Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘texas

The Ex-Warden’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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Houston’s KHOU-TV had this interview the other day with Richard Watkins, ex-warden in the Texas prison system. The interview isn’t particularly hard-hitting — OK, it is local news, what did I expect — but did yield a few intriguing quotes:

On the need for prison rehabilitation programs: “We need treatment for these offenders as opposed to lock them up.”

Proposing bonus pay for wardens: “If you release a better person than you received, in terms of drug and alcohol addiction, education, job training, we’ll pay you more, Mr. Warden.”

On the costs of incarcerating low-level drug offenders: “It’s a radical statement to hear this from an ex-warden. We’re going to have [to] work a system to legalize drugs.”

The brief video is worth watching for a few glimpses inside a Texas prison, and for commentary by a Texas state senator on the Lone Star State’s expansion of prison rehabilitation programs in recent years. But it’s pretty standard 10 o’clock news fare, so I’m hoping a more intrepid news source will follow up with ex-Warden Watkins. I’d be curious to hear more about his innovative ideas for prison treatment programs, incentive pay for wardens, and drug legalization! In the meantime, to stay on top of Texas criminal justice issues you can’t do much better than reading the Grits for Breakfast blog.

Written by sara

February 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Dan Rather on Private Prisons

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Though I doubt anyone will catch this post in time, I just noticed that tonight’s episode of “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet focuses on the private prison industry. The episode will re-air at 8 PM PST/11 PM EST, and then be available for purchase via the website or iTunes. Not having seen the show, I can’t vouch for its quality, of course, but thought I’d let readers know about it. From the HDNet press release:

The focus of Rather’s investigation is the case of a 32-year-old illegal immigrant named Jesus Galindo, who died in December 2008 of an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas. Reeves is a low-security facility run by the private prison giant The GEO Group. Galindo was a federal inmate whose death sparked a series of riots with prisoners demanding better medical care. The case and riots drew the interest of human rights advocates. Was the death of Jesus Galindo due to a lack of medical attention? Why had inmates at a detention center receiving millions of federal dollars every year complained of medical neglect?  And will the full story of what’s happening at this prison, and others like it, ever be known?

The answer, according to David Shapiro, an attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, is no, unless federal law is changed. He says that’s because private prisons are immune from one of the most powerful tools for the American public to learn what is being done in its name. “They’re not subject to the Freedom of Information Act like other federal prisons,” Shapiro said. “And the Freedom of Information Act is an information lifeline that lets us know what’s going on behind the prison walls.”

20 Years Defending Death Row Inmates in Texas

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Over the past 20 years, Texas lawyer David Dow has represented some 100 death row inmates against the state that carries out the highest volume of executions. On NPR’s Fresh Air earlier this week, Terry Gross interviewed Dow about his work and his new memoir, The Autobiography of an Execution (Twelve, 2010). Here’s just one interesting excerpt from an effective interview:

Terry Gross: Now, you’ve spent your 20 years working on death row in Texas, which is famous, for among other things, for having a lot of executions. So what’s unique about working with death row clients in Texas?

Prof. Dow: I have a few cases that I work on in other states and one of the facts that always strikes me when I go to those other states is how different death penalty lawyers are in other states. Even other states that have substantial death row populations, like Florida. Death penalty lawyers in other states are not constantly representing clients who are on the verge of execution. In other states it’s a busy year in the execution chamber if you have five or six executions. In Texas, we might have five or six executions in a month or two.

[Quick housekeeping note for this blog: I’ll probably not be blogging much about death penalty issues in general, on the theory that there’s only so much one blog can or should try to cover, but I thought this interview was worth mentioning.]

Written by sara

February 9, 2010 at 7:05 am

Texas Federal Judge Questions Illegal Re-entry Prosecutions

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I often talk to friends, family members, even law school classmates who don’t realize that “illegal re-entry” is one of the most commonly prosecuted federal crimes. It’s an easy enough crime to prosecute — you basically just have to prove the defendant (1) exists (2) in the United States (3) and has been previously deported — but it’s costly on the back end: Offenders stay in federal prison at taxpayer expense for months or even years, at the end of which they’re just going to get deported again.

So, you might ask, why not just deport them in the first place? Good question. A fed-up federal judge in Austin wants to know, too:

In an order filed Friday, a federal judge in Austin questioned U.S. prosecutors for seeking criminal convictions in court against some illegal immigrants, writing that the practice “presents a cost to the American taxpayer … that is neither meritorious nor reasonable.”

The order by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks comes as his docket, like others in Texas, is swollen with defendants charged with immigration crimes.

Most of those prosecuted in Austin have been identified by immigration officers at the Travis County Jail and charged with illegal entry after deportation.

Many of those defendants have no significant criminal history and until a change in enforcement strategy about two years ago would have been deported and not prosecuted.

Sparks entered the order in the cases against three Mexican citizens who have previously been deported and who returned to the United States without permission.

Last fall each was found in the Travis County Jail and charged with illegal re-entry.

The men all pleaded guilty and were sentenced Thursday by Sparks to the time they had already served and are being deported.

On Friday, Sparks wrote in the order that “like many of the defendants prosecuted under the (federal illegal re-entry law) in the last six months” the men “have no significant criminal history.”

Sparks wrote that it has cost more than $13,350 to jail the three men and noted that charging them criminally means additional costs and work for prosecutors, defense lawyers, court personnel and others.

“The expenses of prosecuting illegal entry and re-entry cases (rather than deportation) on aliens without any significant criminal history is simply mind-boggling,” Sparks wrote.

He said the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case could not state “a reason that these three defendants were prosecuted rather than simply removing them from the United States.”

Written by sara

February 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm

FYI: Don’t Send Jenna Bush’s Book to Any Friends You May Have in a Texas Prison

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A criminal justice policy analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation says that poor literacy is one of the most common obstacles that Texas inmates face in trying to reintegrate into society upon their release. Yet, it can be hard for inmates who want to practice their literacy skills to get their hands on their choice of reading material. According to an Austin American-Statesman investigation, here are just a few of the books that have been banned from Texas prisons in recent years:

  • Anna’s Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush (daughter of George W.)
  • The Narrative of Sojourner Truth
  • Krik, Krak by Edwidge Danticat
  • Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
  • Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
  • Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

In case you were wondering, here’s the deliberative procedure by which the list of banned books is decided:

When a book arrives at a Texas prison mailroom, an employee first checks the database to see if the book is already prohibited. If not, said [Texas prison system mail specialist Terry] Shelby, “he’ll flip it over and read the back.” If that provides insufficient information to make a decision, “they scan through it looking for key words” or pictures that would disqualify the publication.

“You can pretty much tell by reading the first few pages,” she said. “We rely on them to use their judgment.”

Written by sara

February 1, 2010 at 6:40 am

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