Sunday, August 27, 2017

Odds and ends on a rain-drenched weekend

Here are a few odds and ends to keep Grits readers occupied on a rainy weekend:

Public Safety Commission to decide on JL petition in October
Here's an update on Just Liberty's petition to DPS for rulemaking on Class C misdemeanor arrests. The Houston Chronicle also had coverage. More than 5,100 Texans have sent emails to DPS Director Steve McCraw urging support for this proposal. Go here to join them.

DA: Police must improve before I'll work with them
The Aransas County Attorney won't accept more cases from the Rockville PD until its officers are better trained about deliberately withholding evidence. Good for her! That's a new one. "According to prosecutors, the Rockville officers needs to demonstrate a commitment to truthful reporting and to correcting problematic officer behavior."

Pew: Ban the box increases discrimination against black folk
One of our contributing writers, Amanda Woog, was a big supporter of ban-the-box proposals in Austin and elsewhere, but Grits personally remained more skeptical. This commentary from the Pew Charitable Trusts explains why: the policy heightens discrimination against black people, whether or not they have a criminal record, while mostly white folks benefit. Martin Luther King, Jr. looked forward to a day when people are judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. BTB legislation asks employers to overlook evidence of people's character (past criminal acts), leaving them only the color of the applicant's skin as a marker for such concerns. The result is a worsened pattern of discrimination, according to the best available employment studies on the topic.

On the limits of legalizing running over protesters
The Texas state rep who filed a bill limiting criminal and civil liability for drivers who run over protesters wants to distinguish his bill from what happened in Charlottesville. His legislation would not protect an intentional murder, he insisted. But in truth, the bill was a political jab at liberal protesters and, whether the specifics would apply to the driver in Virginia, the intent was unquestionably to send a message to protesters blocking streets that they deserve to die and the government shouldn't protect them or care about their fate. Walking that back in the face of an actual such incident is understandable, but Rep. Pat Fallon doth protest too much.

Greg Kelley exonerated
In the end, Greg Kelley not only had to battle the government, which had falsely convicted him of sexually assaulting a 4-year old based on a shoddy investigation by Cedar Park PD, but his own trial attorney intervening in his case against his interests. Regardless, that lawyer was found ineffective and Kelley has been freed - prosecutors now say the evidence points to an alternative suspect. As an aside, Kelley was released thanks to a 2003 statute carried by Sen. John Whitmire to allow the Tulia drug sting defendants to get out on bail while they waited for their habeas corpus writs to clear the Court of Criminal Appeals. When that passed, we thought it would for the most part only affect those Tulia defendants, but it's become a prominent and important feature of many modern, Texas exonerations.

Prison evacuations
Several thousand TDCJ inmates housed in units along the Brazos River were evacuated because of flooding, something which is becoming more or less an annual event. I haven't seen significant reporting on what happened with inmates in county jails who were housed in the hurricane's path.

Bail industry ramping up against reforms
The bail reform lawsuit in Harris County and bail-reform legislation in New Jersey are the two biggest, bleeding-edge flashpoints for the fight to reduce poverty-based incarceration. In both instances, the bail industry has emerged as a powerful and well-funded, if increasingly isolated, belligerent. They're going to try to Willie-Horton these reforms to death, so it will be more important than ever that advocates continue making the public safety case for bail reform. People who want fewer murders should be on the reformers' side.

Violent crime limits economic prospects
Check out an intriguing story by CityLab about new research showing that living around violent crime limits children's economic prospects.

Time to test income and reentry
Providing an income to ex-offenders would reduce recidivism. The barriers to testing such a strategy on a broader scale are political, but as a practical matter, " It is past time that a government or nonprofit combined a minimally conditional cash transfer with traditional reentry interventions and hire an evaluator to assess the experiment’s impact. While a man exiting prison today might receive job training and see a clinician for mental health needs, an additional cash transfer could enable him to secure a place to live, a mass transit fare, and groceries for his family. Cash—or a restricted, EBT-styled debit card—would provide for immediate needs and ease the stressful reentry process."


Steven Michael Seys said...

On that last one, Scott, I have personal experience of the financial difficulty of being released from prison. I was paroled in November and used the Interstate Compact to return to my home. There are no jobs in my county that I can physically perform, due to the deterioration of my health over thirty-two and a half years of incarceration, that are open to a man on parole. I applied for disability, but the prison system has ignored all requests for my medical records and it takes time to build a record of treatment for the disabling conditions. Were it not for the largesse of family members who lend me rent and power money I would have been homeless and returned to prison months ago. I realize there are other issues involved like the stonewalling of the TDCJ on releasing my records as mandated by law, but had I a source of income, I would have been able to hire an attorney to shepherd my DNA motion through the court and finally obtain my exoneration.

Wise Texan said...

Two questions for Grits...first on the BTB argument, do you see any reasonable alternative? If not BTB then at least restrict how far back employers can ask about convictions? Just would like to hear your thoughts on this.

As far as the last item, like Steven, I've witnessed this difficulty when my husband was first released from TDCJ. I don't believe the government should pick up this responsibility with exception to Medicaid and EBT benefits. Since these programs are already in place, it makes sense to move this direction to help folks get on their feet for at least the first six months or so. I prefer a non-profit filling the gap here but wonder what a reasonable weekly or monthly income would be for someone coming out of prison and what amount of time would be reasonable. I would think $1000/mo would be helpful for rent and bus fare, etc and though that may seem like a low number, it is certainly better than nothing. Are there any non-profits currently in place that help do this that you're aware of?

Jennifer Laurin said...

Respectfully, I'd push back on your characterization of Greg Kelley's trial attorney intervening against her former client's interests. My view is that the procedural intricacies and drama that led to a righteous result have obscured some of the reality of what was actually playing out. And I think the trial attorney has been handed (by the MSM, as you say, among others) an unjustifiable share of the blame in the process.

Anonymous said...

This is rich. Concerning the peoposal that the criminal history box be eliminated. A store owner, I suppose, has no business knowing if a prospective employee has ten convictions for theft. He or she should be a sitting duck for all types of criminal behavior at his or her store. Often in our frenzy to promote the criminal we expose our distain for others--in this case store owners.

I suppose we should allow sex offenders access to more victims because--why? Because we are so enthralled by the criminal?

Anonymous said...

Violent Crime's Toll on Economic Mobility. Maybe we should avoid committing violent crimes. There is a concept called personal responsibility.