Monday, February 18, 2013

Roundup: Forensic reform, testilying, risk assessment and more

Just a few items that haven't made it into independent posts but deserve Grits readers' attention:

Federal forensic institute created
Implementing the first recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences' 2009 report on problems in forensic science, the US Department of Justice today announced the creation of the National Institute on Forensic Science. See the press release.

'Largely perjurious' police testimony in asset forfeiture case
Somehow I'd missed this story, but in December Dallas Judge Carl Ginsberg threw out an asset forfeiture case, declaring that testimony of Officers Jon Llewellyn and Randolph Dillon in the proceedings were "largely perjurious." Yikes! The department denied wrongdoing and the state appealed the case.

Waco judges nix public-defender idea
Judges in Waco said they would not assign cases to a proposed public-defender office, nixing the idea for a grant request to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. McLennan County courts are currently suffering from backlogs but local observers attribute that problem to the District Attorney, not the defense bar.

Community court helps Austin's 'most frequent offender'
The Austin Statesman reported on a success story involving one of the city's long-time frequent flyers.

Privatized jail employees charged with bribe taking
Via Texas Prison Bidness, "Recently, officials from the Department of Justice, charged 13 Ector County Correctional Center employees with bribery.  The private jail employees are alleged to have supplied federal inmates with contraband items such as cell phones, marijuana and tobacco in return for cash."

Mentally ill youth outnumber gang members at TJJD
The Associated Press reported last week that, "Young offenders with mental illnesses now outnumber youths who are gang members at juvenile jails in Texas, according to new figures that justice officials submitted to state lawmakers."

License plate readers' shouldn't retain data
In Corpus Christi, the police chief wants to purchase more license plate readers. Critics say departments using the devices should not retain the data past the amount of time needed to check against warrants, Amber Alerts, etc.. That's exactly right: It's one thing to check someone's plates for warrants, quite another to gather massive amounts of driver location data (the readers can scan 1,000 plates per minute) over time.

Union invites Austin PD to poach San Jose cops
In San Jose, CA, the local police union invited Austin PD to come recruit its members as retaliation for local budget cuts.

Risk assessment, expert witnesses and civil commitments
All civil commitment hearings for "sexually violent predators" statewide are heard in a single civil court in Montgomery County. Forensic psychologist Karen Franklin has a piece describing how little stock Montgomery County jurors place in risk-assessment scoring by prosecution experts, agreeing to civil commitments in virtually every case even when predicted risks are low, citing a study out of Sam Houston State. Though jurors cared little for risk scoring, "What did make a difference to jurors was whether the defense called at least one witness, and in particular an expert witness. Overall, there was a huge imbalance in expert testimony, with almost all of the trials featuring two state experts, but only seven of 26 including even one expert called by the defense." She has another excellent item detailing problems with risk assessment scoring tools and studies calling into question their accuracy - either at predicting recidivism or good behavior - because of high margins of error at the individual level. Good stuff in both posts, as well as in this fascinating item on cognitive bias in interpreting sex-offender risk.

Ex-prisoners as entrepreneurs
See a Texas Tribune story and slideshow about the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. I'm occasionally approached by ex-offenders who're desperate at the lack of employment opportunities, and often  recommend they consider small-scale entrepreneurship as an alternative. The barrier to entry is usually capital, but that's often easier to overcome than prejudices against hiring ex-offenders.


Anonymous said...

"Mentally ill youth outnumber gang members at TJJD"

And this is news? When you have almost half the population as special ed, it's a no-brainer that your mentally ill population is going to be extremely high. This is what we do with our mentally ill. We let them wander among us needing help until they commit a crime. Then, we throw them in jail. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

"When you have almost half the population as special ed, it's a no-brainer that your mentally ill population is going to be extremely high"

Ok professor, what does special ed and mental illness have to do with one another? Are you saying that all special ed tjjd youth are mentally ill and all mentally ill tjjd youth are special ed?


Get a clue and learn the difference.

Anonymous said...

Mental illnesses are clinically classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the current DSM-4 and the DSM-5 that is in development). The DSM includes the typical learning disabilities, that would get a student into special ed classes, including various forms of retardation, autism spectrum disorders, and dyslexia. (Dyslexia is in DSM-4 but will supposedly disappear as a distinct diagnosis in DSM-5. It will fall under a category of specific learning disabilities).

So technically learning disorders are considered mental illnesses. So special ed and mental illnesses can have alot to do with one another. I have a daughter with a diagnosed mental illness/learning disability. Se we had to work through these issues pretty extensively with her school. Getting accommodations from public schools for learning disabilities is pretty much contingent on having a DSM diagnosis in hand.

Anonymous said...

Good info from Dr. Karen Franklin on risk assessments, civil commitment in Texas and cognitive biases.

Today from KVUE News in Austin: "Lawmakers have approved a measure that would pay for more expert testimony to help keep violent sex offenders off the streets."

Anonymous said...

I think it's a clear indication that the idea of closing more TJJD units is a bad one at best. What to do with the mentally ill juvenile population has always been a problem. I don't see any entities other than TJJD dealing with the problem of "Intellectually Deficient" youth offenders.

Anonymous said...

Grits, it is not just Waco having a backlog!!! Look around the state of Texas and you will see District and County Attorneys with backlogs! They have become lazy! Many of them are starting Pre-Trial Diversion in house and charging those poor criminal $500 for them NOT to take the case to court!! So they have their own slush fund!

Anonymous said...

I think the issue of mentally ill offenders outnumbering gang members illustrates a larger issue. Its easy to get people to go along with more funding for law enforcement by fearmongering: gangs, drugs, Mexican drug cartels, terrorism, etc. So, we buy gun boats for DPS and spend money attempting to protect the border from the dangerous cartels, etc. We hire more police officers with federal grants. We have large federal agencies like the DEA and ATF. Yet, mental illness is a much larger problem. But, its not as sexy to advocate for more funding to treat mental illness as it is to advocate going after "gangs" and "cartels."