Monday, March 23, 2009

Blogworthy news and notes

I was out of pocket Friday, Saturday and Sunday for my job, which explains the blog's relative dormancy for the last several days. I'm too busy to write separately about all the interesting stuff that's come up since then, so here are several stories that deserve Grits readers' attention even if I don't have time to fully explore them:

New jails going up
Burnet County speculatively built a much larger jail than they need hoping to lease the rest as contract beds. Now they've found a source of prisoners: The state of Texas. "SAFPF (Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility) and ISF (Intermediate Sanctions Facility) programs will be offered at the new 587-bed facility when it accepts its first inmates April 1." Meanwhile, in Brownsville, Cameron County broke ground on a new 356 bed jail that will push the total number of jail beds oin the county over 1,000. The new jail will cost $15 million, plus interest and operating costs.

Journalists' shield law advances
It passed out of committee but the current version of Texas' proposed shield law for journalists wouldn't include most bloggers. In a sense, given the decline in the number of reporters, newspapers, and traditional press, that omission makes the bill seem a tad anachronistic. It defines journalists broadly enough to include many serious writers and freelance journalists, though work done here on Grits, for example, would not receive shield law protection under HB 670.

Make crime labs independent?
Houston City Councilmember Jolanda Jones had a column the other day echoing District Attorney Pat Lykos' call for an independent, regional crime lab removed entirely from under control of police and prosecutors. She writes, "A regional crime lab will separate science from law enforcement, help our police officers stay focused on apprehending criminals and preventing crime, and guard against the cross-contamination of motivations and results." Making crime labs independent was a key recommendation of the National Academey of Sciences recently released report critiquing shoddy methods and practices in forensic science disciplines (about which this blog will have more to say soon).

The Google Mistrial
I've not heard of his happening in Texas yet, but according to The New York Times, "The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges."


Rage Judicata said...

I'm not convinced that separating it from the cops or DAs will remove all agendas, but, it may be one step closer to 'adversarial.' If you can't cross exmine a third party forensic scientist ("scientist") who can you?

TxBluesMan said...

I thought that the purpose of the labs were to find the truth, not to be 'adversarial...'

Of course, what do you expect from a lib defense lawyer?

Anonymous said...

Haha. . .He said "the truth."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If you thought that, Bluesy, you don't pay much attention to crime lab issues. They are absolutely "adversarial," in that they're experts only for one side.

Anonymous said...

On the Google mistrial:

There is a lot of debate in the letters to the editor on the propriety of jurors seeking more expertise via Google, Twitter, etc. The majority thinks it is ok, and that it is up to the court system to update itself so that it can cope with Google.

I lean towards this view because as a juror I am the judge of the facts and the law.

TxBluesMan said...

Gee, Grits, I thought that I saw the head of the Conn. Crime Lab at the OJ trial, as a witness for the defense...

I also was under the impression that the DNA clearances that y'all get sort of happy about came out of crime labs.

John T,

As a juror, you are the 'judge' of the facts, not the law. The real judge is the judge of the law.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're being disingenuous, Bluesy, just taking BS trollish potshots. You know how the system works. State crime labs serve as experts for the prosecution, not the defense.

Anonymous said...

I'm very wary of a SAFPF being put into a county jail. When the SAFPF program was first started, TDCJ tried to put one into a private facility in Marlin that they had bought (N-Group or N-Corp?). It was a mess. There were no meeting rooms for small counseling groups, no office space for counselors, and no large rooms for big groups. Has the Burnet County Jail been built to be conducive to treatment? Will the guards be trained to work in a therapeutic community? Will the SAFPF clients have to abide by two sets of rules? You just have to cross your fingers and hope that someone has addressed these and a host of other issues involved in placing a SAFPF in a county jail.

Anonymous said...

Bluesy denies that I am judge of the law as well as the facts.

I don't accept that. It is too docile a role for this citizen. I prefer the British jury system where jurors get to question witnesses directly, for example.

I will not share the guilt of the political system for inane and wicked laws by going along with the law as a juror. Damn it, I am the boss, not the System as we used to call it.

The legal system would reduce me to a robot. I don't accept that.

By now, I have been called for many juries, here in Texas and in California when I lived there. I feel that it is my responsibility as a citizen to serve, so when called I come. But I have never gotten out of voir dire because I will not give up my juror rights. I suspect that my county has taken me off their jury roll because I haven't been called in years.

TxBluesMan said...

John T,

Even in the UK, juries are only to determine the facts, not the law.

If you state that you will make your own interpretation of the law and not follow the charge of the judge, I doubt that you will ever sit on a jury. The attorneys, much let the judge, would never allow it.

Anonymous said...

"..ISF (Intermediate Sanctions Facility) programs"

And just what the hell is this? Intermediate Sanctions? is that like interment camp, relocation facility (ask a Japanese-American from the 40's), Warsaw Ghetto?

We have such colorful names for things don't we? As for the ability of such a place to offer like altering (positive) changes to people that have drug abuse issues, I doubt seriously the intent was ever to create it in this facility.

Anonymous said...

ISFs are generally for adult probationers who are violating their conditions of supervision. They're mainly for knuckleheads or for the brilliant and bulletproof who refuse to report, refuse to get a job, get a new minor offense, etc. As the name implies, it's an intermediate step instead of revoking them to prison (which should be reserved for the truly dangerous). The irony of this deal is that the Burnet County CSCD (adult probation department) already operates an ISF in Burnet. This was obviously a top down decision made by the brilliant brass at TDCJ without consulting anyone.

Anonymous said...

Burnet's intermediate sanctions facility is bullshit. I admit the idea is good if they had employee's there that could council people like they are suppose to, and care about changing a person and making a change someones life before its to late some people actually looks forward to that. One good thing is there is no access to drugs. Its only gaurds there that go along with the flow. Who is in charge of this place? The place is completly unorganized and i hate for anyone else to be there. It's a scam to get money.....Maybe it will get better

Anonymous said...

my husband was there they had diffrent people trying to council them they had diffrent rules and more...