Sunday, July 23, 2017

'Reasonably Suspicious': Check out latest Just Liberty podcast

Check out the latest "Reasonably Suspicious" podcast from Just Liberty, hosted by your correspondent and Amanda Marzullo of the Texas Defender Service. This month's episode features an excerpt from an interview with Texas House Corrections Chair James White (I'll publish our full conversation later in the week) plus a discussion of a new petition for rule making, which will be submitted on Monday by Just Liberty to the Texas Department of Public Safety, calling for limits on arrests for non-jailable offenses. Also, be among the first to hear the new, original music produced for the podcast by Gabe Rhodes and an all-star crew of musicians.

Other topics covered include:
  • Why police shootings declined in Texas in 2016
  • Judge sides with prisoners in TDCJ heat litigation
  • DPS charging local agencies for crime lab services
  • Police overtime for court appearances
  • Cameras in the courtroom at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ...
And more! You can also access the podcast via YouTube and Soundcloud.

Find a full transcript of July's Reasonably Suspicious podcast below the jump.

Reasonably Suspicious Podcast Transcript: 7/22/17

Amanda Marzullo: According to news reports, a Texas man and woman stole a hearse from a funeral home and later dumped a body in a ditch. Scott, what do think was going on?

Scott Henson: This was 100% not my fault. We didn't even know the body was in there until we were miles down the road, and then what were we supposed to do?

Amanda Marzullo: So you intended to steal the hearse, but not the body?

Scott Henson: Exactly. Big family reunion coming up and we needed something with enough space to haul all the groceries, allegedly. Really, I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. Hello boys and girls, this is Scott Henson with another Just Liberty podcast recorded in Austin, Texas, July 21st, 2017 with our good friend Amanda Marzullo, executive director of the Texas Defender Service. Mandy, what are looking forward to talking about on the podcast today?

Amanda Marzullo: I'm looking forward to talking about the driver responsibility program which is how you and I first met.

Scott Henson: Yes, it is.

Amanda Marzullo: And talking about our wonderful new music for this podcast.

Scott Henson: This really is amazing music. Thanks so much to Gabe Rhodes and his all-star crew of musicians he put together for their excellent work. All this original music really makes the podcast hum. Turning to our top story, a local police chief and school board member have resigned after Miss Black Texas 2016, who was a student at Texas A&M commerce and an intern at the Hunt County District Attorney's office, ironically was arrested for refusing to apologize after the school board member allegedly called her a black bitch in the Wal-Mart parking lot. You saw the video, Mandy. What's your takeaway from this episode?

Amanda Marzullo: Sadly, I think there a few things that you can take away from this. I think the first is you can beat the rap, but you can't be the ride, right? I think her name is Miss Ponder?

Scott Henson: Carmen Ponder, yes.

Amanda Marzullo: Carmen Ponder. The charges were dropped against her, but she still has an arrest recorded from what I understand for resisting arrest, and she's still worried about expunging that.

Scott Henson: Because she wants to go to law school. That's why she's interning at the DA's office, so who wouldn't be worried and yet, she's the only one there who did nothing wrong. She's the only one there who was in control the entire time. You saw the video. She called 911 herself because these two crazy white men were behaving in a totally inappropriate way. It was really quite astonishing and saddening that that type of behavior is still going on from elected officials in 2017, and just to put a nasty coda on the end of this story, the police chief made a big show of resigning and made out how he was a victim of the Black Lives Matter movement for pushing him out the door over this, but in reality, he was kicked upstairs and was actually made an assistant city manager over the police department, and so was really given more powerful, not less. Really nothing bad happened to that guy.

Amanda Marzullo: I think one of the other things that you just touched on there, too, that's important to point out is that this incident sort of debunks this idea that if you're approached by law enforcement that if you behave well, you can just deescalate the situation.

Scott Henson: That's right. It's like the Philando Castile situation where he tells the man he's a concealed carried permit owner. He has a gun. He tells the cop, does everything he's supposed to do, behaves politely, and he still gets shot. Now, there are some episodes where it's very clear that there's no amount of polite behavior that would get you out of it.

Amanda Marzullo: Sadly. Moving on, on a related matter, Just Liberty is about to file a petition with the Texas Department of Public Safety requesting that they initiate rule-making to limit arrests by Texas State Troopers for non-jailable offense. Under a little-known state law, if 25 Texans sign a petition, DPS must either deny it within 60 days or initiate rule-making. Just Liberty's petition was signed by representative from 16 groups as well as several state legislators, so Scott, tell me what is Just Liberty trying to accomplish?

Scott Henson: Well, this petition comes on the heels of an effort at the legislator to pass a bill to eliminate most arrests for non-jailable offenses. This all came out of really the Sandra Bland episode when she was arrested at traffic stop for ... Failure to signal a lane change was the underlying charge when he initially laid hands on her, and that story has really resonated throughout the state. You saw the Sandra Bland Act. You saw a bunch of different bills filed on this topic, and it's really hard to overstate the extent to which her story has altered the terms of debate over criminal justice reform in Texas.

Her mother, actually, is one of the signers on this petition to the Department of Public Safety, so what we're trying to do is convince them to change their internal rules to eliminate most of these arrests unless the driver's actually a threat to other, and certainly, that was not the case with Sandra Bland, and we'll see what happens. They have a meeting in August and we'll find out how the public safety commission receives this position then.

Meanwhile, when we came up with this idea at Just Liberty for a petition to DPS on class C misdemeanor arrest, it was based on a project that you and I did together, Mandy, nearly a decade ago. We worked together to get the Department of Public Safety to change its rules vis-a-vis the driver responsibility surcharge which is an extra civil penalty that drivers must pay for three years on top of fines for DWIs and certain traffic tickets. Back then, we proposed rules via a similar citizen's petition to waive most fees for indigent defendants and to force DPS to create an amnesty program which operated for a few weeks in 2012. What do you remember about that process?

Amanda Marzullo: Well, I remember it being much harder and longer than I expected it to be. Going to trial has nothing on the administrative rule-making process is what I've learned in Texas. I will say that I found that the public safety commission was receptive to the issue, especially when we pointed out that there are individuals in Texas with tens oof thousands of dollars being assessed every year. I think there are people who owed as much as $40,000 a year at one point-

Scott Henson: And who were never going to get out from under that debt. Ever.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah, no, it's crushing and it would escalate and compile again and again, and that it was a hard-fought battle. I think at one point, they viewed the amnesty program as being a violation of the ex post facto clause which was an argument that I had a hard time to even understand, let alone argue against effectively just because it was so strange.

Scott Henson: The whole process was very strange. No one had actually done this petition process at DPS since the 1930s when you and I did it, and so it came out of the blue for them. They didn't really understand what we were doing and sort of resented us for it. They wouldn't even let me in the room for much of the process, amazingly.

Amanda Marzullo: I remember that.

Scott Henson: You were able to get in and there was one very strange meeting at a working group where I sat outside on a bench and you would come out during breaks and we would talk, and then you'd go back in and negotiate, but I wasn't allowed to come in and sit at the table, and the whole thing was bizarre like that. I will say at the end, it turned out all of that was really about the general counsel's office. The Public Safety Commission itself was very receptive, and when the the general counsel proposed, really, a bad set of rules that didn't what we wanted, the Public Safety Commission slapped them down and said, "No, you have to go back. You have to hold a full blown public hearing, and you need to give us things that address what these advocates are talking about," and they ended up doing it, but it was, like you say, a very hard-fought process. It took about a year and half.

Amanda Marzullo: I think even more than that. I think it took close to two years and we had a series of hearings. It was rough.

Scott Henson: It was quite a thing.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah, it was a thing. Moving on, on your blog, Grits for Breakfast, recently, you wrote about a now-retired Houston police officer who had a financial incentive to make trumped up arrests because he made time and a half whenever he was required to go to court whether or not the charges were dismissed. The situation was so extreme that the court of criminal appeals was asked to determine if a lawyer didn't investigate or raise the issue was guilty of ineffective assistance, but you pointed out on the blog that the incentives are structural and often embedded in labor agreement with police unions. This was an older case out of Houston from 2004. Is it still going on?

Scott Henson: It is and in fact, I was amazed to discover as I researched this for that blog post, I looked up the meet and confer agreement for Austin, and Austin's incentives for police officers to go to court are even more lucrative than those described in this Houston case. In Austin, any time an officer has to go to court after their regular working hours, even if it's just for half an hour, for one hour, they get a minimum of four hours at time and a half no matter what the amount of time bare minimum. If they have to go to court before work ... Say work starts at 8AM and they have to be at court at 7:15. They get to charge the city a minimum of four hours at time and a half for that extra 45 minutes that they're in court, so they have a huge incentive to get to show up in court, and interestingly in Austin, we have also had a problem where the department had been encouraging officers to make DWI arrests.

This officer was also on the DWI task force and the officers were making arrests that were getting dismissed at very high rates and now, we understand, I did not, when this came up before that that may be in part because they have this incentive to go to court and make extra money that. It's really a rather disturbing phenomenon.

Amanda Marzullo: Hard to imagine how the bean counters allow that to persist.

Scott Henson: Really is. All right, final one here. The Department of Public ... Final top story, we should say. The Department of Public Safety for years has provided free crime lab services to any Texas law enforcement agency who wanted them. Most larger agencies had their own labs and many others contracted with private ones in part because of increasingly long wait times at DPS, but smaller and rural agencies rely on DPS crime lab services. Now, though, the legislator has directed DPS to being charging local governments for crime lab services beginning September 1st. So Mandy, what do you think about this latest legislative budget cutting maneuver?

Amanda Marzullo: Well, I think it's hard to say at the outset how this is going to shake out. It does seem that it should force rural counties to prioritize their cases. Ideally, if they don't want to pay for the services to have drugs tested, it probably means the case isn't worth prosecuting, or at the bare minimum, the case should be diverted in some way. That said, it is possible that they could proceeding without the evidence being tested. I hope that the defense bar won't let that happen, but we'll keep watching this one.

Scott Henson: I think you've exactly encapsulated the two options here. On one hand, it really does create an untenable situation when the locals can just get forensic services for free at whatever levels they want. It's not free to state taxpayers and taxpayers, for example, here in Austin or in Houston where we have crime labs that we pay for through local taxes. It's really inappropriate for us to subsidize these rural prosecutions in that way, yet at the same time, there is a fear that these agencies don't have a forensics budget right now. If you tell them you have to begin paying, they can't get blood from a stone, and so are they going to push through with cases that result in false conviction because they're just not applying forensics anymore.

I think probably both those things are going to happen. It probably isn't an either/or. It's probably that there will be good and bad result, and we won't really know in aggregate which way it tips for quite a while. All right, coming up, stay tuned for an interview with Texas House Corrections Committee Chairman James White and a fun new segment called suspicious mysteries, but first, let's give our listeners a taste of the amazing work done by Gabe Rhodes and his crew. Here's some music created for our game segment featuring Floyd Domino on piano and John Mills on clarinet.

Scott Henson: Today, we're speaking with Texas House Corrections Committee Chairman James White who was an army officer and then a schoolteacher before he was elected to the Texas legislature in 2010. Ironically, the Democrat he defeated, Jim McReynolds was also corrections committee chair. Four terms in, chairman White has emerged as an important leader among conservative criminal justice reformers. Let's hear what he has to say.

All right, Chairman White, I wanted to ask you about criminal justice politics in America and the Republican party today in particular. We're at this strange moment where every issue, it seems like, is splintered across a vast array of axes whether it's criminal justice or really any other topic you can think of. It's not just a partisan issue, one party versus the other. Within each party, there are enormous differences and on criminal justice, we're in this moment where we have the president talking about American carnage and the attorney general ramping the drug war back up, and here in Texas, we have conservative Republicans taking the opportunity of extremely low crime rates to close prisons, and this seems like a disconnect viewed from the outside, so how should people think about this? How do we make sense of these splits and these different messages coming out on these criminal justice topics?

James White: Well, thank you, Scott, for that question and thank you for this opportunity to be on the podcast. I'll go ahead and full disclosure. I'll probably wake up in the morning about 2, 3:30 in the morning and get a cup of coffee and peek at Grits for Breakfast and listen to some of the podcast, but look. When you look at general political scenario, it is very fractured. You have deep divisions within parties on a whole host of issues. Obviously, a lot of divisions on partisan ideology lines.

On this issue of criminal justice, I just think it's just basic politics. At the end of the day, politics is local, right, and so in Texas, because of some things that we've done in the past, we can kind of enjoy this ... I guess you can call it a CJ, a criminal justice dividend by investing on the front end, but let's also think about this. Often, I tell folks back home in the district, the state budget is probably about three things, mostly: education, medication, and incarceration. That is public safety, so if you're not doing very well on the education and medication as to Medicaid — that's a health and human services — you're gonna probably end up with a lot of situations, public safety, and in the broadest, incarceration.

I'm saying all that is that I think we can take advantage of this criminal justice dividend in the state of Texas because we've had an economy that has grown faster than other parts of the state, creating jobs faster than other parts of the state, at least that's what the data tells us and then-

Scott Henson: Of the country, I guess.

James White: In the country, yes. Other parts of the country. Let me say that. So, we've had this going on. Okay, and so people can transition into jobs. I think there is some correlation with economic opportunity and poor public safety outcome, so I think we've had those kind of perfect storms here in the state of Texas, so I would say, in Texas, politics is local, and so we can just some things, and some other parts of the country, be it Chicago, Memphis where you've had just skyrocketing crime rates ... Maybe they just need to look at some other strategies.

Scott Henson: Next up, today, we're introducing a new segment on the podcast we're calling Suspicious Mysteries in which we discuss questions to which there are no definitive answers. Today, we examine some new data from our friend, Amanda Woog, who recently took a job at the Quattrone center at Penn.

Amanda Marzullo: Where all of the finest lawyers are trained.

Scott Henson: Because that's where you were trained, of course.

Amanda Marzullo: Well, exactly. Go Quakers.

Scott Henson: The fighting Quakers. Good Lord, that's just sad.

Amanda Marzullo: What, you don't find some Mennonites to be particular intimidating?

Scott Henson: Terrifying. Regardless, Woog's number showed that after several years of steady increases in the number of people in Texas shot by police and/or who died in police custody, 2016 saw a sharp decline. Both Amanda and Brandi Grisham at the Dallas Morning News reported on the sharp rise of deaths in custody in Texas over the last decade. Deaths in custody reported by Texas police and sheriff's department reached a high of 175 in 2015, then dropped like a stone to 125 last year. That's the lowest total in a while, but it's still much higher than in the past.

In 2005, for example, just 84 people died in police custody, so the 2015 max was more than 100% of that total, so Mandy, what do you think caused the increase in police shootings over the last decade, and what might account for last year's drop?

Amanda Marzullo: Well, I doubt it's one thing that caused both the increase and the decrease, but looking at the front end of this, I think what is sort of surprising about the rise in deaths and custody is that it corresponds with a drop in crime.

Scott Henson: A big drop in crime.

Amanda Marzullo: A huge one, so you would expect that there would actually be less contact between the public and law enforcement.

Scott Henson: It also corresponded with a big drop in the number of traffic tickets given. Hundreds of thousands fewer traffic stops occurred over this period.

Amanda Marzullo: What you're actually seeing is a rise in the violent interaction rate and in the treatment of individuals once they're in custody, so it's hard to suss that out. What's going on there? It could be problems with training. It could be problems ... Really, training seems to come to mind as the big one, but [crosstalk 00:20:34]

Scott Henson: Lack of discipline when officers do engage in misconduct, that can set a bad example so that then other officers feel like they can engage in similar behaviors. There's a number of things, but like I say, I guess that's why this section is [called] Suspicious Mysteries. It's impossible really know what it is. We can guess. We can speculate, but it's really hard to know …

Amanda Marzullo: …what's causing it. Then, with the decrease, it could be just noise because we're talking about very small numbers, but at the same time, there are a number of things that have been implemented in the past year that would make you think that it could've had an effect on law enforcement behavior, so things like body cameras. The fact that more Texas police officers are wearing them now and having to have them on. I'm sure that a lot of police agencies have had training. Also, there have been a lot of lawsuits across the state for deaths in custody which probably triggers a policy response at the local level.

Scott Henson: As well as major publicity surrounding shootings by police and even though we haven't seen too many convictions, we've seen quite a few officers indicted which didn't use to happen very often, and so it's possible that, like you say, all of these things together are changing the culture facing police officers as they make those decisions, but it's really confusing when you try and pin down, well, what's the cause one direction or the other? There's really no one thing you can point to in that way.

Coming up, stay tuned for a new game segment called home court advantage, but first, he's a quick word from Just Liberty.

House AD.

Today, we launch a new game on the podcast we're calling Home Court Advantage. The premise is deceptively simple. We consider recent court cases affecting Texas and discuss who stands to gain advantage or disadvantage as as result. Let's start this new segment with a case where the state of Texas finds itself at a disadvantage. Inmates at the Wallace Pack Unit which houses disabled and geriatric prisoners had sued over oven white conditions during the summertime which have resulted in numerous documented deaths and likely many undocumented ones over the years. The 5th Circuit allowed the case to go forward and now, a federal judge has ruled that the state must provide air conditioning for heat-sensitive inmates at the Pack Unit including for the sick, the elderly, people taking certain mental health drugs, and other particular medical conditions.

However, the state is not required to provide AC to able-bodied inmates housed at the unit to perform manual labor. The state has vowed to appeal, so Mandy, looks like the state is at a disadvantage. How deep is the whole they're in?

Amanda Marzullo: I think it's the beginnings of a deep hole, at this point. As you alluded to, the decision is pretty narrow. It's affecting individuals who have been identified, essentially, as having a condition that makes them sensitive to heat and stating that the government basically needs to accommodate that sensitivity so that they don't die, really, at the end of the day, when they're being incarcerated. That said, these categories are broad. We are talking about people who are sick. There are a number of individuals, somewhere around 7000 or upwards of 7000 people, who are in custody who are over the age of 65, and TDCJ has a lot of people in custody who are taking psych drugs who may be sensitive to heat and it is advancing the ball towards this idea that in general, the government needs to make sure that people who are in prison are safe. In a state that often gets ... where the temperature often rises above 100 degrees, that could almost mean anyone.

Scott Henson: That's right. A couple of other interesting aspects of this. First, some county governments have responded to this by suggesting that the state should start sending its inmates to county jails where the state has required them to keep their units air conditioned and below 85 degrees for years and years, and that strikes me as kind of an interesting suggestion because it might be better than where they're at. It is the case that in some of these rural areas, you're probably not gonna have services. You're not gonna have mental health services or any sort of significant counseling or treatment sort of support, and so that might be an issue.

At the same time, we do have a lot of air conditioned empty beds in this state, more than 17,000, so I thought that that was an interesting idea. I think you're definitely right that this does only affect a narrow group, but it's a large enough group to where there'd be dozens and dozens of units affected if they actually had to apply this to every unit, so TDCJ really does have a big interest in fighting this financially because if they were required to apply these standards at every single unit, there'd be very few at the end of the day they didn't have to air condition is my guess.

Amanda Marzullo: I think you're probably right, and going back to the county thing, it would actually allow defendants to be closer — not defendants at this point. I guess they're prisoners — to be closer to their families if they're housed at a county facility.

Scott Henson: That's exactly right, so that may not be the worst idea.

Amanda Marzullo: Next up, George Alvarez, a Brownsville man, won $2 million verdict from a Texas jury after the government framed him for assaulting a jailer in San Antonio. It turned out that Mr. Alvarez was assaulted rather than an assailant of a police officer, but because he faced a steep trial penalty if he took the case to verdict, and because the government concealed exculpatory evidence that proved his innocence, he pled guilty and only challenged the conviction when the hidden evidence became available.

The 5th Circuit threw out the jury verdict saying [Mr. Alvarez's] guilty plea invalidated any rights to hold his assailant accountable for inarguable civil right violations. Scott, who benefits from this ruling and what message does this send going forward?

Scott Henson: Well, who benefits, I suppose, are dirty cops and corrupt prosecutors. I can't think who else would possible benefit, and even for them, I suppose it only benefits them in the sense they won't have lawsuit later, but there should be lots of other penalties for people like that, too, but it's a terrible, terrible ruling. The only way you can make this ruling is if you absolutely don't have any sense of why innocent people might plea guilty.

The reality is 98 plus percent of cases result in guilty pleas, and we know innocent people plea guilty all the time. 25% of DNA exonerations have been from guilty pleas, so that we know that even in some of the most terrible cases, people plea guilty to avoid a death sentence or a very, very long sentences, and in lesser cases, we see guilty please all the time because someone wants to get out of jail and because maybe if they sat in jail, two months later, they could prove their innocence, but they want out right now. The only way you make this ruling is if you just have no understand at all of any of those issues, and it's very disheartening that the 5th Circuit has that mindset.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will finally allow cameras in the courtroom for oral arguments thanks to legislation passed this session. Mandy, who stands to gain here?

Amanda Marzullo: I think all parties and the Court of Criminal Appeals stands to gain here. I am always in favor of making the courts more accessible and that's what we're going to seeing with this, and I think not just litigants, I think you'll see a lot of people going back and looking at oral arguments and the recordings as they're archived on the court's website, and it might actually help with the dialogue that we see between the Court of Criminal Appeals and the legislature on certain procedural grounds.

Over the past several years, we've seen a lot of conversations about post-conviction remedies, for example. We've seen chapter 64 amended, I don't know how many times now.

Scott Henson: That's right. Post-conviction DNA testing is chapter 64 and the junk science writ - there was another one where there was a discussion from the dais that really spawned new legislation and then amending it before they could even come to a ruling on that case, so that's right. There are other constituents for that information besides just the folks in the courtroom, and there's legislators. There's journalists and sorts of secondary and tertiary uses for it, so I agree. I think it's an excellent turn of events that they're finally doing this, and the Supreme Court's done it for years without really any problems, so I don't think have a problem, either.

Finally, let's close out this episode of reasonably suspicious with our rapid-fire segment we're calling the last hurrah. Mandy, are you ready?

Amanda Marzullo: Yes, I am.

Scott Henson: All right, let's do this. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals finally exonerated Fran and Dan Keller who have been falsely operating a satanic child sex ring out of an Oak Hill daycare. What's your takeaway from this case?

Amanda Marzullo: With this case, I think we've seen an expansion of the court's interpretation of the false evidence claim under the due process clause. Basically, now, I think you're going to see more and more testimony and expert testimony challenged on these grounds. Yeah, and it's an exciting day.

Moving on, the San Antonio Express News featured an editorial recently saying new Texas legislation would end debtor's prison? Is that correct?

Scott Henson: That's not remotely correct. What they're talking about is legislation that would allow judges to waive fines or grant community service for indigent defendants at their sentencing instead of making them wait until they default, but lots and lots of people are still going to be arrested for non-payment of traffic tickets. That's not going away.

When mothers in Texas are arrested while their kids are at school or away from home, no one at the police department or the jail is responsible for making sure they have somewhere to go or taken care of, the Dallas News reported this month. What ought to be happening in these cases?

Amanda Marzullo: Well, I don't think I would limit it to these cases. I think in any time an adult is arrested, there should be a question as to whether they are responsible for a minor and that there should be some effort to make sure that that minor is cared for. Prosecutors at the Travis County attorney's hot check division has less to do now that people don't use checks. They're using those lawyers to try to collect old debt from as far back as the 1980s. Is this a good idea.

Scott Henson: This is completely nuts. If your prosecutors don't have enough to do, then fire some prosecutors. Do the taxpayers a favor. A new study from the Austin-based group Grassroots Leadership found that black people in Travis County spend nearly twice as long in jail as white folks who are charged with the same crimes. Are you surprised?

Amanda Marzullo: No.

Scott Henson: Just no, huh?

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah. No.

Scott Henson: All right.

Amanda Marzullo: After years of tolerating false convictions based on unreliable field tests for narcotics, the Houston PD announced that they'll cease using them, but only because they fear a newly available drug called Fetinal could poison officers using the test. Scott, is eliminating field tests the right thing to do?

Scott Henson: I don't think we have any idea yet. On its face, it seems like eliminating them would be great because they've made all these errors. We've had false convictions. The problem is we don't know whether officers make errors at even greater rates, and if they do, then even more innocent people would be convicted. What I'm hoping is that they'll start tracking this information now that they've made this shift, so we'll at least know if there are more errors being made.

All right, we're out of time, but we'll try and do better the next time. I'm Scott Henson with Just Liberty.

Amanda Marzullo: And I'm Amanda Marzullo with the Texas Defender Service. Goodbye, and thanks for listening.

Scott Henson: We'll see you next time, people, and until then, keep fighting for criminal justice reform. It's the only way it's going to happen. Really, the fighting Quakers? Honestly?

Transcribed by Lightly copyedited by Scott Henson for grammar and clarity. 


Anonymous said...

I'll be darn, Grits! I never knew before now that people in rural Texas counties didn't pay state taxes like the city folk! I think I'm gonna move to the country!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

They pay taxes, but forensics for their police investigations are subsidized (until Sept. 1, when they'll still be be subsidized, just less than 100% for the first time). The larger agencies perform their own or contract out. So forensics are free for rurals and agencies that use DPS for forensics, while folks in jurisdictions with their own crime labs pay twice and subsidize the rurals.

Urban taxpayers also subsidize the rurals because the incarceration rate from rural counties is several times higher than urban ones, with longer average penalties to boot. So folks in urban counties pay for rural politicians to pander to voters with an outdated and toxic, "tuff on crime" ideology. And the reasons are less ideological than economic - they're reacting to structural incentives embedded in how the money is allocated. Change those, and behavior would change.

Anonymous said...

I think the issue is probably a little more complex than you suggest here, Scott. People in rural counties typically don't have the luxury of having a ship channel and petro-chemical refineries in their county, a GM or Toyota manufacturing plant, or multiple high computer or computer related manufacturing facilities. Nor do rural counties have the luxury of having well funded probation departments with lots of in an out patient treatment and counseling programs to use as sanctioning options in lieu of prison sentences. The argument you're spinning out here is pretty typical of the ongoing urban vs. rural tension manifested in the current Texas legislature; and with your abode in Travis County, it's pretty easy to see where your loyalties lie. What you're failing to recognize here though is that EVERY Texas taxpayer has an interest in making sure that only the truly guilty are being convicted in EVERY county. Among other consequences, it's the STATE who pays the compensation for those who are wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. It's actually kind of surprising to me that a progressive such as yourself would take such a myopic view on this issue. This should not be a rural vs. urban or us against them debate. The state involves itself in lots of aspects of local law enforcement and corrections which cost local jurisdictions money. Whether it's the requirement for dash cams for patrol cars, staffing ratios at jails, inmate health care requirements, etc.; it's not like the state isn't already costing the counties and municipalities money. The state, however, is uniquely suited--and funded--to take the lead where the counties are incapable of adequately providing government services on their own (what if the Feds started charging the states extra for military protection?). Whether it's long term incarceration, provision of additional treatment options for probationers or providing quality and professional forensic laboratory services thereby reducing the likelihood of wrongful convictions, it would seem to me that you would support the state taking the lead on these fronts. Can you imagine the state of affairs which would exist if each county was responsible for the provision and funding of these services? I wonder how long it would take for public hangings on the courthouse lawn to return to fashion?

Wise Texan said...

Thanks for this. Excellent info! How can we get y'all on the Stitcher podcast app?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Uh, so where do my "loyalties lie," `10:53, if that's so easy to see? With fiscal-responsibility and pay-as-you-go conservatism?

You say that, "EVERY Texas taxpayer has an interest in making sure that only the truly guilty are being convicted in EVERY county." Maybe. But then why not just have a state police force? Why have 2,500 different local agencies?

More to the point, why do you believe that some jurisdictions should foot the bill, subsidizing the freeloaders, while others should get crime-lab services free? Nothing you've said here justifies that.

Anonymous said...

I believe all these urban agencies chose to have their own labs, this is not required.

Anonymous said...

Grits, the large counties can utilize the DPS labs for "free" and actually do in some instances. The fact that their governing bodies have made a policy decision to fund their own crime labs so they can get quicker results does not make the other counties "freeloaders" as you put it. It just means the large counties have more resources and their taxpayers/voters evidently support those expenditures. If memory serves I can remember a time when you were especially critical of the degree of influence local law enforcement agencies had over their locally funded crime labs... See, for example, the Houston Police Dept. Crime Lab.

On a semi-related note, we do have a state police force. It's called DPS. Any idea how the new crime lab charging policy is going to work with lab submissions made by DPS, Parks and Wildlife and the Rangers? Just wondering.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@12:01 - use whatever term you want. "Freeloader" works for me, since the meaning is precisely on point. Urban taxpayers subsidize rural prosecutions and this change will make the rurals begin to pay (only part of) their freight. I don't want to foot their bills.

@11:51, no one said it was. I said urban taxpayers were paying twice and the new change promotes equity.