Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bill boosting Harris County jail crowding headed to Senate floor

A bill Grits criticized earlier this session that would worsen Harris County jail overcrowding - extending the stay of misdemeanor defendants booked into the county jail from a maximum of 24 to 36 hours until they receive a probable cause hearing - has wended its way through the process and is on the Senate "intent calendar" for Monday. The closing paragraphs to this Houston Chronicle editorial explain why it's a bad idea, particularly in a county so full it's had to ship off hundreds of inmates to Louisiana:
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Democrat, was the only member of the seven-member Senate Committee on Criminal Justice to vote against the legislation. A report by his staff contends that keeping prisoners in jail longer will inevitably worsen overcrowding, cost the city and county more money, and result in more defendants losing their jobs because of extended incarceration.

It also questions the need for extending the time limit for holding prisoners, noting that Harris County prosecutors requested waivers for additional time in only 3 percent of the misdemeanors filed in a nine-month period last year.

Rather than keeping minor offenders longer, the report recommends picking up the pace of probable cause hearings for prisoners and changing Houston police arrest policies, encouraging officers to issue more tickets rather than arresting people and locking them up.

According to Sen. Ellis, "If the state's problem is that our jails are bringing in too many people, then we need to concentrate on the options we already know can solve this problem — alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenses. These smart-on-crime reforms would have the added advantage of making our communities safer and our justice system more effective and efficient. Before we rush to waste more taxpayer dollars to trample on people's constitutional rights, let's enact real reforms that we know work."

The legislation poses another problem as well. Settlements of previous federal suits against the county for jail overcrowding specify the 24-hour deadline for providing prisoners with probable cause hearings. If passed, HB 1173 would put Harris County in a legal quandary.

We need to be working toward a solution to our chronic jail problems, not passing laws that would worsen the situation and provide a precedent other counties might follow. Keeping minor offenders in jail longer is bad policy that Harris County's delegation in Austin (along with the rest of the Legislature) should reject.


Anonymous said...

There is no better example than what is taking place in Houston.

The National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) has unveiled a new campaign to challenge the mass incarceration of significant sectors of the Black Community. "Challenging Mass Incarceration" is a project that focuses on the contradictions of the criminal justice system that targets an entire racial group for potential detention and violates their fundamental human rights.

Anonymous said...,0,755141.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fsports%2Fbasketball%2Fwnba%2Fsparks+%28L.A.+Times+-+Sparks%29

titfortat said...

I’m not an attorney so I am in all likelihood missing a piece of the puzzle somewhere; please explain the necessity of having a probable cause hearing at all prior to the accused being released from jail?

Texas law or at least a portion of Texas law states that a person arrested for a misdemeanor (must) be released on bond, in an amount not to exceed $5000.00, (NOT LATER THAN THE 24TH HOUR) after the person was arrested.

It would seem that the existence of a probable cause court in the jail of a county the size of Harris County does more to facilitate jail overcrowding than to reduce it.

Years ago people charged with misdemeanors were charged, booked and released from jail, all within 8 hours of arrest and probable cause was determined by the courts afterwards.

The only real change of actual incarceration time for misdemeanors came when Pretrial release came on the scene under the guise of doing something to help relieve an overcrowded jail of misdemeanor defendants that were already being released quickly and easily.

Since then several more jails have been built, pretrial release has grown enormously, a court, court personnel, and Judges have been placed in the jail, and now after all of this additional informational protocol and judicial intervention it takes more than 24 hours for (anyone) to be released, including the class c misdemeanors, the jail is more crowded than ever, and the taxpayers keep flipping the bill.

State Sen. Ellis, is incorrect in his assumption about what is already known. The truth is that his smart on crime reforms are nothing more than a band aid approach and in effect a waiver that if he could would include a great deal of unlawful acts and will in fact cost taxpayers a great deal more in ineffectiveness, inefficiencies, and rise in crime over time as the above mentioned related practices already have.

What has always been a relatively easy problem to fix at no cost to taxpayers has become an even larger problem through the years.

The force and implementation of government has been an utter failure so far in that it has served only to bog down the process at an enormous expense of both expended and lost revenue and it looks like it could slow to a complete crawl; to embolden it further with even more fix-its no matter who is doing the fixing would seem to be nothing more than more government and we all know who pays for that.

Both Sen. Ellis and the prosecutors are missing the boat on this one, but that’s ok I’m sure the taxpayers will pay for the next boat and the one after that until the money is gone or the boats just sinks.

Anonymous said...

It is common knowledge that Harris county officials do what ever the hell they want anyway.They ignore federal warnings,Produce prosecuters like Chuck Rosenathal who felt like he was above the law.Thier Judges have milked no tolerance for all its worth to keep them elected term after term.Thier crime lab was and still is a joke.Now The Texas legislature wants to give Harris county law inforcement more power.When is somebody going to stop this dogsloth ?

The Homeless Cowboy said...

What If - The arresting officer was required to stick around and the defendant given a PC hearing and arraignment at the same time. I think it would accomplish more. The officer would be sure to think about PC before arrest and transport. As well as allowing the arraigning judge to ask the arresting officer questions about the arrest. Henceforth officers would not be so quick to dump someone in jail because they dont get do just run off and look for the next person to hassle, they would be immediately aware of the consequences of their own actions. Possibly this would cause less people to be thoughtlessly being thrown into jail as a stopgap measure to prove an officers point to a citizen. I hope I am saying this correctly. It just seems the officer would think more if there were more questions asked before they could just drop people in jail and sort it out later.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

9:10 am -- What exactly is Dog-sloth? Don't get me wrong, I like the word I just wonder where it came from????

Anonymous said...

dog sloth- negative term to describe a dog who is stubborn,lazy, slobish and obtuse..

misfit64 said...

there's no comon sense,when it comes to our law makers,makeing laws that dose the right law fits all dose not work.extending time in jail,prison,parol or probation,cost the tax payers.they are allways passing laws that cost alot and dose more harm than good.

thefuture said...

The big problems lies right in front of us, how do people get to jail? The police. Everyone shouldn't be arrested for everything. Somethings are unnecessay for society. Arresting the same bombs on the street or trespassers. Make them move and keep going. Isnt it unnecessary. Some of them actually are use to it! 3 meals and a bath. Somewhere to sleep. Come on now! If you see There are much more serious problems. Im not saying that we need to ignore everything but, we have to come with more laws of requirements for arrest. Its ahame how many small crimes are packing up the jails and courtrooms and people are losing jobs for going to jail for small traffic ticket warrants.

Anonymous said...

I really whish there would be a place to complaint... it's just us talking because nothing will be done anyway.
Police officers are not only in a rush to arrest and throw in jail people, they are judgemental and declare guilty before it's prove!!.
Not to mention the overcrowd in the facilities, the officers are really rude and have a "power show" attitud even with civilian visiting an inocent inmate. It is so sad, the system is so bad and corrupted, people with no criminal records get put on jail because they were drinking but they let go very easy children rapest.