Friday, September 09, 2011

Odds and ends: Crooked cops, cheering death, and Rick Perry's soft side

I don't have time for much writing this morning, but here are several items that merit Grits readers' attention and would probably warrant longer posts if the Forensic Science Commission didn't start up first thing this morning. Anyway:

Reactions to Rick Perry's soft side
Numerous reactions around the blogosphere to my post last week listing things Rick Perry has done that criminal justice reformers should like: Radley Balko called it "odd" but conceded that the list is "certainly worth considering, and it’s an important contribution to the discourse about Perry among those of us with an interest in these issues." At Mother Jones, reporter Tim Murphy reacted like an audience member in a John Waters film when Divine eats a turd, declaring that compared to Perry's water carrying for private prison companies and strident support for the death penalty, the items on my list had a "How was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?' quality to them." At The Economist, by contrast, Erica Grieder takes the record described on its face and looks to broader lessons from the example. She wonders if reforms in Texas didn't pass because when a "movement comes from the 'wrong' party, its framing reflects that party's concerns and has been reality-tested by its base (as in Bill Clinton's welfare reform, which was described as enhancing dignity and employment). Either way, worth keeping in mind. It may be hard to build a Republican coalition on climate change, for example, or Democrats for social security reform—but if those coalitions did come about, they would certainly get something done."

Cheering death
Rod Dreher at The American Conservative gave voice my own reservations when he said, "the crowd at [Wednesday's] GOP event cheering the execution of 234 Texas death row inmates was one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in a long time. Even if you’re for the death penalty, you shouldn’t cheer the taking of a human life. At best the death penalty is a necessary evil. Putting even the worst criminal to death, even if he bloody well deserves it (as most of them do) is always a defeat for humanity, and something to be undertaken with sobriety, not bloodlust. What a repulsive display of stupidity and cruelty. Is this what the Republican Party is for?" Doug Berman helpfully suggests more probative questions journalists might ask the governor in the future on the topic.

Do privatized jails save money?
The San Antonio Current says "yes," but only because of lower pay, benefits and pension obligations for guards and staff. An analysis considering privatization of the Harris County jail found much the same thing. So the county could save the same money without privatizing, if they cared to, by slashing pay and eliminating or reducing pensions if that's what they want to happen. Much depends on the relative power of the local deputies union - they're the ones whose ox is being gored.

Dozen Fort Worth officers accused of faking tickets for overtime pay
Three more Fort Worth police officers were indicted over falsifying tickets to earn extra overtime pay. This is in addition to "nine [other] officers accused after an investigation. Six were fired and three resigned. Four of the six who were fired admitted to falsifying records but deny that they did so to collect overtime pay, according to police officials."

Dem candidate targets Alcala instead of Keller on CCA
Attorney and failed TCDLA presidential candidate Keith Hampton will take his second run as a Democrat for a slot on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Though Judge Sharon Keller will (likely) be on the same ballot, Hampton for some reason chose rookie CCA incumbent and recent Perry appointee Elsa Alcala as his target. Having examined her record in some detail, I consider Alcala the least objectionable CCA member up next year and can't understand why Dems would target her as opposed to Keller. The Presiding Judge should be the weakest statewide target for Dems on the 2012 ballot. She's likely the only CCA member with a (relatively) high, if negative, name ID (I'd imagine; I haven't seen polling on the CCA in years and at the time no one knew who they were). Plus, if she makes it to the general election, she'll be weakened by a primary fight with Larry Meyers, a fellow member of the court, as well as having had her campaign coffers soaked for legal fees in her fight with the Commission on Judicial Conduct. If I were a Democratic strategist, I'd be preparing to throw the kitchen sink at Sharon Keller in 2012 with the best candidate one could find. There really aren't any other winnable statewide seats for the Dems that are even a longshot - Keller is arguably the Texas GOP's weakest electoral link.

Alone, inside
Lots of good posts over at Solitary Watch about the aftermath of the Pelican Bay hunger strikes over solitary confinement in California.


Don said...

On privatization of prisons, I would suggest that the savings from lower pay and benefits would result in short-term savings only. The incredible turnover, lowering of standards and qualifications for employees, (even after the low bar that TDCJ sets), and increased fraud by the private companies will eventually erode any savings incurred. Privately run prisons are usually short staffed, deficient in programming, don't really live up to their contracts. This penny wise, pound foolish approach doesn't cut it, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Believe me, Grits, Keller won't be vulnerable on the November ballot. Conservatives in Texas will vote in large numbers to remove Obama from office. This will only benefit Keller. As much as I hate it, I wonder if Hampton is targeting Alcala because of her Hispanic surname? If memory serves, there have been other statewide races in the not so distant past which unfortunately seem to have been influenced by the Anglo vs. Hispanic surname distinction.

Anonymous said...

On Perry as a Governor and candidate for President I can't get my head, or stomach, around the concept. Everything about the man smells of meglomania and elitism. However, I can get by with those qualities in a leader if they get things done. When you look at Cameron Todd Willingham and how the Governor sidelined the investigation into his conviction, changing the agencies members, much like he line item vetoed the Criminal Justice Policy Council when it benefited him, I start to get scared. What would he do with true Executive power. Scary stuff.
I can tell you I wont be posting comments with my name on it while he's in power.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post and the comments that followed on Rick Perry's soft side I have to ask a question. How can you think on one level, that "I do personally believe the Governor's intent was to stall and/or kill off the Todd Willingham arson investigation", and on another that he is responsible for anything good in the criminal justice system in Texas.
I know I sound like a lunatic preaching that Perry is the Devil.
I do not believe he is the devil, and I am not sure he is EVIL incarnate.
What I can be almost certain of, is that anyone that would do as you suggest, and I agree with you, has not been responsible for anything good in the criminal justice system. At best he hasn't tried to kill it, or he stood by and signed off on something others have done.
I do not believe he has done anything with "good intentions", I think he is self serving at best....but maybe it's time for me to take my medication..:)

Anonymous said...

Hampton is hoping to play the unmentioned race card. Remember when incumbent Xavier Rogdriguez lost to Steven Wayne Smith for the Texas Supreme Court? Hampton's hoping to win the dumb-ass vote on someone's surname.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:18 asks, "How can you think on one level, that "I do personally believe the Governor's intent was to stall and/or kill off the Todd Willingham arson investigation", and on another that he is responsible for anything good in the criminal justice system in Texas."

The short answer is because I witnessed it all up close and personal. All those items mentioned in that post are true.

Prison Doc said...

Friday Smorgasbord: so many items, so little time. I offer a little red meat for robust discussion.

a) cheering death. I'd submit that the audience was NOT cheering deaths, but rather cheering a robust justice system that tries to ameliorate the interminable delays, stallings, postponements and other obfuscations that cloud the use of the death penalty. Any "improvement" in the use of the death penalty will need to come through improved use of DNA and other legitimate forensics, all of which most readers of this blog support.

b) private prisons--I've never really understood the animosity toward private jails that is usually displayed here; they're doing the job they are contracted to do. Low salaries, poor benefits--yes, this ox was gored by that problem during my tenure in private corrections. Regarding their "lack of programming" in my experience that is purely a function of what the contracting entity requires--whatever is asked the private company will provide and charge for. So don't blame the private company, blame those who let the contract.

3) Judge Keller is safe, for her opinions and practices reflect the ideas and desires of most of the electorate. If you know the office door closes at 5 pm, get your work done before that time.

Remember 9/11 and don't go wobbly. We all have a country to save. Romney or Perry, either can do it or we may need both of them.

sunray's wench said...

" a) cheering death. I'd submit that the audience was NOT cheering deaths, but rather cheering a robust justice system that tries to ameliorate the interminable delays, stallings, postponements and other obfuscations that cloud the use of the death penalty. Any "improvement" in the use of the death penalty will need to come through improved use of DNA and other legitimate forensics, all of which most readers of this blog support."

Doc, I would respectfully suggest you read John Grisham's "The Innocent Man" if you have not already. It's wriiten in the style of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" and tells the true story of several men in Oklahoma in the 1980s who were convicted on the flimsiest of "evidence", spent years on Death Row, and were only released inspite of the system not because of it. Without those "delays", those innocent men would have been killed by the state.

Most of the time, justice is seen as a "them vs us" thing, but really it isn't. It is everyone working towards the same goal, to make our society a good place to live in - for everyone. Police and prosecutors appear to lose sight of this very quickly.

Perry's actions related to the Willingham case show - intentionally or otherwise - that he falls into the Them vs Us camp. I cannot get my head round why anyone would not want to be absolutely certain that the individual was guilty beyond doubt of the crime they were about to be killed for comiting. Who loses if they were not? Nobody looks stupid; if the tests prove innocence then the prosecutors can grandstand and say "Look, we did everything possible to be sure we had the right individual". You only look stupid/dangerous/lose the trust of your peers when you consistently refuse to accept that scientific evidence is showing one thing when you want it to be something else.

I may be European, but I am pro death penalty in a very small number of cases where there is no doubt that the individual has committed the crimes. For most cases, there simply is not that level of certainty, and for Texas with the ridiculous Law of Parties, there isn't even the requirement for the defendent to actually kill anyone.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, I think you're wrong on cheering death. That was bloodlust. No different from the crowd in the Roman coliseum clamoring for the next Christian to be thrown to the lions. In Texas when counties held hangings in public before 1922, the biggest crowds were well over 10,000, and that's before the automobile. I've little doubt that if executions were held in public today you could fill a big-city basketball arena for the event, and probably get more eyeballs on pay-per-view (specially in states like Utah with a more dramatic execution method than lethal injection). The public not only favors the death penalty, they'd watch it on reality TV in a second if it was offered, and not for any high-minded reasons about justice.

On private prisons, you know perfectly well what the critiques are, PD. If the Lege wants to save money by cutting wages and benefits for workers, just cut wages and benefits, then they get the savings without having to pay for corporate profit. There's just no benefit to the government: "savings" result mostly from cherrypicking the least expensive, least problematic inmates and tolerating an undertrained, high-turnover staff.

Finally, 10:50 and PD, for whatever reason, in the last few election cycles the statewide courts have drawn the lowest general election support of any statewide incumbents. In 2008, the last presidential race, CCA incumbent Paul Womack defeated non-candidate J.R. Molina with just 53% of the vote. You may be right that the dynamic next time will leave no statewide R vulnerable, but if it gets at all close, CCA and SCOTX incumbents would be the first to fall.

Figlio diNapoli said...

In a case of blogosity recapitulates theology, Prison Doc's argument recalls the Angelic Doctor's in Summa Th., Suppl. Tertiae Partis, Quaest. 94, Art. 3: "Whether the blessed rejoice in the punishment of the wicked?" To which Aquinas replies, "A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First, directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by way of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly."

Aristotle perhaps takes better account of the psycho-facts when he says "Delight in the suffering of others is a vice [beat, beat] when carried to excess." Eth. Nic.

Anonymous said...

Rick Perry is a “Cracker Head Fraud” and is what we in Dallas, Texas refer to as a “west texas closet racist” which was a very predominan¬t “state of mind” when growing up during the 50’s & 60’s in small towns in West Texas that are no longer there or disappeari¬ng. A graduating senior class might have 3 seniors. Minorities are no where to be seen unless you went to a small metropolit¬an area aka Lubbock, Abilene, Midland, Odessa, Amarillo. This "generation" of West Texans typically carry a racial bias all through their lives via derogatory words and slang terms to describe blacks, Hispanics, etc in private conversations with those that understand and "grew up" in this "small town west texas culture”. These individuals always have to modify their words and actions for political and/or business purposes when they moved to bigger cities. But their logic on “race issues” doesn’t make sense. Perry compares the civil rights struggle with taxation. Some say it’s an idiotic statement but it is blatantly racist. It’s a “state of mind” but it’s not the KKK hate type of thinking. It’s really about not caring and looking down on a race one considers inferior. It’s “insensitivity” of those who are less fortunate. Unless you have lived in this west texas culture from 50-60’s era, you can not understand it. It is very specific to this era and still remains today by that generation that remained in west texas. Other areas of subtle racial bias by Perry are how he's dealt with the poor aka minorities.
• Seventeen ( 17% ) who live below the poverty line.
• The nations highest rate ( 27.5% ) of medically uninsured
• The nations lowest Medicaid $ to the poor and children
• minimal pre natal care
• food insecure children, illiteracy, high incarceration rate, etc. One third ( 1/3 ) of children in Dallas live in poverty.
Perry says in the debate he sleeps well with the highest # of executions nationally and of those 70% are black and Hispanic which is twice the national average. Texas is a blatantly racist state. Dallas is totally segregated. Think about this. JFK reluctantly came to Texas once after his election and you know what happen. I don’t believe Obama has ever come. Perry talks out of his "jock strap" .

Anonymous said...

You are right when you said we should not take delight in the suffering of others.

One thing I found odd was when the founder of the Innocence Project rushed up to hug O. J. Simpson after he helped get him acquitted for slaughtering two people. He knew OJ was guilty, but he was eager to claim that he was innocent. Exactly how does this innocence thing work? We know they are guilty but we will say they are innocent and write blogs trying to get other people to along with this. Is that how it goes?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:41, the Innocence Project didn't defend OJ. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the national Innocence Project, was hired onto OJ's team as a private attorney. Conflating that case and innocence work is pure demagoguery. It's little wonder those who make such comparisons always do so anonymously. I wouldn't put my name on such drivel, either.

Anonymous said...

In the past I supported the concept of the death penalty. I would hope that I would have never rejoiced about it. But, over the last few years my opinion has been undergoing a change. Concerns about the risk of innocents being executed caused me to think that, while I was okay with the concept, I didn't think the system was competent enough to be trusted with it.
The other day I had the opportunity to read a closing argument in a death penalty case. Now, I've heard many people use the Bible to justify the death penalty, relying on Old Testament verses. But, the attorney making this closing argument pointed to a death penalty proceeding in the New Testament. It was the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned to death. Under the law, anyone who interfered with such a proceeding could face the same punishment. So, the people who brought the woman to Jesus were probably hoping he would tell them not to do it and then they could stone him too

Anonymous said...

this is continued from the post above:

But, Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin case the first stone." Reading that closing argument it hit me that, while the old law may have allowed capital punishment, and that argument can and is made...under grace, by and through God's grace, we have a higher responsibility than under the law. We need to look to the spirit and allow it to guide our hearts, not just use the letter of the law as an excuse to do what we want. I'm not criticizing anyone or really even trying to persuade anyone. I'm just saying that I've come to believe, that as a Christian, I have a responsibility to extend mercy, compassion, love, forgiveness. And, if someone has done something that seems to our human understanding to be beyond forgiveness, I can only forgive them through the grace and power of God.

A Texas PO said...

Re: Cheering Death- My stomach churned when I saw the crowd's reaction to our use of the death penalty, but we do live in a holier-than-thou society these days. What got my attention was the debate on Monday in Tampa when Perry, while defending his use of the HPV vaccine, stated that he would rather "err on the side of life." Really? Cameron Todd Willingham and the others who have been executed in this state with still a hint of innocence would beg to disagree with that statement.