Criminal Justice

Austin Price/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Texas has long had a “tough on crime” reputation, and the numbers back that up.

Texas is seventh in the nation when it comes to its incarceration rate: 891 out of every 100,000 people are in lockup.  And it has long led in number of executions, too. Since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976, Texas has executed more than 550 inmates, including two this week.

Julia Reihs / KUT

Hundreds of community activists from across Texas gathered on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday to call on Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system here.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the Honorable Greg Mathis, former Superior Court judge for Michigan's 36th District and host of Judge Mathis.

Mathis talks about manhood, his election as the youngest judge in Michigan's history and the 19th season of his court-based reality show.

Austin Price/KUT

From Texas Standard.

Arnold Darby, a 69-year-old inmate at Huntsville's Goree Unit, speaks with the Texas Standard about his craft as a bootmaker. While in prison, he has made boots for people all across the state, including politicians and athletes.

Flickr/Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

Some people are convinced that hypnosis is real: they’ve seen it done, they’ve experienced being hypnotized. But is it science? Is it so reliable that we should be able to use it to help make life or death decisions? Two death row inmates have had their sentences delayed as they make the case that they were convicted on the basis of evidence obtained through hypnosis. They say – and other states would agree – that amounts to junk science.

"True Conviction" is coming to Independent Lens on PBS.

From Texas Standard.

Christopher Scott was sentenced to life in prison in 1997 for capital murder. He spent more than a dozen years behind bars before another man confessed to the crime and Scott was declared innocent. With his second chance at freedom, Scott teamed up with two other exonerated Texans to form a Dallas detective agency of sorts to help others who have been wrongfully convicted.

Austin Price for KUT

Incarcerated women in Texas have access to fewer educational and vocational programs compared to incarcerated men, a new study finds.

The study, released Tuesday by the local nonprofit Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, is the second of a two-part study that looks into the increasing numbers of incarcerated women.

Austin Price / KUT

From Texas Standard.

Texas is re-upping a request to “opt in” to a federal law that would speed up the execution appeals process in the state, potentially leading to quicker executions.

Pixabay/Public Domain

From Texas Standard.

In a Tarrant County courtroom in 2014, Terry Lee Morris stood before State District Judge George Gallagher. Morris was on trial for soliciting sex from a minor, a charge he was eventually convicted of. When he wouldn’t respond to Judge Gallagher’s questions, the judge instructed the bailiff to attach stun belts to Morris’ legs. But as Morris failed to answer questions to Judge Gallagher’s satisfaction, the judge instructed the bailiff to send 50,000 volts to him. He did that three times.

Bob Jagendorf/Flickr

From Texas Standard.

A woman who once oversaw the youthful offenders program at a Texas prison in Brazoria alleges that “a culture of cover-up” exists at the state’s Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ. The would-be whistleblower told Lauren McGaughy of the Dallas Morning News that Texas teens who are placed in the program are in danger, because of a cycle of abuse. The concerns detailed by former program supervisor Dominique Mitchell have been ignored and reporting of incidents discouraged, according to Mitchell.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News

From Texas Standard.

Twenty-three percent of the students in Fort Worth ISD are black. But according to a recent report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 62 percent of all girls suspended in the district last school year were African-American. Fort Worth ISD administrators are looking into why this is happening in their district.

Flickr/Roy Luck (CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

Innocent until proven guilty is a core principle of the U.S. legal system. But what happens when you’re no longer considered guilty, but have not yet proven innocent? That’s just one factor in a complicated case in Houston.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

Several Texas state senators on Tuesday expressed support for the closure of at least some of the state’s remaining youth lockups.

The lawmakers' comments, made at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, came as the Texas Juvenile Justice Department is entangled in a sexual abuse scandal that has led to a 10-year prison sentence for one guard and the arrest of three women at the Gainesville State School.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

After almost a year of searching, Annette Price is settling into her new apartment in North Central Austin. She lives alone in the one-bedroom unit with her dog, Candy, but she says she doesn’t feel completely at home.

Her apartment complex is one of the few places in Austin where the 52-year-old could get approved for housing, because about 30 years ago, she was convicted of murder.

Since 1926, Americans have recognized black history annually – first as Negro History Week and later as Black History Month. What you might not know is that black history had barely begun to be studied – or even documented – when the tradition began. Although African-Americans have been in this country since colonial times, it was not until the 20th century that they gained a somewhat respectable presence in history books.

Jon Shapley for KUT

In the year since Texas lawmakers mandated random selection of grand jurors in place of the controversial “key man” system, grand juries in Travis County have become less racially diverse.

Rieseblogger/Pixabay (Public Domain)

From Texas Standard:

President Obama has commuted the sentences of more federal inmates than the last ten presidents combined. Many of those who saw their sentence shortened are from Texas, mostly doing time on drug-related charges. They've all accepted the Obama administration's offer – until now.

At at a low-security prison in Beaumont, one inmate said no.

 


Shutterstock

From Texas Standard:

The use of lethal force by police, against people of color in particular, is deeply troubling the nation. Complicating the search for solutions is a lack of actual data. Nationwide, police haven't been keeping count of these incidents, leaving us with far more questions than answers. In fact, only two states require police to report officer-involved shooting deaths: California and Texas.

But police departments in both states have been violating the law. A new report from Texas State University has discovered hundreds of unreported lethal shootings in both states.

 


Texas.713/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

In a time before reality TV competitions like American Ninja Warrior, more than 30,000 Texans would show up on Sundays in October to watch prisoners put on a death-defying rodeo show that would make professional cowboys think twice.

Underlying the spectacle of the Texas Prison Rodeo, which during its 50 years evolved into an entertainment event complete with superstar guests like John Wayne and Johnny Cash, were many of the civil, political and criminal justice issues that propel our conversations today – explored in depth in the new book, "Convict Cowboys: The Untold Story of the Texas Prison Rodeo."

 


phickmanfresh/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Sheriff Arvin West is the law in Texas’ Hudspeth County. It certainly seems that way to unsuspecting travelers along his county’s stretch of I-10. He’s known for accusing the Mexican army of invading the border, ragging on the federal government on border security policies and busting more than a few entertainers for carrying pot (Willie Nelson, Nelly, Fiona Apple and Snoop Dogg are on the list).

West, now tied to a three-year-long federal investigation, isn’t talking. But a Washington Post report reveals he may be involved in setting up a rogue Navy training based in West Texas.

 


Courtesy Simon & Schuster

From Texas Standard:

Wolf Boys” explores how a couple of Texas teenagers went from playing under the Friday night lights to working as assassins for Los Zetas, one of Mexico's most dangerous drug cartels.

The book reads like fiction, but it's a true story written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Slater.


John Burnett/NPR & Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic depictions of a crime.

The federal government is trying to disrupt the Texas operations of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang. It began in California in the 1960s and spread to Texas in the 1980s. Chapters formed across the country, but the federal government decided that those in Texas were among the most brutal and violent. In 2008, the federal government launched an aggressive six-year operation that landed 75 members of the Aryan Brotherhood in prison.

This highly exclusive, all-white criminal organization rarely talks to outsiders, least of to all members of the press. But NPR’s John Burnett spoke with James “Chance” Jones, a senior major in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT).

 


Pie4all88/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

From Texas Standard:

The Texas Attorney General’s office and the Harris County Attorney’s Office are going after shops selling the synthetic cannabinoid Kush. Instead of prosecuting users, the offices have jointly filed 10 lawsuits against Houston-area novelty stores, where up to 40 percent of sales come from the drug. One novelty store has agreed to a nearly $1.2 million settlement after an undercover sting operation.


Ken Piorkowski/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

For years, Texas has led the nation in the number of executions, but the state's death chamber has been idle since April, and there have been several high-profile stays of execution. 

Could this be a sign of something broader going on when it comes to the death penalty in Texas?

 

 


Texas Department of Public Safety

From Texas Standard:

For a while, we've known that human trafficking is a big problem in Texas. But a new study from D.C. advocacy group called the Polaris Project looked at nearly a decade's worth of data and found that much of human trafficking in Texas operates in illicit bars and cantinas.

My Lo Cook, director of Polaris' efforts in Mexico, says the cases in Houston center around cantinas, which researchers see as common venues for human trafficking in Southern California as well. Houston has more cases than other cities, Cook says, in part because local officials and organizations make the effort to link cases together and prosecute them.

 


Courtesy Texas Tribune

From Texas Standard:

Police shootings from around the country have often topped the news for the past year, but details about how much they happen, and who these shootings affect most, have been sparse. The Texas Tribune spent nearly a year putting together a digital project exploring the number of shootings they could independently confirm have happened between 2010 and 2015.

"Unholstered: When Texas Police Pull the Trigger" looks at officer-involved shootings in 36 of the state’s major Texas cities with over 100,000 residents. The project comes complete with data visualizations and six in-depth articles that dig into the data’s implications.


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

From Texas Standard:

A few weeks ago the U.S. Department of Justice announced they will end federal use of privately run prisons. Now their attention has turned to the country’s use of private immigration detention facilities.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday that he has ordered the homeland security advisory council to review processes and costs related to these facilities.

 


SimonQ/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Concerns are growing over something that's being called the "kill pill" – drugs laced with fentanyl, one of the most powerful prescription painkillers in the world.

Pills laced with fentanyl were linked to Prince's death earlier this year. According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incidents of law-enforcement officers finding drugs containing fentanyl have jumped 426 percent from 2013-2014, the latest figures available.

 


Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

The federal government announced that it's phasing out its use of privately run prisons and now, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is warning that it too could close prisons, lay off 1,200 employees and stop providing certain inmate services – but not because of privatization.

Mike Ward, Austin bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, says, like other states, Texas has fewer inmates now than in recent years.

 


SaveJeffWood.com

From Texas Standard:

Jeff Wood was supposed to die this week.

He was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of a convenience store clerk, even though it's been well established that he never killed anyone. A friend of his killed a Kerrville gas station clerk in a botched robbery and Wood was waiting in a truck outside the store.

He was still held accountable for the crime under the Texas' law of parties. Similar to laws of accomplice liability in other states, Texas law says that anyone who "solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense" is criminally liable as well.

But on Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Wood's execution. The court ordered that his case should be re-tried – not because of any issue with the law of parties, but because of potentially flawed testimony from a psychiatrist nicknamed Dr. Death.

 


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