When Sheriff Kaelin talks about his overcrowded jail, he likes to mention all the growth in Corpus and all the criminals in Corpus. A recent TV report dutifully quotes him without analyzing his “facts,” but lucky for us, Grits for Breakfast does. Blogger Scott Henson lays it out in plain Enlish: “Virtually all of the difference in the Nueces County jail population is accounted for by increased pretrial detention, which …. is a policy decision by judges and prosecutors, not a function of “growth.” And keep in mind this is a period when crime rates dramatically declined.” So this is a jail where 62% of the people are awaiting disposition of their cases—pretrial—and THAT is the big fact behind your overcrowding. You don’t need more room in the jail, Sheriff, you need more smarts in the courtrooms.
Posts Tagged ‘ pretrial detention ’
“”The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, created in 1957 by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, works to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
We believe that those “vulnerable members” include people in Texas county jails. Especially in those counties where we hear from numerous familes begging for help for loved ones: sons abused by other prisoners and guards, pregnant daughters losing weight and needing care, veterans with mental illness locked in solitary, geriatric parents needing medical care. That’s when you call on the DOJ.
The Montgomery County jail has recently made news because of its overcrowding issues, and articles from Grits for Breakfast and Houston Press’ blog have rightly emphasized that a significant part of the problem is due to high rates of pretrial detention. The August 2014 population report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards states that 73.15% of inmates being held in Montgomery County (MoCo) are considered pretrial, meaning that they have yet to be convicted of anything and are presumably innocent until proven guilty. And yet those 812 pretrial inmates in MoCo this month are still being subjected to the difficult reality of being overcrowded in a jail with questionable conditions, often simply because they and their families are not able to afford the high bail amounts issued by the court.
Once the initial charging decision is reached in a case, a prosecutor is concerned with the appropriate resolution. Experience tells us that cases can be broken down into four simple categories:
• good people doing something stupid;
• bad people doing something stupid;
• good people doing something bad; and
• bad people doing something bad.
Do you know that everyday Texans are losing jobs and being disconnected from their families while waiting for their cases to be processed? They are the “innocent until proven guilty” and their numbers are astounding: 60% of the people in your average Texas county jail haven’t yet been convicted of anything, but are kept behind
People + too much alcohol = public intoxication charges. The right formula? Not really.
Consider the results of those arrests: a. Pretrial detention in a jail, where anything can and does happen to a person sobering up.
b. a criminal record for people who are often otherwise law-abiding.
c. officers waste hours booking drunks instead of pursuing serious criminals.
Of all the arrests in a year, about 10% of them are for this Class C misdemeanor, crowding the jail cells. Houston and San Antonio already have sobering centers. This healthier alternative to the Travis County Jail is explored in an editorial from the Austin American-Statesman, March 12, 2014.
The teenager opened her neighbor’s unlocked car, grabbed the iPhone off the armrest and ran home, a few doors away in her downtown neighborhood in New Orleans.
A new report states that Harris County defendents don’t receive jail time based on age, race, or the nature of the charge–it’s based on how much money they have: “What generally determines the defendants’ fate is his or her economic status.”
“If the accused is unable to afford financial bail, he or she will quickly learn, in Harris County, the punishment is weeks or months of pretrial incarceration,” say researchers from the Orange Jumpsuit Report. The hard data behind this important report corroborates what is known in poor communities all over Texas. In most of Texas 247 county jails, people without resources languish in pretrial detention–losing their jobs, their families, and sometimes their physical and mental health. The Texas Observer’s Emily DePrang succinctly summarizes the various complexities.
A wife reports serious neglect: “My husband is in the Harris County jail right now and they lowered the dosage of a psych med for PTSD, if they give it to him at all. He also has a severe calcium deficiency and no one bothers to give him the calcium packets anymore after he was moved
“He lost his apartment and his car. Most of his possessions were in a dump somewhere. His debt was in the thousands. The brother he provided for was sent into transitional housing.
“Anthony Dorton was finally out of jail. But his path to freedom had come with a cost.”
This well-written story from California describes and explains what happens to so many people held in Texas county jails, in lengthy pretrial detention, awaiting hearings or trials or paperwork the county just can’t get around to. Just like this innocent man who was released after ten months, their personal lives are shattered and they often end up with no job, no car, no home–due to the failure of our local courts to serve all the people fairly.
The truth was stated in the tag line for this story and it sums up the bottom line in Texas: “Most inmates are in our jails because they’re poor.”
When are our counties going to step up and find solutions to correct these inequities for impoverished Texans?