Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More issues plague the TDCJ.

Again the TDCJ is in the news, still over the Cell Phone debacle that has brought down several of it's own. The problem still persists says the Tyler Paper in their news story published on Feb. 26th. (see below).

When will the TDCJ learn?

The number of good CO's I am sure greatly out numbers the bad. But the hiring practices of the TDCJ in the last couple of years has made this situation worse than ever.

Over crowding, the rush to incarcerate and keep incarcerated offenders in Texas will only serve too further expand this and many other problems facing the TDCJ and it's personnel. Until the State Of Texas (and many others) realize that the system of Justice is broken, and it can no longer continue to function in it's current model, these and other problems will continue to plague us.

It is a fact that, and a very well known and proven one at that, that the TDCJ can not meet it's minimum staffing levels nor provide the Tax Payers reasonable return of the dollars expended by the Division. At the current rate according to reports I have read in the last few weeks, the cost of keeping a single inmate for 1 day equals that of having the same inmate on Parole or Probation for 17 days in Texas. "Our" elected officials need to go back and take some remedial math classes.

That coupled with having an alarming 1 in 22 adults either in or under TDCJ/BOPP supervision, and crime still rising should tell the story of just how inept and up to the task the system as a whole is. The CO's are as much victims of this system as the inmates, their resources few, the pay amongst one of the lowest in the country while having the second largest Penal system in the Country, places them at risk not only on the job, but off as stress related illness is sure among many of their complaints.

The voices of those within the system CO's Administration etc have got to reach Austin, they know best just how bad the system is. In the mean time, they are working with one hand tied behind their backs and now having to keep an eye on their own not just the inmates.

Until the TDCJ, can first house all it's inmates within it's own units, with the current level of staffing, reduce all of the safety concerns of over crowding and bring the budget to a reasonable and responsible number, we will not see any changes. Building more prisons is not the answer, they can not properly staff what they have and neither can the centers providing rented space. The answers are right in front of them, data from countless sources point to Community programs, education and prevention, rehabilitation and a strong and reliable Parole and Probation system.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Judge Keller isn't as blind as Lady Justice should be!

The following article appeared on chron.com, a Local Houston Chronicle news paper and further story details are on Grits For Breakfast.......

It spells out just another of the many ills facing The Lone Star State's legal system. While we try to focus on issues that directly affect the impact of inmates of the TDCJ, there is definitely a direct connection to the Courts.

I am appalled at Judge Keller's actions, and further more the actions of all 9 Judges who participated in the Vote described in this story. Has Judge Keller decided that she can remove the blindfold of Justice in the state of Texas? Or is she serving another political agenda? Do pollsters in her district (s) show a high support for the death penalty?

While duly noted in the Article, it is normal for informal discussions between the Judges to take place, should an informal Vote be sought without the presence of the defense's argument? What if that argument is valid, and merits the appeal be granted? Did the informal vote prejudice the Court before hand? You decide, but in either case, her removal from the Bench should be, and must be done swiftly.

We will never know the truth here I'm afraid, Mr. Richards was executed that night without his Attorney's being allowed to file the motion.

The Story:

Vince Leibowitz, a reporter for a blog called Capitol Annex, reported this week that several judges on the state’s highest court for criminal matters want their chief judge, Sharon Keller, to resign.

Keller has been charged by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with violations of the judicial conduct code in connection with her alleged refusal to keep the court clerk’s office open for a last-minute appeal for a death row inmate, or to inform the judge assigned to take last-minute appeals that the inmate’s lawyers were attempting to file one.

Now Keller must face the equivalent of a public trial and could lose her office.

Leibowitz quotes his source as saying the judges, at least some of whom would have to testify, feared more media scrutiny could hurt their re-election chances.

Their concern is justified. A good portion of the public might be alarmed to know, for example, that the judges acted a bit like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.

“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

Life rarely imitates art exactly. As usual, it was a little more complicated.

Convicted murderer Michael Wayne Richard was set to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Sept. 25, 2007. That morning the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case called Baze v. Rees challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

According to the formal charges by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Judge Cathy Cochran at 11:29 a.m. e-mailed to Keller and her other colleagues an Internet link to the Kentucky Supreme Court decision that was being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The document then says that in “early afternoon” the court’s general counsel, Edward Marty, “began drafting a proposed order for the court in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal based on Baze. The Honorable Judge Tom Price drafted a dissenting opinion in anticipation of Mr. Richard’s appeal and circulated the dissent to the other judges.”

What the document omits is that the judges first took an informal vote. I have it on good authority that the tally was 5-4 to turn down Richard’s appeal.

They made up their minds without waiting for the arguments of Richard’s lawyers.

David Dow, the University of Houston Law Center lawyer who headed Richard’s defense team, called the procedure “outrageous.”

“It’s the equivalent of them sticking their fingers in their ears,” he said. The judges may well have felt confident they could anticipate the arguments, and they didn’t want to wait until late in the day to begin taking up the matter.

Robin Norris, an El Paso lawyer who was a staff attorney at the Court of Criminal Appeals for 10 years ending in the mid 1990s, said it was common for judges to discuss such matters informally in such situations. He said he never saw an actual informal vote taken before papers were filed, but didn’t think there was anything “improper” about it, so long as a formal process took place when the papers were received. Norris may be right, but it doesn’t promote the wise, deliberative image a court wishes to project.

Footnote: Dow’s team was not able to submit its appeal for Richard, who was executed that night.

Two days later Dow swapped Carlton Turner’s name for Richard in the documents and asked for a stay of execution on the same grounds — the pending Supreme Court decision.

The Court of Appeals denied it on a 5-4 vote. Price dissented, joined by Judges Paul Womack; Charles Holcomb; and Cheryl Johnson, the judge assigned to handle Richard’s appeal.

The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals and ordered the execution stayed.

But the Supreme Court later upheld lethal injection. Turner, like Richard, has been executed.