Monday, September 05, 2016

Rural counties driving prison growth, and other stories

With Labor Day off, let's take an opportunity to clear Grits' browser tabs of stories which won't immediately make it into individual blog posts:

Celebrate the CCA by sunsetting it
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals turns 125 this year, according to a perfunctory salute and abbreviated history from the state bar. Grits believes we should celebrate by eliminating it and merging Texas' two high courts.

Focus on recurrent deaths, medical care at Harris jail
According to an article in the Huffington Post, which prominently quoted Harris County Public Defender Alex Bunin, "Texas largest jail hasn't learned much from Sandra Bland's death." According to the story, "Inmates die [in the Harris County Jail] at a higher rate per capita than most other jails in the nation, according to a Huffington Post analysis of death data from July 13, 2015, to July 13, 2016." Moreover, "Most of the deaths were related to medical issues, as opposed to the results of assault or suicide."

DAs: Keep junk science if it supports our convictions
A presidential advisory commission announced it will issue a draft report critical of several different brands of junk science and the national district attorneys association went batshit crazy, issuing this Chicken-Littlish screed most notable for its breathless tone and sweeping overstatements about what seems to be a fairly modest document. This commission isn't saying anything different than the National Academy of Sciences did in 2009; it's not that controversial at this point to say that bite-mark, tire print, or tool-mark evidence has no scientific basis, and the subjective nature of DNA mixture interpretation is becoming increasingly well known (particularly here in Texas). NDAA's tantrum reads like they're shaking their fists at the sky and decrying that it's blue.

Rural counties driving mass incarceration?
This New York Times report documented at the national level a trend which has been evident in Texas for some time: Incarceration rates for people from rural counties now far outstrip urban ones, and  differences in crime rates cannot justify the differences. Scroll down for an interactive county level map showing incarceration rates and trends. As in the rest of the country, incarceration rates per 10,000 residents for the largest Texas cities were on the low side: Travis 21.1, Bexar 29.6, Harris 30.9, Dallas 32.3, Tarrant 31.2, El Paso 14.2.

By contrast, the highest incarceration rate was Kenedy County in South Texas, with 225 residents per 10,000 incarcerated. In some cases, counties side by side had radically different rates, posing provocative and awkward questions about whether Texas is providing equal justice across jurisdictions. E.g., Randall County's incarceration rate per 10,000 was 31.7; next door in Potter County it was 76.5 (Amarillo straddles the county line). Similarly, suburban Collin County had an incarceration rate of 11 per 10,000, while its poorer, more rural northern neighbor, Grayson County, had a 58.4 per 10,000 rate.

SA police union bullying tactics partially succeeded
I thought this was a pretty clear-eyed assessment of the recently inked labor deal between the city of San Antonio and the local police union. A notable tidbit: "City Councilmen Rey SaldaƱa and Ron Nirenberg cast lone votes against the new contract last week, and while their opposition did not attract allies, it did serve to highlight what local members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement have been saying all along: the contract inhibits police leaders from imposing disciplinary actions on officers and making the punishment stick."

Just in time for Labor Day
Continuing a theme Grits began on Saturday, the NY Times yesterday offered up an editorial titled, "When police unions impede justice." Give it a read.

Risk assessment resources
Heard of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation's risk assessment model but haven't dug into the details? Here's a page describing it with a link to related resources and video from a number of prominent Houston pols.

Koch Institute on Kaepernick
The Charles Koch Institute published a column defending San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's decision not to stand for the national anthem because of racial injustice and police brutality issues, comparing Kaepernick's position to Frederick Douglass and citing Antonin Scalia in support of his free speech rights. Grits mentioned the other day that the Charles Koch Foundation recently funded a major journalism project on police shootings of unarmed people in Texas, so it's not just a one-off. Coupled with Rick Perry's and Glenn Beck's recent embrasure of the #BlackLivesMatter cause, sympathy among Koch outlets contributes to the impression that the movement for black lives may find conservative allies for significant chunks of its criminal-justice agenda. There have definitely been overtures.


jD said...

CCA link doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

CCA link

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fixed. Gracias.

Anonymous said...

Other than the fact that Texas is a red state which reliably elects Republican judges who, as a general rule, are pro law and order and defer to jury verdicts, is there any particular reason that you think unifying our highest appellate court is a good idea?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The Texas Supreme Court is all Republican too, 5:32, so that's not it. Rather, the CCA is full of ex-prosecutors with narrow worldviews and political devotion to just a few institutional players instead of the public and/or the system at large. States where the Supreme Court does both criminal and civil have judges with broader backgrounds and perspectives and less draconian opinions on civil liberties, etc..

Also, having one court do all criminal leads to micromanagement. CCA judges have come to think they're legislators instead of judges and, on stuff like Texas' junk science writ, seek to impose their views over lawmakers in a way that I don't think would happen if they had other core duties to which they had to attend.

DLW said...

Instead of merging the CCA with the Texas Supreme Court, how about amending the qualifications to require at least 7 years of practice on both sides of the docket? (I chose 7 at random)

It seems that a lot of what's wrong the the CCA is the Prosecutor track to the Court coloring the world as the Justices see it.

Anonymous said...

Kaepernick is definitely not in the same league as Frederick Douglass. Not even if you get high and squint really hard.

As for the CCA vs SCOT, having 2 courts filled with highly paid judges in a state that always seems to be in a perpetual budget crisis, it seems that merging CCA into SCOT enhances the idea of smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and streamlines bureaucracy. There isn't a single faction of any political party that would be against that. Except those currently on the CCA.

Anonymous said...

Oh my.
You may regard it as micromanagement, but I think (and I'm sure that many defendants think) that it's better than "no management." How many criminal cases do you think the Texas Supreme Court would ever exercise their discretion to hear? I can think of only two or three juvenile cases (which they have jurisdiction over) in the past few years that the Sup Ct has deigned to review.
More importantly, how much effort and care would the Sup Ct put into things like search and seizure cases, or the recent First Amendment improper photography cases (correctly found by the CCA to be unconstitutional).

Speaking of Fourth Amendment, it is telling that just a few weeks ago, you bemoaned the refusal of the Tx Sup Ct to act like "legislators instead of judges" when they failed to divine out of whole cloth an exclusionary rule that could be applied to civil forfeiture. So, your opinion on these things appears to depend on whose ox is being gored.

Finally, I suppose you're right that the Texas Sup Court will never have many "ex-prosecutors" on the bench. But if you want a court that has anyone who knows anything about criminal law, it will be just unavoidable that there will be ex prosecutors. You'd be hard put to find a sitting mid level appellate judge that was only a criminal defense attorney and never a prosecutor.

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jD said...

Sorry Grits, but the CCA is not a "state agency" subject to sunset review under Chapter 325, Government Code (Texas Sunset Act).

See also, Article. V, Sections 1, 4, and 5, Texas Constitution, all of which establish or relate to the CCA and can't be ignored or altered by the Sunset Advisory Commission or the legislature.