“We spend a tremendous amount of money on our jails, and it’s not because we are keeping violent criminals in jail, it’s because for years we have been inefficient in the way we process these individuals,” says El Paso county commissioner Vince Perez. Nearly 3/4 of the 1600 inmates in the El Paso County jail are awaiting their first appearance in court, which can take up to 45 days! Imagine how much money that wastes while wrecking families and the livelihoods of those being held pretrial. Perez says that El Paso wants to change that. In this excellent story in the El Paso Times, it becomes obvious that the bail bondsmen are the only ones who find this new plan controversial.
Posts Tagged ‘ pretrial detention ’
Would you like to be a Story Gatherer for Texas Jail Project? We’re inviting you to help us collect stories in your community—or contribute your own story about a county jail in Texas. And this week we are connecting our Jailhouse Stories to Nation Inside, a national website!
Nation Inside is an online platform that supports people all over the United States who are working to challenge mass incarceration. On our front page, click on the video Jailhouse Stories Invitation in which Maria Anna describes her son’s long pretrial incarceration in the Comal County Jail and why it’s important to tell his story. You can also still email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us your story or ask questions.
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.
Finally! Houston Chronicle reporter James Pinkerton brings attention to an often overlooked subject that is so important to prisoners and their families: visitation at the Baker Street jail. Texas Jail Project has long wanted to shine a light on what one older father called 19th century conditions when he came to visit his son week after week, and couldn’t hear anything he said.
This excerpt is from our interview (see Inmate Stories) of an observant woman held 13 months there: “At Harris County Jail, the visitation rooms do not provide telephones; they have plexiglass windows with holes in them through which inmates and visitors have to shout at one another to be heard. It is extremely stressful to receive a visitor because it is so difficult to hear anything over all the shouting that is going on [around you]. I finally worked out a system with my uncles, who came to see me regularly, to bring paper and pen and we communicated by writing messages to one another, instead of trying to yell through the plexiglass…. Thus, even visitation was an unpleasant and stressful event ….” Despite her loneliness and despair during her long pretrial detention, when she saw how hard visitation was on family members, she told them to stop coming.
“”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.
Prosecutors often describe the cases they work on as being divided 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.