and hopefully make it at least somewhat more difficult to establish contact with whatever criminal element exists in the new location.

This system would also reduce the value of plea bargaining, the remaining options being immunity or a negotiated pool size larger than contemplated for the criminal category.

I also realize that current precident would not allow the above system to be implemented and that amendment(s) would be required to effectuate that change.

Anonymous said...

The same thing haopens int he Harris County jail. My son has seizures and I had to physically go down and speak with the medical staff, with papers in hand from his physicians to get them to give him his seizure meds, even though he was seizures free while at home. He was in jail on a monitor violation (held for 15 day before his violations hearing, then held another 32 days for a 60 day sentence before he was moved to ISF in North Texas), and his sezures when from 1 every 2-3 months to 5 daily because of a lack of sufficient medical attention. I don't understand, he took his bottle with him when arrested (we had just had it refilled) and all they had to do was hand him 4 pills once daily, what is so hard about that?

Anonymous said...

"Nice, 4:08 - very courageous of you to speak that way anonymously about dead people you don't know. "

But Grits, this is the standard MOB mentality as far as it goes for people that have broken the laws. I know you do already, but look around. Kids going on the Sex Registry, people being beaten to death BY kids, homeless people being shuttled away from places that have the services that they need, banishment. This is the mob mentality. If they have broken the law once, then always they are breaking a law.

It's Sick I know, but American's as a whole enjoy beating on those less fortunate or those deemed as unworthy. Was reading an article the other day of the pregnant girl on her back porch that was stabbed in the stomach, also stabbing the unborn child. You should have read some of the comments...

Americans care nothing of others and only care about themselves. reminds me of the mindless 80's when kids were left to fend for themselves, and all we could think of was how to buy our next BMW.

Anonymous said...

This is a horrible cycle of events that seems to be unfolding in Collin County, Dallas County and now to the reading of Harrison county. Even though it happens often, you arrest them, you hold them...then take care of them. What action needs to happen to have this happen. I do agree, that in every jail I have been to or worked.....its a PA that makes the decision then electronically get the Doctors signature. I hope someone sues

editor said...

According to the Tyler Paper, another inmate accused the Henderson Co. Jail of not tending to his medical needs.