Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tea Party vs. Prosecutors: The changing dynamic of Texas criminal-justice debates

Grits readers will find little new in this Texas Tribune story analyzing criminal-justice reform legislation from the 83rd Texas Legislature, but I thought the prosecutor association lobbyist's comments were interesting:
“The dynamic at the Capitol is definitely changing in criminal justice,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations at the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

Edmonds said that with more libertarian-leaning members of the Republican Party, the approach has become less focused on Texas’ traditional tough-on-crime ways. For instance, he said, more Republican legislators are inclined to vote with Democrats for reduced penalties for small amounts of drugs.

“Along the political spectrum, as people go to the left end and the right end, it’s not actually a line, it’s really a circle,” Edmonds said. “And the left end and right end actually loop around and meet each other.”
He's right. The typical left-right spectrum simplistically portrayed by the media doesn't really apply to criminal justice politics. As gerrymandering has led to safe districts for ideologues further and further from the center, right and left, other policy areas have frequently petrified with inaction. But on criminal justice, that dynamic opened up opportunities for the sort of left-right coalitions responsible for passing every piece of Texas criminal-justice reform legislation since the turn of the century.

That said, I find the article's headline saying the Tea Party is "soft" on crime laughable and off-base. What's really happening here is that the Tea Partiers are more willing than establishment Republicans to be guided by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights instead of fear mongering by the victimocracy. And they're more committed to fiscal conservatism and less interested in pandering to the array of special interests, from police unions to private prisons, with vested financial stakes in ballooning justice costs. Shannon understandably would like to pivot back to the sort of culture-war debates over the death penalty that drove justice politics 20-30 years ago.  Like an '80s metal band, however, that fad has faded and is unlikely to return soon. Time for the prosecutors to re-consider their message. I doubt they can bully the current crop of Tea Party legislators with threats of calling them "soft on crime" in the same way that's worked for them in the past. In fact, if they keep it up, the tactic could begin to backfire.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Grits, you've been doing this long enough to know that pendulum swings back and forth right along with the polling data and crime rates. As long as crime rates stay down and the greater majority of the public feels safe, the Tea Partiers will be relatively safe squeezing the corrections and public safety budget. But the constituencies of these Tea Partiers remain, by and large, pro-law and order. Perhaps this would be a good time for you to give some of your younger readers the story of Kenneth McDuff and the impact he had on Texas criminal justice system. Let a "MONSTER" like him get paroled and wind up on the cover of Texas Monthly and a bunch of the Tea Party legislatures who advocated being "smart (read soft) on crime" will, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, have "some 'splainin' to do!"

Anonymous said...

Didn't take long for someone to come along and provide an example of "fearmongering."

Brad Walters said...

@8:54. Releasing a McDuff is not what libertarian minded people mean when talking about being smart on crime. It is about victimless behavior not being criminalized to begin with and taking precautionary steps to avoid convicting the holding Brady violating prosecutors acountable for their abuses of the Constitution and civil rights.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Do we need McDuff as an example, 8:54, when we've got Hassan, school shootings, etc.? Bad people do bad things in every generation, but the rest of the first world manages to keep order without locking up their people at remotely the rates we do, particularly for non-violent offenses.

McDuff was paroled to make space for the rising number of drug offenders flooding Texas prisons back then. At the time, they said "let's build enough prisons to just lock up everybody," but now hard experience has shown that can't be sustained. We're at a point once again that, to keep the McDuff's locked up, choices must be made. You don't get to lock up every druggie and petty thief long-term if you want space for the truly bad guys. Prison should be for those society fears, not those they're simply mad at.

That said, please, PLEASE, don't rethink your message or change your approach. Keep doing exactly what you're doing trying to smear these guys as soft on crime. These days, it helps reformers a lot when y'all show up at the Lege and behave like demagogues. More, please.

Anonymous said...

HAHA! It amazes me how logic eludes some people. The pendulum has swung all right, but I do not think it will EVER go as far back as it used to. Times, and thinking changes. At least for some people.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Grits chastises the DAs as "time to change their message" when the only use of the word "soft" comes not from a DA, but from the media. The allegation that "Shannon understandably would like to pivot back to the sort of culture-war debates over the death penalty that drove justice politics 20-30 years ago" seems particularly head scratching since Grits quotes Shannon Edmonds about how the dynamic has changed. The only thing that could even be construed as such is his acknowledgement that the cost and time of complying with an unfunded mandate will likely prevent any capital murder trials for the near future. As much as anything that's not a philosophical concern of DAs, but an acknowledgement that DPS takes forever to process biological evidence now, even with restrictive limits on the number of samples they will test for each investigation.

Anonymous said...

Shannon, Shannon, Shannon, I lean a lil to the left and they say it's because of tight jeans or was it genes?

That weird speach sounded more like a poem. You should consider locating all of your 'sayings' and put them in shinny brochure form. You could pass copies out at the door and save everyone the time from having to figure out exactly what the hell you said or ment. Thank goodness Grits was able to decypher that fearmongerise.

More, we want more.

Anonymous said...

McDuff? WTF?

To get up and be the first to chime in and be the first to attempt to chastise Grits in a reply, you should at least read the fuing post ding dong.

McDuff wasn't arrested for any amount of drugs and wasn't treated softly by the cops, court or fellow inmates. He got reamed on a daily basis and did a good job cleaning xxxl boxers.

The assholes (I think it was 14 gang members at that time?) in the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles let his ass out (unleashed a monster back onto the public).

Believe it or not, the prison went ape shit over it, everyone was pissed (including the guards) Doh.

Anonymous said...

The dynamic at McDonalds is definately changing in fastfood.

The dynamic at the school yard is definately changing in education.

The dynamic at the drughouse is definately changing in the way drugs are sold.

Now you can see and hear what it sounds like when you simply start talking without knowing where you are going with it?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the tuff on crime bullshit has come full circle in the form of $80,000 per year, plus, plus. Despite only benefitting a minority of the wrongfully convicted, the stupid taxpayers and dumbass voters have (begun to die off or moving west) gotten the bill and started to wake up.

*You can fool the fools you hand pick for jury pools up until it backfires during openning or deliberations. Pow!

Anonymous said...

Citizens in the land of the blind are starting to wake up and realize that the one-eyed kings, aka prosecutors, can't see any better than the blind.
Someone please tell these folks that they are only one entity, and one step in a process to criminal justice and corrections. NOT THE KNOW ALL END ALL. In fact I will go a step further and say they don't know jack shit about reducing recidivism. Learn about it and join the rest of the system in helping make the community safer without breaking taxpayers backs.

Anonymous said...

"You don't get to lock up every druggie and petty thief long-term if you want space for the truly bad guys. Prison should be for those society fears, not those they're simply mad at."

Couldn't have put it any clearer.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a - "What are you in for?" moment.

A 4'9" answered in broken English that he was in possession of one oz. of dirt weed. A few days later he was circled by some wetbacks wanting to inspect his butthole and ended up shanking all of them with a pork chop bone. He got new charges and transferred to a gladiator unit and hung himself.

Lesson to the hard-on-crime / lock 'em all up (fuckheads) -
*The Taxpayers ponied up thousands of dollars (U.S.) to fund the so-called War On Drugs: arresting at will anyone without a job, long hair and a beard, then anyone with bald heads or crew cuts, then anyone on probation while disposing of the charges via plea bargaining 97% of the time, convicting, housing, medical, dental, food, and half-ass security for thousands of humans simply for being in possession of some friggin weed.

Ewwww that smell. -
All of this, while you heroes in your own minds, had no problem meeting up with co-workers, friends or family after work to celebrate another plea bargain (avoiding a jury trial) where you had wine, beer and shots. Afterwards: ADAs', Cops, Detectives, Judges (and their staff) along with the Court Appointed buddies all got in your damn cars and drove home like your shit didn't stink. If you got pulled over all you had to do was flash your brotherhood cards and you where on your way because you are one of the US crowd and deserved / demanded special treatment when & if you broke the law.

The good ol days -
Fearmongerring / fooling the fools are coming to a close as more folks wake up and smell the invoices. Jury pools are full of people trying to get out of civic duty because one reason or another. Mostly due to the tricks and fake / hidden or created evidence utilized in the past that have haunted prior jurors' for decades after learning that the State knowingly & willingly used them to railroad the person they thought was 100% guilty based on what the judge allowed the ADA to present to them. Some went through their entire lives believing that the cops don’t / can’t arrest people for nothing and if they dared to the Judge and or Jury would catch it.

Tricks are for kids -
Should one of your kids be tricked by a cop or his very own lawyer prior to trial and the court declines to approve your brotherhood card, hope and pray he doesn’t have to defend himself against rapists and end up hanging himself.

R.I.P. 4'9" -
The tuff on crime, the soft on crime and the couldn't give a shit about it alike taxpayers pitched in and bought you a plot and the entire dorm was brought to tears when the news came of your passing. Sorry I wasn't there to have your back. I'm sorry that the warden was allowed to put tiny people in cages with packs of rapists and strong arm thugs as the guards looked away with observe and report only instructions. Only the tuffy's can apologize for a prison sentence for one oz of dirt weed and they aren't excepting any responsibilities as of today.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:05, click through to the Trib story and you'll find Shannon pivoting in his comments to shift the conversation back to the death penalty in the article. He's trying to imply without overtly putting words into his mouth (while discounting the senator's public explanation for the bill) that Ellis' goal was simply to attack the death penalty. And if you click through the final link in the post you'll find that there are other examples than just what was said in this latest Trib story.

Anonymous said...

Texas Attorney Andrew Jared Aldinger of The Schorr Law Firm was arrested in Collin County for DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED. His mugshot is posted on line. Pretty disgraceful a personal injury attorney endangered the lives of innocent people, Karma