August 24, 2005
It's the judges

Meant to post on this earlier but didn't get to it: Scott catches us up on the latest installment in the overcrowded Harris County jails story, which points a finger at the local judiciary for its role in the problem.

[T]wo new studies conclude that a major reason for the renewed crowding is a trend among the county's criminal court judges to circumvent or ignore a provision of the Alberti decision and a state law both aimed at reducing jail populations.

In one study, requested by the judges, the Colorado-based Justice Management Institute concluded that there may be a "significant" number of low-risk defendants in the county jail simply because they are unable to post bond.

"To the extent that defendants who pose no risk of nonappearance or danger to public safety remain in pretrial detention because of inability to post bond, the county incurs significant and unnecessary cost for the operation of the jail," the institute reported.

The report also states that Harris County judges "under-utilize" Pretrial Services an agency set up as part of the Alberti decision to gather information for the judges on criminal defendants eligible for free or low-cost bonds. The report also noted that Pretrial Services, operated by the county, is severely underfunded.

State District Judge Caprice Cosper said the study will be on the agenda this week when the judges meet for training and to discuss judicial trends.

"The dialogue we will be having is that this is a world of limited resources," Cosper said. "And we have to make certain that we all understand that, and that we maybe (should) have more communication about how we are utilizing those resources."

As this Chron editorial notes, many judges here are former prosecutors, with a pervasive tuff-on-crime attitude that has led to locking up a lot of people without much consideration of the logic or expense involved. At least they seem to be recognizing the problem now. I'm sure that will be a spirited dialogue they'll be having this week.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 24, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

Perhaps the attitude is pervasive because... I dunno... voters support being tough on crime, and many of them don't have a problem with the associated costs of one of the most basic functions of government (public safety)?

Posted by: kevin whited on August 24, 2005 9:23 AM

If that's the case, then the voters should be perfectly happy to support spending whatever it takes to detain all those prisoners in a manner that meets state standards for hygiene and safety. I look forward to a full and robust debate on the subject of where the money will come from.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 24, 2005 10:31 AM