Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Montgomery commissioner: Reduce number of pretrial detainees

More detail on Montgomery County commissioners clowning around on jail overcrowding instead of confronting its causes, mainly excessive pretrial detention, head on. Grits had discussed the situation here, then the Houston Press' Hair Balls blog (Aug. 22) added:
Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack held a meeting this week with court, jail and DA's office officials hoping to get at the root causes for the county's current predicament. The main problem, he says, is the amount of pre-trial defendants -- who are presumably innocent until proven guilty -- held in lockup.

According to the most recent numbers out of TCJS, 68 percent of those held in the Montgomery County jail are pretrial inmates. Statewide, 58 percent of county jail inmates are pretrial defendants. In Harris County, that number is 61 percent. In San Antonio, where county commissioners have made a concerted effort at pretrial diversion (like expanding specialty mental health and drug treatment courts), only 29 percent of county jail inmates are pretrial defendants.

Phil Grant, Montgomery County's first assistant district attorney, says the shuttering of the Sam Houston State University regional crime lab in 2012 exacerbated the county's jail woes. For example, the turnaround for blood analysis on felony DWI cases used to take about a week. Now, blood analysis and toxicology tests are done by the state DPS crime lab, which takes about six months, he says.

That means cases take much longer to clear. And if the defendants can't afford bail, they clog the jail for months.

Nate Jensen, the county's director of court administration, says recent years have seen an explosion in arrests and case filings as the local population grows. "Most agencies have more boots on the ground now," he said. "And if you have more police, you're going to have more instances where people...well, get caught." In 2004, about 4,000 felony cases were filed. Last year, the Montgomery County DA's office filed about 5,700.
Grits can't tell where the 29 percent figure for pretrial defendants in Bexar County comes from. I think it's wrong. Looking at the 8/1/14 county jail population report from the Commission on Jail Standards, misdemeanor, felony, and state jail felony inmates awaiting trial accounted for 57 percent of Bexar jail inmates, which is right around the statewide average. (Add the columns: "Pretrial felons," "Pretrial Misd.," and "Pretrial SJF.") In both Dallas and Travis Counties, astonishingly, 73 percent of jail inmates incarcerated on that day were there awaiting trial as of August 1.

Even so, I stand by my assessment that the number of pretrial defendants could be reasonably lowered to at least half or less of the overall jail population in Texas' larger counties.  Back in 1995, pretrial defendants made up just 30.3 percent of Texas county jail inmates. As of 8/1/14, they made up 59.5 percent of jail inmates statewide, a slight uptick from the previous month and up from 53 percent in 2008.

What's needed is to shift from bail-based pretrial release criteria to ones grounded in risk assessment tools and a system-wide cost benefit analysis. Whether someone can pay is a poor indicator of whether or not they'll show up in court. But pretrial services experts have developed pretty effective risk-assessment models that are much more probative to the key question at hand than whether some family member can cover 10 percent to a bail bondsman.

My view: Save punishment till post-conviction. These high rates of pretrial incarceration do little to further public safety and generate serious collateral consequences that in some cases do more harm than good.

Note to Brandon Wood, et. al., at TCJS: Please, PLEASE create an archive for your old monthly county jail population reports going back as long as you've got them! They're incredibly useful for historical comparison. Why not? :)

H/T: Off the Kuff.


TriggerMortis said...

Neighboring county San Jacinto agreed last month to a few of Montgomery county's inmates for about $32.00 each per day.

They're only taking those who are serving time for traffic offenses, non-payment of child support, and those awaiting trial on non-violent felonies. In essence, they agreed to watch Montgomery county's trustees.


What the sheriff and most of the county commissioners want is to build another multi-million dollar jail so that they can siphon some of those funds for their own personal use as occurred with the last jail they built, so the sheriff along with the DA are doing as much as possible to keep the jail overcrowded.


Anonymous said...

Anybody ever correlate jail population to election time? Maybe jails tend to fill up when sheriff and prosecutors are in full swing campaign mode or when they discover someone running against them.

Joorie Doodie said...

TriggerMortis: "What the sheriff and most of the county commissioners want is to build another multi-million dollar jail so that they can siphon some of those funds for their own personal use as occurred with the last jail they built, so the sheriff along with the DA are doing as much as possible to keep the jail overcrowded."

Same thing happens all over Texas, and probably all over the country: use support of jail construction as a stand-in for the more complex and difficult task of finding effective ways to reduce crime. Here in Smith County they are obsessed with the jail, but don't have enough patrol deputies to keep the county safe. This is costing taxpayers a mint, just to get county commissioners' names on a plaque in their new jail so they can campaign on being "tough on crime."

The Homeless Cowboy said...

Follow the money, it's always the way to find out the who, what, when, where, why, and How. Every time no exceptions. Even when it makes no sense, the answer is in the money, they want it, they have it, they spent it, they stole it, whatever, there is money in there somewhere, we are dealing with political power structures, IT IS ABOUT MONEY. Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

"In 2004, about 4,000 felony cases were filed. Last year, the Montgomery County DA's office filed about 5,700."

The Office of Court Administration keeps stats on court filings. They count 7855 felonies filed last year in Montgomery County. Whose numbers are right? The District Clerk or the District Attorney?

Anonymous said...

How can you follow the money? I've learned from Rick Perry that it's an impossible feat. A politician's brother gets a 120K a year position here, and a nephew buys a plot of land which is then sold to the public to build a prison on. Or sometimes a politician will create laws that profit a company then the politician will take a job making millions a year with the company(learned that from Phil Gramm). You can't track all of the corruption when it's carefully hidden.

Anonymous said...

10:34, good job following that money. Next time it would be great if you named names or it's just a bunch of vague words coming from someone that's expecting everyone to believe it.

Cowboy, hell yes it's about money and thank you.

Anonymous said...

You might want to consider the trend towards "bond supervision" for pretrial cases as a possible reason for the uptick in incarcerations of pretrial cases. They are released under certain conditions, such as maintaining an interlock device or reporting for random drug testing. If they violate one of these "bond conditions", they are typically arrested again and the bond amount is raised from whatever it was originally set at. Most times, the bond is doubled from the original bond amount. This results in a lot of people being incarcerated while awaiting the disposition of their case due to bonds being raised to the point that they can't pay them. It isn't likely this trend will end anytime soon. I've seen it first hand. Prosecutors use this as a tool to convince someone to take a plea offer they originally rejected. They test positive on a random drug test, their bond is doubled and they're going back to jail OR you can take this plea offer and dispose of the case now.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Those with a little spare time are asked to consider posting some additional information.

Of the numbers presented, what percentage are people arrested on new unrelated charges while on adult probation? ______.

____, there you go. Probationers (poor & wealthy alike) do not qualify for a Bond. They stay in jail until their attorney (hired or appointed) advises them to take the plea (despite a guilty or not jury verdict) you are going to prison due to the probation being revoked just for being arrested. That usually takes about 120 days or less. Yes, it's a goddamn lie and yes it attributes to the 97% Texas TapOut Rate. Everyone gets money every single time a person is arrested and booked into any jail in Texas, Guilty or Not.

It's not called the Great State of Confusion and The Land of the Loopholes for nothing. Texas earned these belts. We have 'Fake' Criminal Defense Lawyers & the 'Real' CDLs that allowed them to infiltrate their professional niche, along with the enablers in the Lege and on the benches to thank. They couldn't play fast & dirty without the assistance of voters voting just to be voting.

Any CDL replying 'not' under his / her real name has something to hide from & is probably Fake. Any CDL replying under his / her Real name will be honored & asked if they signed on to the Rob Fickman Report / Petition. If a Real Adult Probation Officer replies, it would be nice to see him or her dance around the truth and even better if they admitted that they told the truth to their probationers on day one, so if they find themselves in trouble and 'not' guilty, they won't take the Fake Bait & plea out of ignorance or deception. You are welcome Mr. Noack, it was pleasure assisting you with your county's WTF. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Pre-Trial Bond Supervision is the dumbing down of probation, but is the direction community supervision is heading, not just in Texas but nationwide.

Here is what will happen. Pre-Trial Supervision will eventually take over and those providing the supervision will do absolutely nothing as compared to how a probationer is presently supervised.

Then, someone on Pre-Trial Supervision will do something causing the MSM to get involved and questions will be asked like, "Why is this person out of jail." Why wasn't this person being drug tested? Why wasn't an electronic monitor on this person? Wasn't the GPS a court order? Wasn't it obvious this person had a drug problem? Why wasn't this person offered help? Wasn't it obvious this person had mental health issues? Why wasn't this person linked with community resources? Probation departments or whoever is providing the pre-trial supervision won't have an answer other than they failed to follow the orders of the court.

Then, prisons will get overcrowded again.