Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Robot parole boards, an All-American scofflaw, and other stories

Here are few items which haven't made it into individual posts but which merit Grits readers' attention:
  • How overcharging and pretrial detention coerce plea deals: In Waco, a man spent 704 days in the county jail before pleading to a one-year misdemeanor sentence. Recently the Wall Street Journal published a column on "The Injustice of the Plea Bargain System," which Doug Berman excerpted here for non-subscribers. (See related Grits coverage.)
  • The Houston Chronicle examined records surrounding suicides at the Harris County Jail: "In thousands of pages of autopsy reports and internal disciplinary reports, the Chronicle found 35 instances in which jailers skipped required cell checks or faked records to hide skipping them, a pattern that experts called a serious problem at county jails statewide." Further, "Screening and observation failures played a role in nine of the 28 jail suicides that occurred in the eight-county Houston metro area since the Texas Commission on Jail Standards began tracking those deaths in 2009."
  • Not sure how I missed this, but a Houston PD officer was fired in October for pacing motorists' vehicles in his personal car and sending them tickets in the mail.
  • A former Baylor football All-American and Dallas Cowboys draft pick was arrested in Waco with 22 active license suspensions: This is almost certainly a function of the Driver Responsibility surcharge. 
  • Grits is unsure mentoring can solve indigent defense problems created by economics and the self-interest of institutional players. There's a robust mentoring program in Houston but Harris County courts are still essentially plea mills. Regardless, here's a new document from the Task Force on Indigent Defense touting mentoring programs for criminal defense lawyers who take appointed cases. I suppose it can't hurt.
  • An SA Express-News story touts a new book, "Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned."
  • The Texas Observer on Border Patrol corruption: Who could have predicted that?
  • Read a brief history of secret American prisons.
  • Check out 60 Minutes coverage from Sunday on confidential informants and the drug war.
  • Here's an important, seldom-asked question: Why punish drug users at all?
  • While historically fears of robots taking people's jobs centered among the working class, lately automation has also begun to take over higher-skilled intellectual work that's repetitive and routine oriented. Which brings us to the question: Could robots replace judges or parole boards? This article ventures tentatively down the path of considering what that might look like, comparing decisions by the California parole board to outcomes from statistical models.

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