Thursday, February 06, 2014

Arguments against variances to cram more inmates into Harris County Jail

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is seeking yet another variance from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to house extra prisoners in the county jail, even though the county and local law enforcement have failed to implement jail diversion programs that could prevent overcrowding. See:
The letter from senators includes the following, highly relevant observations:
Our primary concern is that Harris County leadership is not fully utilizing "alternatives to
incarceration, including diversion initiatives and reentry efforts to reduce recidivism," as required on a request for a variance under 37 Tex. Admin. Code § 299.3(8). Variances are unnecessary when there are numerous, effective solutions that can be implemented to not only reduce jail population and eliminate the need for variances, but also increase public safety through more effective and efficient crime reduction strategies.

Over the past few years, problems in Harris County's criminal justice system, which have
contributed to its jail overpopulation, have been well documented. The most widely cited report documenting these problems was requested by Harris County and published by the Justice Management Institute (JMI) in June 2009. The JMI report found two overarching issues resulting in Harris County's jail overcrowding: 1) over-incarceration of drug possession offenders and those with mental illness combined with overreliance on jail as the primary — and often sole — resource for handling persons whose law-breaking is basically a result of substance abuse and mental illness, and 2) underutilization of pre-trial tools.

Historically, the jail has been able to reduce overcrowding by expanding the use of good time credit for eligible inmates and taking advantage of now-overturned policy changes regarding prosecution. Despite the progress made, persistent problems remain, and numerous readily available solutions to those problems — many of which were outlined in detail over four years ago in the JMI report — have not been utilized.
At the very least, County leadership must consider implementing front-end diversion programs similar to Dallas' Prostitution Diversion Initiative, evidence-based programs that divert addicts and the mentally ill into treatment, electronic monitoring, and reentry programs and services that will keep exiting individuals from re-offending.
As recommended by the JMI report, reducing the number of persons booked into the jail — or even brought to the inmate processing center prior to formal booking — is the first stage to help alleviate crowding. Pre-arrest diversion of persons who have committed relatively minor nonviolent offenses is one obvious way to reduce the intake of new inmates.
There are also thousands of low-level drug possession arrestees who could be more effectively addressed through pre-trial diversion, deferred adjudication, probation based on accurate assessments, and various other means of diversion available. These methods of diversion are more effective at reducing crime, a more efficient use of resources, avoid giving these non-violent offenders felony records, and reduce the county jail population. Further, revising intake, charging, and plea negotiation policies and practices in cases involving persons who are accused of relatively low-level offenses and whose conduct does not pose a danger to others will also help with overcrowding and encourage pre-trial diversion. Lastly, bail bond practices and pre-trial services need to be modernized to reduce pre-trial jail populations.
As the largest county in Texas housing the fourth largest city in the nation, Harris County should be at the forefront of implementing and perhaps even creating programs that ensure a safe and secure community and the efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
The continued granting and use of variance beds may prevent immediate crises, but it is not a long-term solution. In addition, it may prevent true collaborative efforts at the local level that could foster real, lasting reform. With that in mind, we urge you to thoroughly review the current variance request, take into consideration the above-mentioned issues, and recognize that more capacity is not the only solution. Ideally, this variance request process should motivate key criminal justice stakeholders in Harris County to reevaluate the options available to them and take steps to implement real jail reduction strategies.


Jefe said...

To be clear, "PDs" is a reference to police departments, not public defenders.

Anonymous said...

The best solution to prison overcrowding is reducing the number of crimes that can result in prison.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Right Jefe, it was a reference to the Houston PD and HCSO refusing to issue citations for low-level misdemeanors including pot possession as authorized by the Legislature in 2007. Will change it to "law enforcement" in the post to clarify.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Whitmire, Ellis & Garcia broke the color wheel and rightfully refused to play the trifecta race card(s) by coming together and dousing the sheriff's lame-ass (samo-samo) plan to pack em like friggin sardines.

The outcome he was seeking was Race Riots, that would spill over into the streets and increase crime, therefore, justifying getting tuff(er) on crime. Throw in the unqualified heir apparent to the D.As. office and you get

"Houston, we seem to always have a problem".

Thomas R. Griffith said...

"Lastly, bail bond practices and pre-trial services need to be modernized to reduce pre-trial jail populations.

While this isn't news to these three amigos, it looks like they took a Real CDL - Mr. Rob Fickman 'Report' (2013, Open Letter addressed to the 15 Misdemeanor Courts Judges) at heart. If they haven't signed on to support this initiative, they can (are encouraged to) visit his website over at The Meaning of America. Part Two is slated as reserved for the Felony Courts. Regular ol Joe's can read and consider autographing it just as well. Thanks.(captchabeliketrippinballs)

Unknown said...

I know I'm late on the caring part, but this really wasn't a top matter to me up to now. One thing no one cares about, or seems to view, is that in Harris County, unlike the rest of the State of Texas, one help to jail overcrowding is the fact that Harris County does not allow something called remote plea. This is the ability for people in other counties or already in prison to remove the bench warrants and just plea by mail or by video conferenceing. My husband is on a Unit, in the GRAD program, which he can be leave for more than 10 days or he'll have to leave the program. The court system is being nice and letting him wait, but isn't it just easier to allow him to do a remote plea? Just like anyone else in other jails, it's there, it's in the law books, and Harris County doesn't even care to allow it. It would free up some beds in the County, but Harris County just won't do it. I guess they just get too much money from somewhere to really care. Please answer. Please make this an auguement to help. It may not be big, maybe this whole arguement is to make more jails, but it would be a help to stop the uncomfortable bus rides the inmates have to handle. Please let me know if there's anyone out there that understands and can help me. My lawyer can't because no one in Harris County give a care.

Unknown said...

What about remote pleas from other Counties and TDC? They ship people back to Harris County when they can just do it by mail or video conferencing. It's in the law books, it's just a lot of money spent that doesn't have to be spent on jails, to make the tax payers pay for more jails.

The courts are trying to help with different things, like rehad stuff, but only for selected few. No one that has been in Gangs before, for one.

Anonymous said...

I was recently a victim to this issue. I was taken from my home against my will by numerous HPD officers. There was no charge or crime that I had commited. They in fact didnt even know my name when we arrived at the jail. Once I was booked in...which took about 3 days, I started to realize the real problem at hand. It has nothing to do with the system itself. It is more a problem with the street officers taking people in. They have no real care for the peoples lives that they are ruining. They simply want to put the cuffs on you and god help you if you resist. Imagine if it were the other way around. Could any normal citizen put their hands on an HPD officer and get away with it? No. It would be considered assault on an officer. I consider it an assault on me when they do the same with no real reason. These officers need to have better judgement when detaining an individual. Thats my take. I met so many people while I was in there that did not need to be there. I lost all lasting law inforcement respect that I had while I was in there. I'm of the brink of hiring a lawer and going after them. This is all I will say for now but I encourage everyone to take notice in how these officers handle the lives of real human beings.