Criminal Justice

Flickr/Chris Miller CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

For 35 years, Jerry Hartfield sat in a prison awaiting trial — and now he’s finally getting one. Hartfield was convicted in 1977 of murdering a woman in Bay City. He was sentenced to death, even though by today’s standards, his IQ of 67 is considered mentally impaired.

Three years after that conviction, in 1980, it was overturned because of problems with jury selection. The governor of Texas at the time, Mark White, commuted the sentence to life in prison. The problem? The underlying conviction has been invalidated, so there wasn’t even a conviction to commute. Hartfield waited for years in prison for a trial that never came.

Flickr/thomashawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

The highly publicized shootings of Michael BrownSam Dubose and several other African-American men has shined a spotlight on how the criminal justice system interacts with men of color. But with Sandra Bland’s recent death in the Waller County Jail, some are now asking how that same justice system treats women of color.

On the cover of the largest African-American-owned paper in the City of Houston — The Houston Forward Times — the headline reads, “The New ‘Jane’ Crow: Black Women Are The Target For Mass Incarceration.” Jeffrey Boney is the author of that article, and he lays out some pretty staggering statistics on African-American women being involved with the criminal justice system:

  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison.
  • African-American women are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than White women.

Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

From Texas Standard:

Sandra Bland’s case has made international headlines. But as the Houston Chronicle reported this week, Bland’s suicide is hardly a one-off incident in Texas county jails. Since 2009, 140 inmates in Texas jails have died by suicide; that’s when the state started tracking those numbers. Journalist Sinjin Smith has been following the issue for some time. His most recent article on this issue focuses on the methods and ways that inmates complete suicide in jail. He investigated the case of Danarian Hawkins, who was found last year hanging from a noose he’d made from a bed sheet tied to his cell’s sprinkler system.

Sarah Montgomery for KUT

John Legend is well-known for his music. He’s won Grammys and, most recently, he and Chicago rapper Common won an Academy Award for the original song “Glory” from the film Selma. During his acceptance speech, Legend used the podium to draw attention to the high incarceration rate in the U.S.

Yesterday, he came to the Texas Capitol to continue that advocacy and kick off a national campaign called Free America, which aims to drop the country’s incarceration rate.

In Augusta, Ga., a judge sentenced Tom Barrett to 12 months after he stole a can of beer worth less than $2.

In Ionia, Mich., 19-year-old Kyle Dewitt caught a fish out of season; then a judge sentenced him to three days in jail.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Stephen Papa, a homeless Iraq War veteran, spent 22 days in jail, not for what he calls his "embarrassing behavior" after he got drunk with friends and climbed into an abandoned building, but because he had only $25 the day he went to court.

Mental Health Support for Texas Inmates on Lawmakers' Agenda

Apr 22, 2014
Liang Shi, KUT News

Texas lawmakers are looking into whether more should be done to provide mental health services for inmates at state prisons.

Prison officials say inmates already have access to medication and individual or group counseling for mental illness. Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston says the legislature has provided enough mental health funding in recent years for prisoners and parolees. And, he says, it shows.

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the Dr.

Caleb Bryant Miller for Texas Tribune

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov.Rick Perry signed a bill that requires adetailed review of the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons.

Four months after the measure became law, though, the committee charged with hiring an independent party to study solitary confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice hasn’t met and has no intention to.

Justin Carter, the 19-year-old who was arrested and jailed in February after making a Facebook comment about a school shooting, is out of jail. An anonymous donor posted the $500,000 bond to allow Carter to go home. Carter plans to stay near New Braunfels, Texas, to await his trial on a felony terroristic threat charge.

Liang Shi for KUT

Texas lawmakers have approved new mandatory sentencing for minors convicted of capital murder.

It would require a life sentence with the opportunity for parole for 17-year-olds convicted of the crime, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life without parole for minors last year.

"A former justice of the peace has been charged with murder in the slayings of a North Texas district attorney and his assistant who prosecuted him for theft, officials announced Thursday," The Associated Press reports. Eric Williams is also charged with the murder of the district attorney's wife.

"The wife of a former justice of the peace is being held on a capital murder charge in the killings of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife and a top prosecutor," The Dallas Morning News reports.

Sarah Lim

You might be familiar with the case of Michael Morton. He's the Georgetown, Texas man who spent more than 20 years in prison for killing his wife. But he didn't do it. And it was DNA testing that eventually freed him.

flickr.com/home_of_chaos

Texas lawmakers say criminals are leaving more than fingerprints behind at crime scenes.

Today, representatives discussed a bill that would allow police across the state to take swabs of DNA from arrestees accused of a Class B misdemeanor or above. That genetic information would then be archived in a database and the swab would be destroyed.

courtesy Chris Goldberg at flickr.com/chrisgold/

The nonpartisan Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says the state should stop locking up so many drug offenders and invest more in substance abuse treatment.

A report the advocacy group released today says arrests for drug possession have skyrocketed and far outnumber arrests for drug delivery or distribution.

Executive Director Ana Yanez-Correa says the root of the problem is addiction, and she says addiction isn’t taken care of behind bars.

American Judicature Society

The Austin Police Department has announced some changes to its suspect lineup procedures.

APD investigators must now present photographs and live lineups sequentially to all adult victims and witnesses. This means investigators are now required to present each photograph or individual one at a time to a witness during a lineup – not all at once.

“We are not interested in wrongfully accusing or convicting somebody that is innocent,” Chief Art Acevedo said today at a press conference announcing the change. “It is not the fabric of this department. We’d rather go with zero arrests than arrest the wrong person.”

Nick Cowie for Texas Tribune

A new report argues that state jails aren't meeting their goal of helping to reduce crime by intensively treating short-term, nonviolent inmates, and it recommends that judges no longer be able to sentence felons to state jails without a rehabilitation plan.

The report, published Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, says that those convicted of nonviolent felonies and normally sentenced to months in a state-operated jail should instead be released with community supervision. That can include treatment programs, community service, strictly enforced probation conditions and the threat of incarceration if certain conditions are violated. The report's suggestions were based on recent data concerning the number of felons who commit crimes after being released from state jails.

Update at 9 a.m. ET, Nov. 14: "It's A Learning Lesson ... I'll Move Forward."

Shena Hardin, the Cleveland woman ordered to stand on a street corner with a sign saying she was in idiot for driving on a sidewalk to get past a stopped school bus, finished that two-day punishment this morning and issued a statement saying she's learned a lesson.

As Cleveland's 19ActionNews reports, Hardin:

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

The State of Texas executed Cleve Foster last night. He was put to death for the sexual assault and shooting death of Nyaneur Pal (“Pah”) in Fort Worth in 2002.

His attorneys say he was innocent and didn’t have proper legal defense early on. Foster’s co-defendant, Shelton Ward, died of cancer on death row in 2010.

The Austin Chronicle writes Foster was charged under Texas’ “law of parties,” which stipulates those involved in the commission of a murder can be charged with the crime, even if they didn’t directly participate in the act of murder. Foster claimed he was incapacitated at the time of Pal’s death:

In several statements Ward repeatedly claimed that he alone murdered Pal, but prosecutors have said Ward's statements are inconsistent with the evidence. DNA evidence showed both men had sex with her before her death, but Foster insists he was passed out from sleeping pills and wasn't involved in Pal's killing.

flickr.com/hmk

Fewer Texas ex-convicts are returning to prison, according to a report released today by the National Reentry Resource Center.

The report tracked individuals released from prison between 2005 and 2007 until 2010, to see whether they returned to prison. It found that the three-year recidivism rate went down 11 percent in Texas.

Other states with significant drops in their recidivism rates were Ohio, Kansas and Michigan.

The report credits the lowered recidivism rates in many states to increased funding for programs that ease the transition from prison to society, including the 2008 Second Chance Act. The act provides federal grants to state and local governments and community organizations to provide services that ease the transition from prison to society. Funds can be used to provide employment services, substance abuse treatment, housing assistance and mentoring to prisoners and ex-cons.

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