Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dallas using public humiliation tactics for petty scofflaws

It's one thing to publish information about sex offenders online - I disagree with the tactic, mainly because it increases recidivism for those on the rolls and the database includes too many minor offenders, but at least I understand the flawed public safety motivation behind it.

However, at a time when approximately 10% of adult Texans have outstanding arrest warrants, mainly because the Legislature increased so-called "driver responsibility fees" so much that most people can't pay, do we really want to extend these tactics to every penny ante scofflaw who fails to pay Class C misdemeanor tickets or court-imposed fines?

That's what Dallas County is doing, we learn at the Dallas News' Crime Blog. The County just published a new website listing scofflaws and their debts aimed at humiliating people or scaring them into paying - even publishing photos of people who owe the most.

To say it again, Dallas County is intentionally using public humiliation tactics that affect more than 10% of adults in order to squeeze out more revenue! It's one thing to do that for a relatively small population of sex offenders, but this is a ridiculous application of the tactic.

What's more, they're not even pretending the information in the database is accurate, which is good since Dallas' justice information systems are notoriously flawed. A disclaimer informs us that:
The wanted person’s [sic] listed may not be accurate due to the instant ability to satisfy their delinquent accounts and the inability to update this list in a timely fashion. This list may not be current. The case amount is approximate, and can vary.
So they're just dumping a bunch of flawed, unreliable data out there and hoping it increases short-term revenue.

This cannot be a good idea. We've discussed before how using the jail as a debtor's prison generates short-term revenue but much greater long-term ancillary costs for taxpayers: "Penny wise and pound foolish" is the applicable cliche'.

In addition, the Commissioners Court approved another measure mulcting inmate families to the tune of $730,000 per year from a $10 medical screening fee they're beginning to charge. Of course, it's not jailed crooks who must pay the fee. They're taking the money off the top from inmate commissary accounts, money which by definition comes from inmates families or somebody on the outside, often whoever is caring for their kids while they're incarcerated. So this fee generates revenue from truly the least among us - family members of jail inmates who did not commit the crime for which the person is incarcerated.

What's more, all this is over relatively small amounts of money in the county budget, easily soluble with a small tax increase or raiding their $48 million rainy day fund. The approach doesn't even make fiscal sense beyond the most short-term thinking: If Dallas' overcrowded jail earns them more jury verdicts over mistreatment, neglect, and failure to provide adequate medical care, the small amounts they get from scaring and humiliating scofflaws or soaking cash from inmate families will pale by comparison.

Especially with the current climate on Wall Street, it's hard for me to see these revenue-generating schemes through anything but an economic lens. From that perspective, these tactics are pure class warfare - a mean, low, and cynical set of policies by the Dallas Commissioners Court aimed at squeezing money from the poorest among us to subsidize low taxes for property owners.


Anonymous said...

Ted Poe was famous for making people walk around the courthouse with sandwich boards. Gained him political points for his run for Congress, but didn't have any appreciable effect on crime.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Since the whole point of the list is to bring shame on people and they are publishing the stuff knowing that it may not be accurate, I'd say they might wish to talk to their legal counsel about "defamation." They're making their whole case against themselves.

Don Dickson said...

While the clear purpose of this is humiliation, I'm sure the county attorneys would characterize it as a "public service" intended to allow citizens to know whether there is an outstanding warrant for their arrest, in much the same way as governments sometimes publish unclaimed property lists.

My first thought was the same as 123's, and then it occurred to me how the county attorneys are likely to finesse this.

To publish a statement that someone is a criminal when demonstrably they are not, is known in law as "defamation per se." The catch, here, is that (presumably) everyone on the list WAS adjudicated to have committed an offense, however petty. I am not sure it amounts to defamation per se to publish a statement that Joe Blow is an offender (true) who has an unpaid fine (maybe true).

Whether actionable or not, it seems likely to me that every penny collected will be used to pay the costs of defending the lawsuits that will result. Seems to me the county would yield better results by sending constables out to the field with a copy of the list, a pair of handcuffs, and a credit card swiper.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've never seen people's PHOTOS published with the unclaimed property lists, Don. That aspect makes it harder to argue it's a service for those with warrants.

Don Dickson said...

Mind you, I'm not entering judgment in favor of the county, I'm just predicting what the lawyers will argue. You've just predicted the first question at oral argument. :-)

Anonymous said...

What a hoot! I'm sure some will consider it a point of pride that their name is listed. As for the county buffoon who thought up this idea, he or she deserves some sort of raspberry award or something. That's your tax money at work folks!

Anonymous said...

What does it say when only 2 of the top fifty are White? Only a few hispanic and a vast majority are hispanic. Also, looking at the way some of these guys rang up 20+ charges on a single day it looks like the cops went back through a dash cam video of a police chase and filed on them for every infraction. Maybe they haven't paid their tickets because they are in jail for felony evading?

Anonymous said...

11.33 makes a good point in a roundabout way: has Dallas County taken any steps to see if the people it is listing are currently being held in any other county jail or in TDCJ or even a Federal prison? It still amazes me how little the counties work together over there ~ imagine the clear-up rates if that were to happen a little more often.

Anonymous said...

I suspect anyone in the top 50 is just gonna end up sitting it out in jail. I'm going to guess the County went to this because the previous collection efforts aren't working or aren't working fast enough to suit them.

Anonymous said...

"It's one thing to publish information about sex offenders online." When we as citizens allowed this to happen, we opened the door for every other kind of registry imaginable. There is one city in the Dallas area that has a bad dog registry.

Unknown said...

The Two Minutes Hate begins at 13:45 hours, comrade.

Anonymous said...

That information isn't just old, it's stale as hell. I received a speeding ticket on 5/13 and the check paying for it cleared on 6/2, yet I'm still up there. I requested removal and threaten a libel suit.

Five O said...

... I disagree with the tactic, mainly because it increases recidivism for those on the rolls

Really? Publishing someone as a sex offender increases the chances that they'll offend again?

Nice factoid you've got there. Got any source for that information? A study that backs that up?

I wasn't aware that publication of sex crimes led people to offend again. I foolishly believed it was their own perverted mind that caused that. Wow, society IS to blame.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Peter asks: "Publishing someone as a sex offender increases the chances that they'll offend again?"

Yes, it does.

"Got any source for that information? A study that backs that up?"

Sure, most recently see here.

Otherwise, what you choose to "foolishly believe" is your own business.

Anonymous said...

If all that's published is public information, there isn't a legal challenge to be made. The question has already been answered in the context of sex offender regisitries, meth offender registries, gun offender registries, and even the "civil" registries that don't require a conviction for inclusion.

Of course, "public information" now includes residential addresses, school enrollment, employment information, mental health history, physical characteristics, photographs, fingerprints, internet identifiers, and other such "public" information.

Disclosure of the above isn't punishment, whether it shames or not. It is, according to court determinations, nothing more than a civil regulation dedicated to the public good.

In Kansas, domestic violence advocates have repeatedly informed the legislature of DV victims being stalked by their abuser via internet registries. Has anyone considered that might happen?

Anonymous said...

Of course, is this such a good idea when you consider that Dallas Police were recently fired for having people sign blank tickets?

Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware that publication of sex crimes led people to offend again. I foolishly believed it was their own perverted mind that caused that. Wow, society IS to blame.

Actually, the public humiliation, shaming, fear of vigilantism, and other things due to the register cause unstable lifestyles for EX-offenders.

And just so you know, which is documented in several studies, sex offenders are the second LOWEST population to re-offend, only behind murderers.

Society IS to blame for the eroding of the civil rights of all persons. I think that YOU are probably one of those idiots that still believes that war was justified too right? Cretin...

Anonymous said...

In Kansas, domestic violence advocates have repeatedly informed the legislature of DV victims being stalked by their abuser via internet registries. Has anyone considered that might happen?

Actually it has already been proven in fact, not just as an idea. It was proven however the opposite direction. To date, several people have been hunted like animals and killed all due to 'civil' registries. Registries not only brings shame, and humiliation to people that made terrible mistakes in judgment, but also puts their families at risk and even the person wanting to track someone down. As many thousands on registries do not have a conviction, and it opens to possibility of reprisal attacks becoming a self-defense shooting.

Anonymous said...

" It was proven however the opposite direction."

?? I don't know what you mean by that. My point was that in Kansas, people required by law to constant register their whereabouts for public broadcast have been stalked by their abusers, because their abusers use the registry to track them.

Victims of domestic violence--who also happen to be included on a regitry--are refused the most basic protection from the person most likely to kill them. A person required to register must, under penalty of imprisonment, reside precisely where the abuser knows they'll be.

So in Dallas, depending upon what information is released, the government could be further facilitating violent crime in the hope of increasing cash flow.

FleaStiff said...

Whoa there!
LOTS of our programs are revenue programs.
Parking regulations exist largely to enable parking tickets to be issued, not for ameliorating traffic problems.
RedLight cameras are for raising revenue, not for making the roads safer or reducing speeding.
Most cops go after speeding motorists but most accidents involve inattention, not speeding.

And when it comes to medical care for these dirty disgusting parasites who are in jails or prisons, I want them to have annoying hurdles rather than efficient use of general taxpayer funds. Taking commissary money can force them to eat in the general mess where violence is more common. I want them to endure that violence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're missing the point, Fleastiff. The "parasites," as you call them, don't pay the fee. Somebody from the outside, usually a family member, must put money in the commissary account. And if the inmate is denied healthcare, sues, and later wins a civil suit, as has happened in Dallas recently, it costs the taxpayers a lot more.

Also, I agree many government enforcement programs have evolved into, predominantly, pure money making schemes with little public safety benefit. So are you saying that's a good thing or that two wrongs make a right?

Anonymous said...


BLOGGER said...

I disagree with the method of this law. It seems to humiliate.

On the other hand, I also disagree with the idea that you can let in hundreds of thousands of people from third world countries, and not have your own country go third world. It's not their fault; it's ours.

Texas is responding to an assault on its public services by those who pay no or very low taxes, and consume quite a bit of services. We don't want to end up broke like California ;)

Unknown said...

Interesting, I had grits for breakfast this morning!


Unknown said...

"WE are a nation of jailors" -Hunter Thompson

FleaStiff said...

"...I disagree with the method of this law. It seems to humiliate..."

Schools humiliate; courts humiliate, bosses humiliate. There are often 'john parades' where male customers of prostitutes must appear in court and have their names published. There are often "perp walks" on the television news, though its not always considered to be humiliating.

I don't see how humiliation can be considered to be a relevant metric. There is obviously no goal in the program relating to data quality or any sort of precision. Its similar to the sandwich board sentences that get good press and good election returns... and never had any other goal anyway.