Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jail politics and the purported decline of 'apostrophe laws'

Here are a few tidbits which haven't made it into individual posts but may interest Grits readers:

Fort Worth jail costs skyrocket from incarcerating Class C misdemeanants
Here's an absolutely superb story from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on a dispute between Fort Worth and Tarrant County over housing Class C traffic ticket violators. Tarrant won't do it so Fort Worth entered into a rather squirrelly contract with Mansfield for which they're massively overpaying to house Class C offenders. Unlike most jurisdictions, Fort Worth does not cut deals to reduce fines and sends people to jail until either they can pay or their jail credits cover the debt. Critics including the Tarrant County Sheriff say that amounts to operating a "debtor's prison."  Give it a read, there aren't too many reporters in the state with enough understanding of the system to pull off this story. Yamil Berard is one of them.

Jail health privatization
Navarro County is considering privatizing health care services at its county jail.

New jail suggestion rejected
Commissioners in Rockwall County rejected a study designed to prepare them for jail expansion.

Welcome to SA, prepare to be blamed
The Bexar County Jail just got a new jail administrator. That's a more political job these days in San Antonio than in most counties because of disputes between the Sheriff and Commissioners Court over staffing. He's got his work cut out for him.

Cite-and-summons process needs mechanism to improve court-appearance rate
Travis County's cite-and-summons program for low-level misdemeanors (authorized by the Lege in 2007 to ease jail overcrowding) has a high no-show rate, the Austin Statesman reported. IMO this is in part because no infrastructure is in place to remind people of court dates, etc., the way pretrial services does with defendants given personal bonds. The rate will never get to zero but with a little forethought and effort it could be dramatically lowered from where it is now. By contrast, Sheriff Gary Painter in Midland effusively praised the program and said they haven't seen similar problems.

Governor signs TX warrants for email bill
After Gov. Perry signed Texas' warrants for email bill it received some nice coverage from Ars Technica and Law360.com. I had breakfast this morning with Greg Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology who said he expects similar federal legislation to pass the US Senate but fears for its prospects in the House of Representatives.

Montana requires warrants for cell-phone location data
Montana's governor has signed legislation requiring warrants for law enforcement to acquire cell-phone location data. Readers will recall the legislatures in Missouri and Maine passed similar legislation, but Montana's governor beat them to the punch in signing it, making them the first state to finally pass such a law. Go here for detailed information about the MT bill.

Public doesn't trust fed snooping
A new poll found that 57% of the public fears the NSA uber-database on phone records will be used for political purposes unrelated to national security. That's an unsurprising and perhaps even a realistic assessment. After all, the database isn't assisting terrorism investigations, which makes one wonder if it exists for some different, perhaps less noble purpose. Polling on the NSA phone spying scandal has been all over the map but given the Obama Administration's recent record regarding journalists' privileges and the use of the IRS to target political opponents, I can't say I blame the public for being skeptical.

Are 'apostrophe laws' really on the decline?
I'm not sure I believe this but USA Today reported that so-called "apostrophe laws" - typically enhancements named after dead children, driven by grieving parents - are receiving a cooler reception among state-level lawmakers this year. That may be because many are bad public policy or, as the article suggests, they may have just run out of low-hanging fruit. We still see a lot of this in Texas, though, I'm not sure the trend described has yet migrated across the Red River. And though the article focuses on penalty enhancements, in Texas the concept cuts both ways - the "Michael Morton Act," the creation of the "Timothy Cole Advisory Panel," and the Tulia legislation were all good examples of reform legislation passed in response to a particular injustice. Ideally government shouldn't make public policy based on individual anecdote, but that's the political reality we live in for good or ill.


Anonymous said...

"Tarrant won't do it so Fort Worth entered into a rather squirrelly contract with Mansfield for which they're massively overpaying to house Class C offenders. Unlike most jurisdictions, Fort Worth does not cut deals to reduce fines and sends people to jail until either they can pay or their jail credits cover the debt."

There are so many Texas A G opinions on this, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure statutes that cover it and at least one appellate case that all combined together make this article a laugher.

The sheriff has no statutory authority to bind the county to a contract, other than the commissary account.

Cities are not required to enter into a contract nor pay for housing costs for class c's that are a violation of state law. Once ordered committed to jail by a magistrate, the sheriff is statutorily required to accept the prisoner into the county jail and the county is responsible for all housing associated costs.

The sheriff has statutory authority to grant good conduct credit which can reduce the length of stay. The court has no authority to say otherwise.

In all criminal cases the judge of the court in which the defendant is convicted must give the defendant credit on the defendant's sentence for the time that the defendant has spent
in jail for the case, including confinement served from the time of his arrest and confinement until his sentence by the trial court.

Anonymous said...

In conjunction with the good time credit, a defendant can be put to work in the county jail and receive additional credits for working in the jail at the sheriff's discretion. Confinement at $50 for each day and rating such labor at $50 for each day for a total of $100 a day. A defendant who performs labor under this article (TX CCP 43.09) during a day in which he is confined is entitled to both the credit for confinement and the credit for labor provided by this article.