Wednesday, December 19, 2018

#FirstStep Act an early Xmas present for reformers; prison, jail guards' on-the-job lies; reformer DA politics, and other stories

A browser-tab clearing roundup of items Grits has been following this week that merit readers' attention:

First Step Act an early Christmas present for #cjreformers
Here's a couple of good analyses of how it passed and a summary of what's in the bill. Critics say the reforms are modest and we're at the "ten yard line." True enough. But as with a football team, winning drives in politics require stringing together small, sequential victories. Gain four yards per play and you move the ball down the field. But one big setback or turnover can spoil it! Get ten yards, you get a new set of downs, and you get the chance to do it again. That's how the First Step Act should be viewed, as its name implies. Perhaps more important, even, than what's in it, is the vote template created in Congress for passing future reform bills. Replicate it, or some close iteration, and maybe more good stuff can pass.

TDCJ guard convicted for fabricating evidence vs. inmates
Though he will face no jail time, a prison guard was convicted thanks to Keri Blakinger's reports about staff setting inmates up with fake disciplinary cases. Between that outcome and toothless Texas prisoners getting 3-D printed teeth because of her reporting, plus a dozen or more other major scoops over the course of the year, she's having quite a run.

Video: Dallas jail guards faked log entries for period while prisoner died
Guards at the Dallas jail faked logs to show that they'd complied with state requirements to check on a troubled inmate face to face once every thirty minutes, and he died during the period they were doing something else instead of making their rounds. The guards are under investigation. No one has been fired or prosecuted so far.

Police reform in Big D?
The killing of Botham Jean by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger has reinvigorated the push for police oversight in Big D. The Texas Observer covered recent developments, and provided a link to this excellent reform plan being promoted by advocates.

Give departing DA credit for prosecuting police shootings
The Dallas News has a story out which strikes Grits as odd, voicing complaints that Dallas DA Faith Johnson has not yet prosecuted two high-profile police-brutality cases. But John Creuzot takes office in January and he can do it. To me, the real story, as Johnson boasted on the campaign trail, is that the Republican DA and Greg-Abbott appointee has prosecuted more police officers during her tenure not just than any Democrat DA in the state, including Texas' so-called "progressive" DAs, but more than any other prosecutor in the nation. As she told the audience in a candidate forum co-sponsored by Just Liberty:

Indeed, Faith Johnson has prosecuted more cops for shooting people in two years than former DA Craig Watkins, who criticized her in the Dallas News story, prosecuted in 8. For my money, she should get credit for that on the way out the door. If there are extant cases, that's Judge Creuzot's job to make those decisions. And I hope he will continue to be at least as aggressive on police-misconduct cases as she was.

Exonerees hopeful for conviction-integrity unit changes
A more justified criticism of Faith Johnson is that her Conviction Integrity Unit was disempowered within the office and the appellate division had too much say, meaning few innocence cases garnered the office's support. This is a common structural flaw; CIUs should report directly to the elected District Attorney. Exonerees are hoping that will change under John Creuzot. Me too.

Rockwall commissioners misplace blame on jail costs
The Rockwall County Commissioners Court recently held the Sheriff's feet to the fire for overspending on overtime to staff a too-full jail. But when the jail is full, it's not the Sheriff's fault, it's the DA's and judges. The commissioners court's ire was misplaced. As of 12/1/18, a whopping 84% of the Rockwall jail population were pretrial defendants who've not yet been convicted but simply couldn't make bail. That's way too high, Make your local officials enact bail reform, watch the jail population go down, and the Sheriff won't have to spend so much on overtime. You're welcome.

Interviewing Krasner
I've been going on for a while about the "Krasner memo" from Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner and how the first-of-its-kind document paved the way for holding prosecutors accountable for mass incarceration in ways which were not possible before. National advocacy groups followed up with a report building on that work, which we discussed in the Top Story segment of the latest Reasonably Suspicious podcast. So I was interested to hear this podcast interview with the Philly DA discussing his early days as a reformer. I know I'm not the only one watching what's going on there closely.

From the academy
Finally, here are a few academic items I wanted to flag for future reference: