Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Disability and abuse, aging and budgets, chipping away at rape kit backlogs, unheralded drug exonerations, and what to do with an empty jail

While Grits focuses elsewhere, here are several news items that merit readers' attention:

Are disabled inmates at the Estelle Unit abused?
Maurice Chammah the Marshall Project summarized a recent report (pdf) from the Prison Justice League focused on the Estelle Unit in a story titled  Report: Blind, deaf, disabled inmates abused in Texas prisons.

Aging prisoners drive rising prison health budget
Thanks to long sentences and unforgiving parole policies, expect this meme to become repetitive over the next few years: "Texas prison budget feels strain as age of prisoners keeps rising." Prison costs are rising for two main reasons: Churn among tens of thousands of nonviolent offenders who mostly spend short periods of time inside, and long, unyielding sentences for violent offenders which prioritize punishment for past crimes long after there's any public safety benefit from incarceration. There will be proposals this session to address the former group, but the latter remains more or less a third rail, even if it's the primary cause of rising health costs from senior citizen inmates.

700 untested rape kits in Amarillo PD backlog
Much attention has been paid to big city rape kit backlogs, but the issue arises in smaller jurisdictions, too. Amarillo PD turned out to have 700 untested rape kits in their backlog, of which they've initiated testing on the first 50 with state-funded grant.

The strange case of Texas' drug-crime exonerees
The odd phenomenon of Texans convicted of drugs then exonerated by crime labs after they plea helped drive up national exoneration totals in 2014, reported AP: "The U.S. saw a record number of exonerations in 2014, and it was due in part to 33 cases in Texas in which individuals had their drug convictions dismissed after lab tests determined they never had illegal substances." The Houston Chronicle had a good story localizing the issue, though they're wrong that no one has tried to think of a solution. It's just that it's not a simple thing. People want to plea to get out of jail and the law can't (and probably shouldn't) stop them. So it's hard to craft a solid fix beyond expanding crime-lab funding to politically non-viable levels. Eric Dexheimer at the Statesman reported last week on the latest of these drug-crime exonerees. See his 2013 story that first ratcheted up interest in this odd sub-category of exonerations in which Texas seems to specialize. MORE: Check out a discussion of these sorts of cases on the Texas prosecutors association forum.

Business interests
AP has a feature out on the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

What to do with an empty jail?
If I were a taxpayer in Walker County, I'd want county commissioners to scrap and sell the old jail and the 2.5 acres it sits on to private interests. Thanks to TDCJ and the park system, Walker County has a remarkable amount of its surface area apportioned toward tax-exempt uses.  If I were on the commissioners court, I'd be thinking of ways to get that property productively back on the tax rolls. RELATED (Jan. 29): Converted Cellblocks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I grew up near that old Walker county jail and unfortunately it's not in a desirable location (across from the Wynn Unit and next to the probation department and the new jail). There are two abandoned buildings up for sale in the street already.

It would be a great community events center being close to the high school.