Criminal Justice

Julia Reihs / KUT

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Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza will be the next Travis County Attorney after her runoff opponent, Laurie Eiserloh, conceded the race on election night.

With early voting totals in, Garza led Eiserloh by a margin of a little over 8,300 votes – 55% to 45% of early votes and mail-in ballots. By 1 a.m. Wednesday, unofficial county results put that lead at more than 16,000 votes. Eiserloh's concession came shortly after 11:30 p.m on Tuesday.

(Left) Julia Reihs | KUT; (Right) Photo courtesy of Laurie Eiserloh

The Travis County attorney does thankless work. That's a bleak descriptor, but it's not wrong.

Both Laurie Eiserloh, a career attorney and longtime staffer at the county attorney's office, and Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza want to take on that thankless work and are competing in the Democratic runoff for the position that has no Republican challenger.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The Texas Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order that limits judges' ability to grant personal bonds to people with a history – or people who are accused of – violent crimes.

Austin Price for KUT

From Texas Standard:

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Wednesday that it's locking down 15 prisons in response to the coronavirus crisis. One correctional officer and one inmate died earlier this week; both had tested positive for COVID-19.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

With courts largely shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, attorney Steve Brand wasn't working at his usual breakneck clip.

Then on Sunday, that peace was disturbed.

It was the governor who disturbed it. Specifically, a statewide order on Gov. Greg Abbott's letterhead.

BBC World Service/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

As of Friday, Dallas County had the most positive COVID-19 cases in the state, at more than 300. At least seven of those cases are in Dallas County Jail.

While those in lockup are confined, they are no less vulnerable to disease outbreaks than others. Indeed, there are unique challenges to protecting inmates from disease compared to the general population, says Keri Blakinger, a reporter who covers criminal justice for the news organization The Marshall Project.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

People accused of nonviolent felonies like possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana, theft and prostitution can now be automatically released on bond – on the condition that they return to court.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Low-level drug possession arrests are ineffective and harmful to people who need community-based help, rather than jail time, a new report concludes.

The Travis County Courthouse
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

People arrested for misdemeanors in Travis County will no longer have to pay cash to be released from jail, under an order released Thursday by county judges.

The Travis County Courthouse in Austin
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Travis County has hired a University of Virginia law professor as the first person to lead its public defender office. Until last year, the county was the largest jurisdiction in the United States without an office to handle cases for poor adults accused of crimes.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Travis County is re-examining its system of fines and fees with the goal of producing a more equitable system to better collect court debt and consider the impact on poor defendants.

Hannah McBride/Texas Standard

From Texas Standard

For decades, jailhouse informants have been presented as credible witnesses at criminal trials. In the movies, you've seen them called “snitches.” They testify about what they say they heard while being held in the same facility, or even the same cell, as the defendant.

Travis County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5 Judge Nick Chu
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas is chasing its tail when it comes to collecting court fees and fines, a new study says. And that inefficiency wastes courts' time and money – and keeps poor defendants in a cycle of poverty.

Marijuana
Katherine Hitt via Flickr

The state's top leaders are reminding prosecutors that marijuana is still illegal in Texas.

The letter from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Attorney General Ken Paxton comes after district attorneys in major cities said they have effectively stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases since House Bill 1325 went into effect on June 10.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Travis County is one step closer to finalizing its formation of a public defender office for low-income defendants charged with certain felonies and misdemeanors. The Travis County Commissioners Court today OK’d the structure of the office’s seven-member oversight board, which will include attorneys, criminal justice advocates and former judges.

Stephanie Tacy/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Texas news outlets often report on death penalty stories, given that the state leads the nation in prisoner executions. But rarely do reports tell the stories of women on death row. Those women are housed in a prison in Gatesville, and as I wait for the guards to bring over inmate Linda Carty, I notice the room is very different from the crammed spaces where I’ve interviewed men on death row. There’s still glass separating us, but this room is spacious and well-lit.

Via Facebook

Longtime Austin publisher and civil rights activist Akwasi Evans has died. He was 71.

"Akwasi had a wonderful spirit. He was a fighter," said Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion, adding that Evans had been dealing with health issues. "He worked really hard to make sure that the East Austin African American community was represented and that it had a significant role in the development of Austin. He was one-of-a-kind and will be sorely missed."

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

A new study shows a high rate of incarceration for fine-only offenses in Texas, particularly in Travis County.

The study from social justice advocacy nonprofit Texas Appleseed found more than 30,000 jail bookings for class C misdemeanors across 11 Texas counties in 2017. Those are offenses that are typically punishable by a citation of up to $500 – without required jail time. 

Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has put a hefty $1 billion price tag on the proposed installation of air conditioning in all of its uncooled prisons. But some lawmakers eyed the cost with skepticism Thursday as the department has a history of greatly overestimating cooling costs.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for KUT

Seven out of 10 driver's license suspensions in Texas are due to drivers' inability to pay fees and surcharges from courts and the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a new study from nonprofits Texas Appleseed and Texas Fair Defense Project.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The effort to create a public defenders office in Travis County isn't dead after all.

At its board meeting this morning, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission OK'd a move to waive a requirement for a letter expressing interest in a $15-million grant to establish a public defender office in Travis County for adult felony and misdemeanor cases – something the county has tried and failed to do for decades.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

About 20 young people sit across from one another in two teams in a community room at CitySquare Opportunity Center in South Dallas. Deontra Wade walks around the room with notecards in hand and asks everyone about themselves, using his best Steve Harvey voice.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Since 2007, Houston Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman – and others – have tried in vain to get just five words into Texas' hate crimes law: "or gender identity or expression."

Mengwen Cao/KUT

From Texas Standard:

The federal prison inmate population is about 183,000. That could be cut by almost a third in the course of one year, if lawmakers on Capitol Hill succeed in passing a new law. Monday, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn acting as majority whip – the number two leader in the Senate – delivered an impassioned speech calling for passage of the First Step Act. It's a first step toward major criminal justice reform.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. /KUT

A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is suing the Texas Department of Public Safety over its automatic driver license-suspension program. The suit alleges the state's Driver Responsibility Program has unconstitutionally suspended 1.4 million Texans' licenses for failure to pay fines.

Bob Jagendorf/Flickr

From Texas Standard:

It's something you don't hear often in the news: President Donald Trump is endorsing a measure that has the support of Democrats and Republicans in Congress. This rare occasion for bipartisanship represents what some consider the biggest overhaul to the nation's criminal justice system in recent memory.

Shaila Dewaun is national criminal justice editor for The New York Times. She says the bill would help people leaving prison with reentry into the outside world, including providing money for education and treatment programs.

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.

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