Monday, July 30, 2018

Taking cops off point on mental-health cases, commissary questions, a $7 million-plus AC bill, and more

Let's clear some browser tabs with a roundup of items which merit Grits readers' attention even if I don't have time to construct a full blog post around each of them:

Blood will tell you more
Following Pam Colloff's masterful two-part story on faulty blood-spatter evidence, ProPublica has launched a special newsletter in which she's following up on the articles and providing more context. You can sign up hereTeaser: In the upcoming, August episode of the Reasonably Suspicious podcast, we'll air an interview with Colloff about her story and the state of forensic science in Texas and beyond. Look for that in about three weeks. (You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, GooglePlay or SoundCloud so you don't miss it, and until then check out the July episode.)

Cornyn praises promising pilot on mental-health diversion
Grits is excited about the pilot program at Dallas PD praised by US Sen. John Cornyn in this Dallas News article. They're sending out interdisciplinary teams led by mental health workers to respond to 911 calls related to mental health crises, with cops participating as backup and support as opposed to shot callers. Not only are there better outcomes for mentally ill folks, it saved money and resources: Under the program, "of the 709 mental health emergency calls fielded since January, just 3 percent ended in arrest." In fact, "In the first three months of the program, the clinician's diversion of calls saved the police force about two weeks of salaried work."

Police are asked to handle too many social problems and mental health is one of the biggest. For the most part, the issue needs to be taken out of the hands of law enforcement and jailers and re-center the response around healthcare needs and social services, instead.

Commissary Questions
Earlier this year, the Prison Policy Institute (shoutout to their new employee, Texan Jorge Renaud) published a report titled, "The Company Store" about prison commissary economics. Now, they have some specific, commissary-related questions for the Texas prison system, including why Citibank would receive more than $6 million in commissary funds in a year and pertaining to the wisdom of collaborating with certain vendors using dubious financing methods that arguably short-change inmates. Legislators on committees overseeing the prison system may want to dig into this.

A $7 million AC bill and climbing
After spending $7 million on legal fees fighting against providing air conditioning to at-risk prison inmates during the summer, TDCJ is now beginning to do so, reported the Texas Tribune. This raises the questions: How much will TDCJ ask the Lege for air conditioning? How much will the Legislature give them? And will that be enough, or will more litigation ensue? Tune into the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019 to find out!

Marijuana not only issue where TX political parties agree
We've seen media coverage of the fact that both Texas political parties included some form of marijuana reform in their state party platforms last month, with pundits opining that the development makes passage of reform legislation more likely. But nobody in the MSM has discussed other points of agreement in the platforms on either criminal justice or other issues facing the state. On all those issues, the same analysis applies: Bills where both party platforms agree arguably begin the process with a leg up. It doesn't guarantee they'll pass, but it's a potent expression of an issue's potential.

Framing of inmates spurs renewed calls for TDCJ overight
Recent indictments of TDCJ staff who set up inmates in a fake discipline scam have renewed calls for independent oversight at Texas' prison agency, reported the Texas Tribune. Whatever form oversight takes, it's inarguable that having all your watchdogs report to the same board - as TDCJ does - gives an appearance of conflict and almost certainly creates actual ones. The system isn't adequately policing itself.

Four years waiting on trial from no-knock raid shooting
A Killeen man, who thought he was responding to a burglary, shot and killed a police officer when they executed a no-knock raid on his home four years ago and is still awaiting trial, with no denouement in sight. His attorneys have been ready for trial for some time, but the state has yet to press forward, leaving him sitting in jail while he waits. RawStory has a report.

DWI drylabbing allegations
A DPS lab analyst in El Paso, who in the past was caught allegedly falsifying drug weights, cutting and pasting data from other samples, has again been accused of dry labbing, this time failing to conduct tests on 22 DWI samples and cutting and pasting results from other cases. DPS said the error was unintentional, but its quality control reviewer saw the problem and didn't catch it. When samples were retested, the analyst combined good data with bad. She and the technical reviewer who approved her work are no longer with the agency.

Documenting the 'trial penalty'
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has a new report out on the extent of the "trial penalty" in federal court when defendants refuse to accept a plea deal. In related news, the Washington Post has an item on a juror speaking out against harsh, mandatory federal sentences, and conservative columnist George Will authored a piece on the topic.

A new book addresses "Criminal Courts and Social Control in the Age of Broken Windows Policing." Check out a review.


Anonymous said...

re:DWI drylabbing allegations

How does one not intentionally drylab results?

"...Mills said no policies were in place in 2014 to account for instrument malfunctions. But since then, he said, policies have been established and he asked the commission for recommendations on other procedures to use..."

Policies HAD to be in place for the lab to get accreditation. If there were no policies, then the accreditation auditors should be faulted and fired. This is the Lab Director's fault. He controls the policies and protocols. He should be accountable. It's unfathomable that policies did not exist, yet DPS gave them accreditation.

When will we learn that the incompetent are in charge of the hen house.

Anonymous said...

faulty blood-spatter evidence

Evidence is faulty.