Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Levin: Rural counties need to get on justice-reform train

The Texas Public Policy Foundation's newsletter arrived in my Inbox this morning and their top story related to over-incarceration in rural counties, focusing on pretrial detention:
What to Know: Criminal justice reforms are decreasing jail populations and recidivism rates. 
“The American criminal justice system’s gradual realization that too many people are in jail needlessly just got a large, visible boost from the city of Philadelphia,” the Washington Post reports. “The city announced last week that it would close its notorious 91-year-old House of Correction jail because reforms begun two years ago have dropped the city’s jail population by 33 percent, without causing any increase in crime or chaos. 
Defense attorneys are working harder to get defendants released quickly with no bail or low bail, prosecutors typically don’t oppose that, and the city’s judges are releasing them. Philadelphia police are taking more defendants to treatment rather than jail. More petitions for early parole from longer sentences are being granted. More space is now available in the city’s six jails for rehabilitation programs, and less overtime pay is needed for jail guards.” 
The TPPF Take: Such reforms are making a real difference in many urban areas like Philadelphia, but some rural areas are lagging behind. 
“Rural jail populations are continuing to explode even while the last five years have seen sharp declines in urban areas and modest drops in suburban areas,” says TPPF’s Marc Levin, who heads the Right on Crime project. “The largest contributor to these jail populations are defendants awaiting trial. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. As we highlight in a report to be released at the end of the month, many jurisdictions are stepping up to stem the tide of pretrial incarceration in rural areas.”
They then linked to a recent column in The Hill by TPPF's Marc Levin arguing that rural over-incarceration risks those areas being "left behind as the criminal justice reform train leaves the station."

Wrote Levin, "rural jail populations are continuing to explode even while the last five years have seen sharp declines in urban areas and modest drops in suburban areas. The largest contributor to these jail populations are defendants awaiting trial."

He could (and perhaps should) have also added, as the New York Times reported last fall, that rural counties are sending people for incarceration in state prisons at vastly greater rates than their urban counterparts. And of course, since people who can't make bail are sentenced to incarceration more often than those who are released pretrial, there's a strong correlation between excessive pretrial detention and over-incarceration at TDCJ.

These are choices being made by local officials in rural counties - it's not just them being left behind by the criminal-justice-reform train because they don't have the internet, or a ticket, or whatever. Not in 2018. 

The fact that the the tuff-on-crime ideology of rural over-incarcerators remains intractable has political consequences, explaining a great deal of the opposition to criminal-justice reform at the Texas Legislature.

The Texas Sheriff's Association, for example, is politically dominated by rural Sheriffs because they far outnumber their urban counterparts with the result that they're among the most regressive anti-reform advocates at the capitol. Same goes for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. The big city DAs get more press, but as far as the Association's internal politics goes, they're outnumbered by their rural counterparts. That's why the group retains an essentially regressive agenda, even though the big-city DA offices who pay most of their bills are moving in a more moderate direction. (Related: From In Justice Today on state prosecutor associations: "Prosecutors aren't just enforcing the law, they're making it.")

Grits is glad to see TPPF focusing on rural over-incarceration; there's no other organization in Texas taking up the banner, and the conservative think tank is well-positioned to address the topic. 

At some point, reformers must also address rural law enforcement's regressive impact on both the state-prison population and its political culture. But journeys of a thousand miles begin with first steps.


Anonymous said...

What about mandating all inmates sentenced to TDCJ must be retained in county jail for no less than 180 days after sentencing to give judges the oporopporty to use shock probation without the offender being an and out processed by TDCJ.

Im not saying judges WOULD use Shock Probation more frequently, but they'd be given pause knowing the county would foot the bill for the first six months.

Anonymous said...

With the 180 they completed prior to sentencing that'll give em a years credit. Maybe they can parole from the county directly.

Anonymous said...

Actually Grits, some of the suburban counties are among the most conservative law and order counties in the state. See for example Montgomery, Williamson, Comal and Collin Counties among others. The metro DA's are now mostly Democrats serving mostly Democratic constituents. It's hard to say that rural prosecutors and sheriff's have disproportionate influence at the Lege when Republicans still hold wide majorities in both chambers and every statewide elected position.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@5:28. Two responses. First, check the counties you named compared to the highest incarcerating rural Texas counties on the interactive chart in the NY Times article linked in the post. You may be surprised to discover, as I was, that when portrayed as a per capita RATE (per 100k, etc.), the rural counties are incarcerating more and collectively account for more of the growth than is commonly portrayed by in-state commentators.

Second, my claim was not broadly that rural counties have "disproportionate influence at the Lege." My argument was that rurals have disproportionate influence in the organizations purporting to represent law enforcement, giving the Sheriff's Association and TDCAA as examples. There are MANY more rural than urban sheriffs, for example, so when they all get together and vote on policy, rural voices have an anachronistically disproportionate impact on the debate.

Anonymous said...

You might find it useful to take a look at this website from the Vera Institute which lets you see jail and prison incarceration rates by state and county. Vera also concludes that rural counties are seeing a boom in incarceration rates, while larger cities are showing slow down or decreases


Anonymous said...

Rural counties are where the prison jobs are. East Texas is a great example. Wastelands like Cherokee county and the Palestine area would dry up and blow away without Roosevelt style socialism like TDCJ. Don't forget that federal revenue sharing programs for prisons give thousands of dollars annually to Texas for every year a felon is behind bars. Are Texas voters smart enough to figure out that they are being had by the bar association/prison/court industrial complex?