Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ideas for good corrections bills

A staffer recently asked me for bill suggestions that might go through the House Corrections Committee, so I offered several ideas, none fully developed into bill language, but all relatively simple to draft. Upon reflection, I added a couple of more to the list and submit them here for readers' consideration. Use the comments to say what other Corrections (or other criminal justice) bills you'd like to see filed in the 81st Texas Legislature before the March 13 filing deadline:

1. Recognition of possible innocence: Quite a few of Texas' DNA exonerees - including Timothy Cole who died in prison - were denied parole in part because they refused to accept responsibility for crimes that, it turns out, they did not, in fact, commit. I would add a new (d) between the current (c) and (d), renumbering accordingly, at Government Code 508.0441 to say the parole board cannot adopt any rule, policy or practice penalizing a prisoner's failure to take responsibility for a crime if they maintained their innocence at trial and throughout the post-conviction appellate process.

2. Right to Counsel for Actual Innocence Writs: Authorize two new positions at State Counsel for Offenders for attorneys dedicated specifically to 11.07 habeas work. This would have a fiscal note, but the courts might actually save money overall if the CCA weren't constantly dealing with poorly written, pro se, habeas writs. This was an excellent idea suggested recently in blog comments to this post.

3. Parole for state jail felons: If you're looking for new money for anything (like new appellate positions at the State Counsel for Offenders!), here's a bill with a positive fiscal note (i.e., it would save the state money): Require the parole board review for state jail felons at one year into their (currently) mandatory 2-year term. LBB says the state jail felony population is growing more rapidly than the rest of the prison system, and especially for substance abusers (more than half the state jail felony population), once they've completed a mandatory treatment program it makes little public policy sense to keep them there. Such legislation should create a presumption for parole at one year unless the board identifies reasons for keeping them specific to the defendant.

4. Presumption for paroling low-risk inmates: This would be an even bigger money saver, since 2/3 of all prison inmates are currently eligible for parole. The parole board categorizes inmates into seven risk categories, but the board is LESS likely to follow its own parole guidelines for nonviolent and low risk cases than they are for TDCJ's most dangerous inmates. I'd suggest removing the parole board's discretion for both class 6 and 7 inmates, releasing them as soon as their time served plus good time equaled their sentence length; even if you did it only for Class 7, though, it would have a significant positive financial impact.

5. Better monitoring of treatment funds: A good way to spend any savings from items 3 and 4 would be to use it to pay for research-based analysis of Texas' recently expanded substance-abuse treatment programs' effectiveness, including grants to university researchers or other contractors to develop Texas' own "evidence-based" best practices about "what works" over time, giving more substance and Texas-specific meaning to those perennial, oft-overused buzzwords.

6. Speed up medical release for terminally ill inmates: Here's another cost saving idea - requiring the parole board to issue more medical paroles in cases involving terminally ill offenders. According to testimony last year to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, TDCJ recommends about 70 or more inmates per month for medical-based parole, but the parole board on average releases just 10% of them. As a result, "inmates who could be released into a hospice or nursing home facility (where the feds through Medicaid would pay 2/3 of the cost), are being held in TDCJ even though they're bedridden and immobile. Dee Wilson of the Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments told senators that "many" offenders recommended for medical release pass away before the parole board gets around to their case. Around 40 inmates per month die in Texas prisons.

Let me know what you think of these ideas or offer any other corrections-related bill suggestions in the comments.


Anonymous said...

The only issue I have with #4, is that the term 'violent offender' is used when most people actually mean 'violent crime that got them into TDCJ in the first place'. It does not take into account anyone who may have committed a 'violent act' and yet who has maintained a blemish-free record while serving their sentence (which is not as easy to do as some people may think). Those imprisoned for violent crimes generally receive longer sentences, making a change in behaviour or maintenance of good behaviour easier to observe. These inmates should be looked at more favourably by the BPP, who currently only look at the crime committed and not the time between then and the parole application.

I am absolutely 100% behind point #6. In 2006, TDCJ themselves recommended over 450 inmates for early medical release, and yet the BPP only approved 164 of those cases. TDCJ only has 80 dedicated medical/geriatric care beds, for a population of over 10,000 inmates that fall into that catagory. The BPP should be ashamed of that figure, even if they can brush off all their other failings.

Anonymous said...

Someone should mention getting rid of those in Austin that are responsible for the CONTINUED lack of progress within CJAD, including TYC, Probation-Adult and Juvenile, and TDC. When will the lege actually look for LEADERS to run these agencies?
I guess they'll just keep blaming the line officers for all the failed POLICIES!!!!
Wakeup Madden/Whitmire, you've failed to realize that the PROBLEM starts in AUSTIN, Texas.....

Anonymous said...

Let's take these in order. 1) & 2) make sense. 3) Having opened and worked on the first state jail facility in Beaumont, this is something that needs to be added and was requested years ago. With mandatory length sentences, there is often no incentive for an offender to complete programmatic activities or follow institutional rules and regulations. 4)Again, I agree that this makes sense. Also, this would reduce the overall offender population and need for correctional officers which will help with the officer shortages. Even if TDCJ has to hire 500 Parole Officers to handle the influx of paroles it would be less expensive than hiring 3600 Correctional Officers that they are short. 5)Disagree. Working inside correctional facilties is not an easy job. And for a state the size of Texas to rank as low as they do in wages for these people, I beleive a good portion should go back to them. As with any governmental organization, TDCJ will always have problems. But what many people seem to forget is that the employees of TDCJ work everyday with the individuals that society has deem not worthy and has removed them from itself through the criminal justice processes. And right now TDCJ is getting what they pay for and far as employees. Raise the bar and make them come to it in every aspect of the umbrella called TDCJ. 6)BPP needs to fast track these cases and instead of running them through normal channels which is what is sounds like they are doing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Chad, this list wasn't meant to be exclusive. I agree TDCJ employees need a payraise, but that's a lot more money than we're talking about here. (Or I think it is. Maybe 3 and 4 get us into larger figures than I'd first considered.)

I'd like to see a small proportion of the money spent on treatment go toward doing effectiveness studies, etc., to develop best practices and discard bad ones from what the state is doing. That was my reference - I'm glad the state is doing something new with treatment, etc., but think we should measure and make sure we get what we're paying for with the money.

I agree with you any major savings should go toward increasing guard pay. Glad you liked the other suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Changing some of the professional licensing and practice laws to allow state jail and third degree felons to obtain licenses so they have an opportunity to earn a decent wage.

PirateFriedman said...

"Speed up medical release for terminally ill inmates"

Maybe one day society will question why we give criminals medical care in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Maybe one day society will question why we give criminals medical care in the first place.

You have to be some sort of Chuck Rosenthal or Dick Cheney parody.

There's no way in Hell a real person with a soul shares the views you've posted on this blog lately.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it has something to do with the name "Rage"?

Anonymous said...

@ 'Passion and Lore' ~ give me a reason why we should not. Your comment has no substance, rather like your blog.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

P&L writes: "Maybe one day society will question why we give criminals medical care"

Where have you been? "Society" is constantly asking and answering that question - in American society most often in federal court. In Texas, it was the Ruiz case. Most recently it's being answered in California. That question has been much argued and the answers well established.

edsal said...

Releasing state jail inmates upon completion of drug treatment makes good sense. However, they should be placed on parole for the remainder of their term as structure is essential to stay clean. The state would still save a bundle of money as parole costs about 1/8th the cost of confinement.

Anonymous said...

Rage, how in the world can anyone with your attitude even be called human? Every person, no matter what they have done or whether they were guilty or not, deserves to be treated with medical care and humanity.

I, being a medical person think you have a disgusting attitude and need to get on your knees and ask the Lord to forgive you.

You have a very disgusting attitude and I hope you are not being serious with your statements.If you are, then you are in need of help and from another source than human.

A person in prison may or may not be guilty of what they were convicted of doing, we are not the judges and the Judges in most courts only want to win as do the DAs. I will pray for you, Rage, you truly need help from somewhere.

Anonymous said...

folks, it wasn't Rage who said that, he/she was quoting from "Passion and Lore" @ 9.01pm

(unless they are the same person....)

Anonymous said...

If this was not Rage's words, he should not have posted them.

I agree with your assessment "sunray's wench" people change and should be give a second chance in life. Jesus Christ gave all of us a second chance and everyone should get the opportunity to find some happiness in life.

Also, I agree let those who can obtain a license, let them be real people and don't continue to punish someone for doing something wrong, when no one but the Lord knows what really happened. I say, remove that wrong from their record and give them a chance to find a life. Once someone has paid a price for a mistake, remove the evidence from their record and give them a chance. For instance Deferred Adjudications, they are not convictions and should never appear on anyone's record, but in Texas no one is innocent until proven guilty, everyone is guilty regardless. Life in Texas at this time is terrible and it is due to the people who make the laws and the Governor who does not care about anyone but himself. Let him move into the Speaker's apartment, that is $9,000.00 we could be saving every month. I hear it is vacant now.

Also, there are "reported" 166,000 people in prison and at $50.00/day, well you do the math. We could save a bundle if those who had been paroled were released and not made to stay for a non-existing program to rehab them! Get real, there is no rehab in Texas.

PirateFriedman said...

You have to be some sort of Chuck Rosenthal or Dick Cheney parody.

Hmm... can't say I admire Mr. Cheney, although I'm sure he's an accomplished man, someone who probably has better things to do than what we spend our days doing, writing messages on blogs.

I seem to have hit a nerve in you Rage, and I hope it will give you an opportunity for reflection. I was once a man of the Left, so I do not judge you. (Though, if you are a fan of RATM, I may judge your taste in music ;-)

The big question is: Why is it ok for the government to steal from the taxpayers to furnish health care for inmates? After the criminal victimizes us, should we be victimized again by the government?

As for Grits: The question may have been established with liberal constitutional law scholars…the same bunch who pulled Roe v. Wade out of the 14th amendment. Grits, if you can find evidence that medical care for inmates was intended by the states that “ratified” the 14th amendment, I would be intrigued. (But of course, the real question is the legitimacy of the constitution or the democracy itself).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, P&L, not by "liberal constitutional law scholars," by the Supreme Court of the United States. That makes it the law of the land, and there's no credible analysis to argue that it's likely to change anytime soon in the next few decades.

If you don't think we should pay for inmates' healthcare, the solution is to incarcerate fewer people, then costs will go down.

PirateFriedman said...

"That makes it the law of the land"...

You should read "The Activist" by Lawrence Goldstone. It strongly makes the case that judicial review is a made up fiction and not in the spirit of the founding fathers.

At any rate, I'm fine with letting some of these losers out of jail. The correctional system is incompetent. But the armed citizens of texas will be ready...

Lock N' Load

Anonymous said...

Passion and Lore, what if your child were the young man who died in prison with an asmathmic attack due to the lack of health care? From what I have read, he was not given his medication and no one responded when it was reported he was unable to breathe.

Everyone of us are a child of God and deserve care and treatment for illnesses and to be treated like a human.

Just because someone is in prison does not give anyone the right to mistreat anyone and especially does not give guards the right to take dignity away from anyone. They are in prison to learn to change their behavior and not to be mistreated of abused.

It is evil for anyone to think otherwise and may God forgive those who mistreat and abuse their fellow man!!

Anonymous said...

Those who are serving any where from five to sixty years in prison for a consensual sexual relationship with a willing minor (not child) should be paroled. Most of them are there because of some minor technical violation of their probation not another offense.

PirateFriedman said...

Anonymous: Your right, being in prison by itself is not a philosophical justification for taking away an inmate’s dignity.

However, when an individual takes away another's liberty or property, he is estopped from having an absolute right to his own liberty or property.

Of course, the ethics of punishment is a contentious debate. But at the very least, we should all agree that victims have a right to an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.

For an excellent paper on the philosophical justification of punishment:

And here's a good example of what we need here:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

P&L writes: "at the very least, we should all agree that victims have a right to an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth"

Unless, of course, you're a practicing Christian, in which case you might reject "an eye for an eye" and instead believe in forgiving transgressions by others or "turning the other cheek". But then, everybody knows that Jesus Christ guy was just another pussy, criminal-coddling liberal ... who would listen to that jerk?

Anonymous said...

@ P&L ~ You seem to forget that a large number of those currently incarcerated were working and paying taxes right up to their incarceration. It is not just your tax dollars going towards their health care, it is theirs too - just as if you found yourself in TDCJ (and dont come back with the line that you never will - tell that to the people who have been exonerated recently) your own tax dollars would be paying for your bed and board there.

The government does not steal from taxpayers to cover prison costs. Everyone knows that when you work legitimately, you pay taxes and that money goes towards anything the government needs to spend it on. Where is the theft? You dont get to pick and choose what the government spends taxes on unless you use your vote to change the way the taxes are spent.

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" Gandhi

PirateFriedman said...

Grits: If you are a practicing Christian that's your business.

But if someone hurts a member of my family... I am asking you to show some Christian mercy on me, after I find the bastard, cut his balls off and hang him from a tree.

PirateFriedman said...

Sunray: Don't forget that many of those exonerated had previous criminal records. They may be innocent of rape or murder, but so many of them have burglary charges and what not. So if you're a burglar wrongly convicted of murder... you are innocent of murder, but your not innocent, and I don't feel sorry for you if you spend 10 years on death row.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

P&L writes, "after I find the bastard, cut his balls off and hang him from a tree"

Yeah, yeah, yeah ... everybody's a tough guy in anonymous blog comments.

Your reaction to sunray's wench is similarly full of imbecilic assumptions that I'm certain you cannot back up. How about providing some evidence when you make such sweeping declarations?

I wouldn't wish false imprisonment on anybody, but in your case, a decade or two falsely accused in TDCJ would certainly change your tune and teach you how absurd all this tough-guy posturing sounds to people who actually possess a shred of human decency.

PirateFriedman said...

Grits: It’s not about toughness, it’s about freedom. In a free society, I could at least hire someone to attack someone that hurt my family if I wasn’t feeling up to it.

As far as my response to Sunray: Don't get your feathers ruffled too much. I pointed out that many of these exonerated people were not innocent. This is a simple fact.
According to an Associated Press analysis of DNA convictions, half had prior records. Satisfied?!

Go to the Innocence Project and research some of the names on the list:

Steven Avery had prior burglary convictions.

Antonio Beaver had a prior conviction which is(as of a 09/07 USA today article) preventing him from getting state compensation.

Michael Blair had a record as a sex offender.

Dana Holland had a record for armed robbery.

Anonymous said...

@ P&L ~ so if you broke a speeding law, got pulled over by the police, and found yourself sitting Dallas County Jail for 4 years facing a totally unrelated charge of murder just because you happened to look like someone in an artists impression made out 3 months before, would you feel satisfied with justice as it stands in Texas?

If you had one spoonful of cough medicine too many, had a vehicular accident where someone's loved one was killed, and you said you were sober but the alcohol level in your body said otherwise, would it be OK for the victim's family to hunt you down and have your balls on a plate?

What if you killed one of your own family in the above accident? Who then gets to take you out?

If you still dont see why your statements make no sense, perhaps you should apply for the next vacancy on the BPP. You'll fit in so well.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

P&L, it's blatant obfuscation to say that "many of these exonerated people were not innocent," and now you're granting that at least half had no prior record, though you don't "feel sorry" for them. Of course, all were innocent of the crimes for which they were falsely convicted, and in some cases (like Michael Blair), their past conviction was, in fact, WHY they were railroaded.

Indeed, you seem not to care a whit that when an innocent person is incarcerated, the guilty person is left free to commit more crimes. You just want the state to lock people up whether they're guilty or not, which is a pretty pathetic position to take.

Also, I notice you've backtracked from announcing YOU would go exact vigilante justice and now want to "hire" someone to do your dirty work. But I doubt you have the cojones for that, either. Fact is, blustering anonymous commenters threatening violence are nearly always cowards who talk big only when they know they can't be held accountable. That appears to be what's going on here.

PirateFriedman said...

Grits: You have become angry at others for distorting your statements, and you've simply engaged in the same behavior. I said I don't feel sorry for a deadbeat who's accused of a crime he didn't commit, when he has in fact TERRORIZED the society he lives in on other occasions.

Are there truly innocent people in jail? Of course. And its a terrible and sad fact. A government is by definition, a coercive and oppressive force.

As for your foray into multiculturalist trash talking, I don't care how big a blogger's conejos are or how deep their panocha is. I have simply pointed out the long history of failure for government to improve people's lives. The solutions to crime can come from individual imitative or from commerce, but government can only oppress people, as it always has done.

Anonymous said...

How about a bill that would restore common sense, reason and courage.

2. A bill that would prevent the government from creating more bills that give the government more power to give the governemnt more power.

The government has and always will fail at improving the lives of the citizens. No one in the government is uniquely qualified to perform miracles or cast out demons. Those spouting the current popular ideology are not more highly evolved than the rest of us. They just create illusions. As a matter of fact, I suspect the opposite is true.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

P&L: My "foray into multiculturalist trash talking"?

I have no idea what you think multiculturalism has to do with any of this, and after your comment at 9:01, 1:49, etc., it seems like a pot/kettle moment for you to accuse ANYONE else of "trash talking," especially when you're the one whose only willing to do so behind a veil of anonymity.

That said, I'm glad to see you backtrack to recognize that actual innocence is not the trivial concern you portrayed it as in earlier comments. Maybe there's hope for you yet. :)