Saturday, May 12, 2018

Meditating on misdemeanors, the human toll of prison understaffing, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that will simultaneously clear my browser tabs and point readers to a few interesting items about which I don't have time to blog now.

Latest Texas DNA exoneree denied testing for years
Congratulations to Texas' latest DNA exoneree, John Nolley, and thank you to the Tarrant DA Conviction Integrity Unit and our friends at the national Innocence Project for getting him out and clearing his name. For that matter, good for the Court of Criminal Appeals for finally overturning his conviction, though they did not join in proclaiming him actually innocent. If the Tarrant DA vouches for his innocence, however, he would be able to receive compensation, anyway, under the exception carved out for Anthony Graves. Notably, reported a local TV station, "After years of defense attorney attempts, a judge ordered that the DNA of Nolley be retested" once the DA's Conviction Integrity Unit was on board. So while that speaks well of the Tarrant Conviction Integrity Unit, CIU's are a recent phenomenon and only exist in a few counties. The case remains a black eye on a system that could not secure justice for Mr. Nolley through traditional mechanisms and speaks to the system's failure to adequately vet convictions without extraordinary interventions.

The human toll from prison understaffing: Telford Unit case study
At the Texas Tribune, Jolie McCullough performed a deep dive into the effects of extreme understaffing at the Telford Unit in New Boston, a problem which dramatically worsened after the murder of a guard in 2015. Understaffing creates problems both for staff and inmates, she reported, making things more dreadful and dangerous for both. The report comes on the heels of a story from USA Today about the deadly effects of prison understaffing in South Carolina - in that case from slashed budgets as opposed to the vicissitudes of labor economics.

Arrested for pot, raped in jail
This young mother's story sounds like a living nightmare.

Ramsey-unit quota scheme on inmate discipline revealed
TDCJ is reviewing inmate disciplinary cases at the Ramsey Unit after it was revealed a captain there had implemented a quota system requiring minimum numbers of disciplinary reports. This is another Keri Blakinger scoop from the Houston Chronicle. Jennifer Erschabek from the Texas Inmate Family Association was quoted in the story saying, "One of the biggest complaints we have from family members is that an officer has written a bogus case and there's no way for people to fight that because it becomes a he said-he said type of situation and an inmate has no recourse."

'My life as an execution witness'
The Houston Chronicle has an interview with former TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons about her new book chronicling her experience witnessing more than 200 executions over the course of her career.

Meditating on misdemeanors
Edward Spillane, a municipal court judge in College Station, has an interesting article in the University of Chicago magazine titled, "The Meditative Judge," in which he discusses issues of "mindfulness" and what he's learned applying meditative focus methods on his misdemeanor court docket. He believes that, "A mindful focus on individual defendants in the courtroom can allow judges to contribute to large-scale reform. Applying punishments mechanically actually creates criminal justice failures. A focus on the present allows a judge to gain more insight into each defendant and serve the best interests of everyone in his or her court."

AG pitch on revenge porn a PR move
Mark Bennett has written how some folks simply can't believe the US Supreme Court meant what it's said in rulings about protected speech, and apparently Attorney General Ken Paxton is one of them. His office filed an amicus brief with the 12th Court of Appeals seeking to overturn their ruling that Texas' revenge-porn law is unconstitutional. (Bennett appears unfazed.) I'm not a lawyer, but Grits predicts this effort will be futile: Way too little, too late, that ship has long-ago sailed. This is more about positioning oneself in a culture-war debate, with little relation to the legal questions at stake. IRL, the AG needed to win earlier cases declaring "improper photography" or "online solicitation of a minor" unconstitutional if they wanted Texas courts to reject the First Amendment doctrines at stake, which themselves rely on long-established SCOTUS 1A interpretations that Texas probably couldn't buck, anyway. (Bennett has also maintained that the statute against online impersonation fails on the same grounds.) But now that the Court of Criminal Appeals has, multiple times, unanimously adopted precisely the reasoning upon which the 12th Court is relying, it's hard to imagine how a rehearing would make any difference. Which means that, since the AG's motion got press, he has already achieved his goals.

Reyna doubling down on dubious Twin Peaks cases
The original Twin Peaks cases are being dismissed but McLennan County DA Abel Reyna is doubling down and recharging a couple dozen defendants on charges of murder and rioting. At this point, it seems unlikely Reyna will be in office when these new cases finally get their day in court, so it's hard to say if this is pure grandstanding. But past reports indicated that everyone actually involved in the shootout that day is dead, either from a biker enemy's bullet or at the hands of a police sniper. If that's true, the murder charges seem spurious and the rioting charges dubious. But IMO we probably can't trust official pronouncements on these questions until Reyna is out of office.

Sacerdotal schooling for inmate preachers
The seminary at TDCJ's Darrington Unit for prisoners with very-long sentences who go on to serve as ministers throughout the Texas prison system just had its fourth graduation, and the Houston Chronicle's Keri Blakinger had a report.

Jade Helm taught Russian trolls how to divide Americans
"Blue Lives Matter" posts were the most successful progeny of Russian troll farms during the 2016 presidential election, The Daily Beast reported recently. In related news, the Jade Helm controversy to which Gov. Greg Abbott responded by assigning the Texas State Guard to "monitor" federal troops also turned out to be a fabrication of Russian internet trolls. And our governor fell for it.

Medicine is the best medicine
The best approach to combating addiction is treatment, not incarceration. So it's not surprising that Virginia has discovered that expanding Medicaid is the best way to combat the opiod epidemic and rising overdose deaths. The program pays for treatment which may otherwise only be accessed by indigent people if they're arrested and ordered into treatment as a punishment.


Anonymous said...

Meditating on misdemeanors

When a new inmate entered TYC I would review what amounted to their"rap sheet." The first page or more showed that time and again these young men were given chances to turn things around. All those early changes were dismissed or nonadjudicated in the hopes that they would appreciate this forbearance. All it really did, however, was show them that bad behavior would be tolerated. On page two (and sometimes three and four) there was a list of escalating offenses culminating in murder, rape, etc. As is often said about these young men, they take kindness for weakness.

Anonymous said...

Same with police officers. Out of the almost 70,000 police officers who were convicted of child sex crimes in a 4-year period most all of them had previously been alleged to have beaten, robbed, or murdered an innocent citizen, yet they weren't punished for their crimes because of their badge and it culminated in them preying on a child.

Republicans believed that democrats ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor without an ounce of evidence, yet they refuse to believe that pedophiles have completely taken over the police profession even with 70,000 documented cases:

Is it any wonder then that Trump could shoot someone on 5th avenue and not lose any of his supporters? Dumber than dirt, all of them.

Anonymous said...

How many prison guards has TDCJ quietly terminated because they were seen torturing inmates by enough witnesses that the atrocities couldn't be covered up?