Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Visitation, risk assessment, fines, indigency, and prosecutorial overreach

Here are a few items which deserve readers' attention even if Grits hasn't had time to focus on them:

Travis Jail may lose exemption from in-person visitation requirement
"The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is re-evaluating its decision to grant the Travis County sheriff’s office an exemption from a new state law requiring jails to allow in-person visitation for inmates’ friends and family," reported the Austin Statesman. "The new law ... exempted counties that had already spent a significant amount implementing a video-only system," but our friends at Grassroots Leadership are "questioning whether the county should have been granted the exemption because the Securus contract said that the company, not the taxpayers, was on the hook for the program."

Risk Assessment and Criminal Sentencing
Whenever Jennifer Skeem writes on risk assessment, I learn something. So her new paper with John Monahan, "Risk Assessment and Criminal Sentencing," gets added to Grits' "to read" list.

Fines, court costs, and the 'cycle of indigency'
The Texas Supreme Court yesterday heard a case which may determine whether court fees can be assessed against indigent clients. The case is on the civil side (a divorce proceeding), but "The case is being closely watched by legal advocates because it is the civil court bookend to its criminal counterpart: the role of fines for minor crimes that keep the poor locked in a cycle of indigency."

State asked to pay costs for prosecutorial overreach in McLennan County
McLennan County wants the Governor's office to cover costs stemming from the trumped up prosecutions in the Twin Peaks massacre. First things first, they should be required to disclose how many of the victims were shot by police and how many were shot by bikers. Given how local leaders have behaved throughout this mess, there should be some explicit accountability measures attached to any money given.

Forensic commission re-sets DNA mixture hearing
The Forensic Science Commission's committee to investigate the DNA mixture issue will meet October 1st to address the issues they didn't get to last week in Dallas for lack of a quorum. See the agenda here, and prior Grits coverage. I'm still not sure yet this will end up amounting to much. But it's a fascinating issue (to me, anyway) on several fronts, from the role of subjectivity in science, to the relationship between basic research and the practices of working analysts at the forensic lab bench, to the role of judges (inadequately) vetting science for the courtroom.

On the etymology of mass incarceration
From FiveThirtyEight. See a prior, related Grits post.

The 'war on police' that wasn't
After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared there exists a "war on police," it was good to see a several rebuttals in the media of this odd, fact-free meme beyond Radley Balko's initial retort. Regardless, it's increasingly clear that this is a debate wherein facts don't matter. One can lament that situation, but lamentations won't change it. Even so, it's worth repeating at least once more: The "war on police" is not a thing.


Anonymous said...


Do you recollect if the TFSC addressed the ERROR in the FBI statistical database that was being used for DNA analysis? (This is a DIFFERENT PROBLEM from the DNA mixture fiasco.)

For those of you keeping score, the statistical errors in the database were identified in 2005 (by Dr. Krane), yet only acknowledged in 2015.

Hurray Accreditation!

Anonymous said...

"Given how local leaders have behaved throughout this mess, there should be some explicit accountability measures attached to any money given."

You might need to revise that to "how the Texas Judiciary has behaved throughout this mess" -