Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Oklahoma! (does #cjreform); HPD raid response doesn't address phony informant; why do probationers die at high rates? And other stories

Here are a few browser clearing odds and ends:

One out of 8 Travis County jail bookings in 2018 was for Class C misdemeanors
In Travis County last year, more than 5,000 people were arrested for a Class-C misdemeanor only - about one out of every eight people booked into the county jail. Between the Freedom Cities ordinance restricting Class C arrests, beginning in January, and the elimination in June of the local no-sit-no-lie ordinance aimed at the homeless, those bookings should decline significantly for 2019.

Post-raid HPD reforms don't address faked informant that got 4 officers shot and killed 2 innocent people
After a no-knock drug raid in Houston this spring killed two innocent people and left four officers shot, HPD Chief Art Acevedo has announced he's creating a special division of the narcotics unit to execute search warrants in drug cases. But as I told the Houston Chronicle:
“His reform is not on point to what caused the problem,” said Scott Henson, policy director with the criminal justice reform nonprofit Just Liberty. “It’s not solving the problem that your investigators are relying on fabricated informants — [it] wasn’t a function of who’s doing the raid, but why you’re doing the raid, and the reliance on this informant, who it turns out didn’t exist. That’s what caused everybody to get shot. It just elides the core issue of what really happened.”
Attacking junk blood-spatter evidence
Check out an amicus brief arguing to disallow blood-spatter evidence in the Joe Bryan murder case that was the subject of Pam Colloff's massive NY Times Magazine/Pro Publica feature. In it, Duke law-school faculty and students argue that, based on current standards, the blood-spatter expert in Bryan's case could not today testify to the main points used to convict him.

Not so natural after all
His death in the Victoria County Jail was attributed to "natural causes." It turns out, he was denied his methadone prescription and died from preventable withdrawal symptoms. Read the excellent Victoria Advocate account from Kali Venable. See also the Advocate editorial board's condemnation of using jails and prisons to treat addiction.

"Power concedes nothing without a demand ..."
"... it never has, and it never will," said Frederick Douglass. So Grits doesn't feel too bad that elected officials in Austin consider criminal-justice reformers excessively pushy, as several implied in this Austin Statesman article about a string of successful, capital-city #cjreform campaigns. Nobody was going to do any of those things if reformers said "Pretty please" and then waited politely for a response.

Own it!
Gov. Greg Abbott's intervention into Austin's homelessness crisis means he now owns the issue. If it isn't solved, it's his fault. Not sure that was the wisest political choice, but it's the one he made. MORE: Now the governor "owns" his own homeless encampment, with neither a budget line item nor any apparent exit plan besides providing still hypothetical services to Austin's homeless ad infinitum. That'll teach 'em! 

Why do probationers die at high rates?
Here's a possible, future, Suspicious Mysteries segment for the Reasonably Suspicious podcast: Grits has long been aware of research showing incarceration in prison reduces life expectancy. But a new study shows that being on probation is associated with a much higher morbidity rate than being in prison or jail, much less in the free world. I don't know how to parse these competing claims. One one hand, while prison healthcare isn't great, being in prison makes it easier to treat chronic conditions because the patient is always available and can't easily decline treatment. On the other, prison can make you sick; e.g., people who contract Hep C in prison  may suffer liver failure later, once they're out. Meanwhile, to the extent criminal laws in general target the poor, the developmentally disabled, substance abusers, the mentally ill, minority communities subject to discrimination, etc., it's not surprising probationers would be an especially sick lot. Or maybe the difference is that people in prison aren't at risk of dying from car crashes! Who knows? Grits would like to better understand this nexus of corrections, health, and morbidity rates. I haven't yet wrapped my head around it. When people die in prison or jail, there is an independent investigation; no one investigates when probationers die, so outside of the above-linked study, we don't have very much information at all regarding why that is.

The Probation Trap
Probation as an institution changes its form and purpose depending on the angle from which one looks at it. Viewed one way, it diverts people from prison. Viewed another, it's a net-widening trap. The Philadelphia Inquirer has published an excellent series expounding the latter view. Via SL&P.

As much as it pains me to say so, Oklahoma has now definitely out-paced Texas as the red-state poster child for criminal-justice reform. Also via SL&P:
On the ground, #cjreform is not really a red-state-blue-state issue.

When smelling pot is pretext for a search
In Philadelphia, police officers who said they searched a car because they smelled marijuana were extremely unlikely to find any and disproportionately searched black people. When the data was gathered, public defenders argued that "the odor of marijuana [should] no longer be considered probable cause for officers to believe a crime has occurred and conduct a search."

Breathalyzer tests as junk science
The New York Times took a trip down the rabbit hole of DWI breath-test forensics. Like DNA mixture software, analysts treat breathalyzers as a magical black box they simply assume supplies reliable results. The problems, however, have been long known.

'Five facts about crime in the U.S.'
Read this from the Pew Research Center.


Steven Michael Seys said...

In the 1980s, Henry Wade was using probation as a means of getting high school students into the system so other related cases could be "cleared" by attaching them to a kid who just plead guilty to something he/she didn't do. This process was usually applied to Black and Hispanic boys aged 17 or 18 rounded up in the vicinity of a crime and given the the standard plea bargain pitch, "You can sit in jail for six months and wait for trial where you'll get 20 years or you can plead guilty to this charge and I'll have you on the street in three days." Most of the kids charged this way were sent to prison in less than six months for crimes they didn't commit. Just and observation of the goings on in Dallas County when I was there.

Gunny Thompson said...

Steven Michael Wade @ 11/06/19 04:43:00

From Unfiltered Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Group:

"The Solutions To Our Conditions Are An Inside Job."

while Dallas had its "Henry Wade," Harris County had its John Holmes" and his gang of Fascist, Racist, Klan Sympathizers, many of whom were bred and cultivated under Holmes management, and later after acquiring the necessary time as prosecutors were allowed, in violation of the Hatch Act, to be appointed or elected to judgeship positions that became available from time to time.

As you are probably aware, Harris County was, for an extended period, was known infamously as the "Death Penalty" capital of the Western Industrial World. Holmes was forced to resign. after having been charged with allegedly engaging in a quip for quo plot to have felony charges dismissed against his benefactor, Jon Lindsay.

While, it's reported that Travis County has employed a system "Freedom Cities ordinance" that has restricted some class C misdemeanor from arrest, it does not fully address a arbitrary racist system, it is a start. Major obstacles to fully addressing the problems can be laid at the feet of the law enforcement communities and their unconstitutional unions.

Conversely, in ongoing suits in Harris and Galveston Counties, which address similar matters of overhauling the highly restrictive bail systems, their efforts only touches part of the problems. In Harris County O'Donnell's costly three-year old bail bonding case, at this point, are estimated at $6,852,087.30. My question: What were the overall cost of Travis County's "Freedom Cities ordinance??"

We can do better, at less cost.