Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Roundup: Promoting rural decarceration, looking inside the black box, ending 'trace' drug cases in Houston, and declining juvie incarceration

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention and will allow me to clear my browser tabs:

Court testing limits of DNA testing law, along with legislative patience
For nearly 20 years now, the Texas Legislature and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have been battling over who should get access to post-conviction DNA testing, with the Lege pushing for broader testing and the CCA doing its best to limit it. Larry Swearingen's capital case, in which he's claiming actual innocence in the murder of Melissa Trotter, is the latest salvo in this debate. See Jordan Smith's excellent coverage in The Intercept for a primer on the issues at stake.

No more Harris County 'trace' drug cases
Harris County DA Kim Ogg has ended the department's practice of prosecuting people for trace amounts of drugs, often scraped from pipes or scraped from car floormats, etc.. See good coverage from the Houston Press. Said Nick Hughes from the Harris County Public Defender Office, "People who are particularly at risk of being wrongfully convicted for possession a controlled substance are almost always the people who are accused of possessing less than a gram. That’s the stuff you find on the floorboards, on the seats, where they're just really reaching to make a prosecution, and it’s particularly dangerous right now when were not testing drugs with field tests."

Snitching reforms here, there, and yon
Alexandra Natapoff has a nice essay praising snitching reforms in Texas passed this year and suggesting additional reforms based on proposals in other states.

Peeking inside the black box
Pro Publica is trying to get source code for the black-box software interpreting DNA mixture evidence for the New York City medical examiners office. See Grits' earlier discussion and segments from the August and September Reasonably Suspicious podcasts for more on this issue.

Good news: Juvenile crime, incarceration, both way down
Both juvenile crime and juvenile detention rates have plummeted over the last decade. See a pair of articles (Pew, NPR) explaining the trend.

No reason to expect crime boosts from decreased incarceration
See coverage of a comprehensive meta-analysis of the effect of mass incarceration - and reducing it - on crime, as well as a summary in a series of blog posts. "The crux of the matter is that tougher sentences hardly deter crime, and that while imprisoning people temporarily stops them from committing crime outside prison walls, it also tends to increase their criminality after release."

Thinking about rural decarceration
We've learned over the last year or so that many rural counties are incarcerating people at far higher per-capita rates than urban ones. So I'm glad to see philanthropic resources going specifically to develop decarceration strategies for small and rural counties. That debate is overdue.

Driver-license suspensions and debtors prisons
Here's a good discussion of how driver-license suspension laws related to debt collection drive up poverty rates, especially in states with Driver Responsibility Surcharge programs.

American Conservative: Police Brutality a Systemic Problem
The American Conservative offered up "Seven Reasons Why Police Brutality is Systemic, Not Anecdotal." It includes these remarkable bits of data: "A Department of Justice study revealed that a whopping 84 percent of police officers report that they’ve seen colleagues use excessive force on civilians, and 61 percent admit they don’t always report 'even serious criminal violations that involve abuse of authority by fellow officers.'" When you look at the study, the 84 percent didn't say they'd "seen" excessive force but merely knew of it. But still. Wow. Also in that study, more than 67 percent of surveyed officers agreed that, "An officer who reports another officer’s misconduct is likely to be given the cold shoulder by his or her fellow officers." So that's a likely motive for not reporting.


Steven Michael Seys said...

As I said before, so long as law enforcement officers continue to close ranks in defense of the indefensible behavior of the few bad cops who break the public trust and the law, people will view them all in the same light as the perpetrators.

Anonymous said...

Maybe an option to immediately lean on counties for incarceration would be for TDCJ to internally decide not to collect any inmate in a county jail who may be eligible for "Shock Probation" for the maximum 180 days past sentencing that they can be recalled by the judge.

Counties then receive a six month bill in addition to their pretrial time and defense counsel can maybe more effectively petition for a new probation sentence for an inmate in his home county with access to his family and support system. TDCJ only transports the inmate when they know he won't be recalled.

Anonymous said...

Nobody likes a snitch! If you know who raped her keep quite or pay for running your mouth!