Criminal Justice

Texas: Where the Left/Right Alliance for Criminal Justice Reform Lives On

The prospects for reform in the Lone Star State


Remember the left/right alliance for criminal justice reform? Some of us have been sounding pretty bleak lately when assessing its current prospects on the federal level. But the movement may still have some life left in the states. Scott Henson, the head of the Innocence Project of Texas and the author of the invaluable blog Grits for Breakfast, has an optimistic article in the Texas Observer about incremental reform in the Lone Star State.

Henson thinks the jailhouse death of Sandra Bland will reopen a push "to ban most arrests for non-jailable Class C misdemeanors"—and that this push will come from Tea Party conservatives. He also thinks Texas is on the verge of new efforts to reform bail, roll back asset forfeiture, make police agencies more transparent, and reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of pot, among other changes. Here's how he sums up the situation:

Caption contest!

Long considered perhaps the toughest of tough-on-crime states, Texas finds itself in 2016 in a remarkable position: An increasingly strong bipartisan coalition is pushing for reforms to the criminal justice system. On the agenda are changes that would have been unthinkable back when Democratic Governor Ann Richards led the charge to triple the size of the state's prison system, touting prisons as rural economic development.

Though Texas still has the most prisoners of any state, in recent years it has reduced its incarceration rate and closed three prisons—the first time that's happened, ever. Meanwhile, the Legislature enacted significant reforms to prevent, discover and redress wrongful convictions, and the state has become a national leader on forensic-science reform.

During the most recent legislative session, legislators decriminalized truancy for juveniles, ended the pick-a-pal system for selecting grand juries and adjusted property theft thresholds for inflation for the first time in more than two decades—a change that is likely to push incarceration rates down significantly within five years.

To be sure, Texas has a long way to go. Indeed, to some extent the state was able to enact big reforms because we began with a system so deeply slanted in the other direction….But increasingly, a chorus of voices from both the left and the right are calling for change. Tea party Republicans have recognized prisons and jails as Big Government's epitome and police as its liberty-violating agents. At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement's national arrival has energized Democratic constituencies opposed to mass incarceration.

Today's criminal justice politics pits those left-right factions against the shrinking moderate Republican middle.

I hope he's right! To read the rest of his article, go here.

NEXT: Coming Out of the Drug War Haze?

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  1. Ah Texas Justice, the forgotten prequel to Brokeback Mountain.

      1. Look at dude in yellow’s face. You can’t tell me he’s not about to ‘max. And he doesn’t even have the courtesy to give Redshirt there a reacharound. I’d always heard Texans were polite, but i guess not.

        1. I say he is simply apprehending a Canadian. Who let a Mountie into Texas anyway?!

          1. Mounties have international jurisdiction, they go where they want.

            1. Only Dudley Do-Right can do that.

              1. Snidely Whiplash is an international terrorist.

                1. You’re telling me.

            2. What’s this about mounting ?

              1. Well, we weren’t talking about your mom, but now is as good a time as any to start…

                1. “When the ceremony was finished, the Archbishop came up to give his compliments to me, and to the Viceroy, and to the Viceroy’s wife, whom he praised for her chastity and her beauty.

                  “To which I said as follows: that this was certainly the most wretched piece of brown-nosing I had ever heard, for whenever I laid eyes on the Viceroy’s wife I could not decide whether to give her the vigorous butt-fucking she so obviously craved, or to climb on her back and ride her around the z?calo firing pistols in the air.

                  “The Viceroy clapped me in irons and put me in a bad place for a long time, where I probably should have died.

        2. Is that the Warty grapple I’ve been hearing so much about?

        3. And he doesn’t even have the courtesy to give Redshirt there a reacharound. I’d always heard Texans were polite, but i guess not.

          Not when it comes to gay butt sex. Gunnery Sgt Hartman understood this.

  2. I had no idea Pee Wee Herman could be so strong. (I assume the yellow shirt guy is an antagonist)

    The new Pee Wee’s Big Holiday on Netflix is so god damn stupid in the same way his Big Adventure was, that I need to give this film a solid A-. Well done, Paul Rubens.

    1. I never “got” Pee Wee Herman. It doesn’t seem targeted at kids or adults – at least, I never found him watchable at any age.

      1. There’s nothing to “get”, he’s just an absurd character who ostensibly had a kid’s show but threw in lots of under-the-radar adult humor. If you find him amusing (which I do, I love the first movie, which was directed by Tim Burton), you’ll enjoy it. If not, you probably won’t.

        1. +1 Elizabeth Daily

      2. It doesn’t seem targeted at kids or adults

        It’s targeted at retards of all ages.

  3. It isn’t the “tough on crime” idea that is the problem. We should be tough on crime. The problem is in the definition of “crime”. Murderers, arsonists, robbers, rapists, etc. should be punished. People acting consensually aren’t committing what should be called a “crime”.

    1. I agree with this. Being ‘tough’ on someone that raped and dismembered a small child isn’t a human tragedy. it’s the broad criminalization of everything that’s the problem.

      1. Except being tough on someone that raped and dismembered a small child isn’t on offer. Only being tough on someone prosecutors and cops think they might possibly be able to convince a handful of morons raped and dismembered a small child is available.

        1. Possession with intent to distribute is pretty much morally equivalent to raping and dismembering small children, but maybe we can plea it down to a mere six years in prison.

      2. The “justice” system that wrongly convicts or overcharges all the time, and then gets “tough on crime”, is also the problem.

        1. There are no wrongful convictions, just missapplied laws. Everyone’s guilty of something.

        2. Yes it does, but I’m not sure what percentage “all the time” makes up. No one is suggesting the justice system needs to be in a constant state of improvement and review. The alternative to the “justice system” is called “street justice” which I’m not always against, but if you think “street justice” would be “right” more than the state justice system is right, I think you’re sorely mistaken.

          1. I don’t, but at least one doesn’t pretend to be somehow “legitimate” while producing horrible, illegitimate, and unjust results all the time. The reason we have such a horrible “justice” system in the first place is that people assume it’s legitimate because they’ve been indoctrinated that it is.

            1. “The Justice department wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t justice. Duh doi, it says so right on the label.”

              1. You joke, but people actually believe that prosecutors are selfless paragons of justice who are always trying to do the right thing. Shit like Law & Order perpetuates that as well. If people realized how much prosecutors withhold evidence or overcharge or falsely convict, especially often to pad their own resume, it might cause them to look more askance at this corrupt system.

                1. The L & O thing is actually ironic – because if you’ve been a close watcher (like I was for a while) you’d notice that the DA and prosecutors, played up as fairly virtuous people concerned with ‘justice’, *constantly and openly* twist definitions and push the law past ethical boundaries to get someone to the Defendant’s table.

                  1. Yep!! That’s the only show I’ve ever hatewatched!!

                    To be fair, at least in SVU, the DA, when they got assigned a new DA, usually DID begin as someone who let nothing slide and tried to enforce the rule of law on the cops. They were always portrayed negatively. But eventually the cops wear down the DA until the DA, as you said, constantly and openly breaks and twists the law to get convictions.

            2. Been watching Bosch on HBO.

              One thing it doesn’t do, is glamorize prosecutors. The DA is a real piece of crap.

              It also does a nice job of showing how cops are allowed and expected to get their stories straight, how reflexively they lie, and how the goal is a story that makes the department look good. The cops who insist on telling the truth are pariahs.

            3. The reason we have such a horrible “justice” system in the first place is that people assume it’s legitimate because they’ve been indoctrinated that it is.

              This! It’s practically a staple of modern entertainment to hear someone talk about “not taking the law into your own hands”. It’s usually an extreme circumstance, but it belies the idea that man was made for the law, and no the other way around.

          2. *I’m* flat out stating that the justice system needs to be in a constant state of improvement and review.

            The alternate to the justice system is not just ‘street justice’ its a ‘justice system’ that goes out of its way to deny that it has any problems whatsoever – which leads it to be wrong far more often than ‘street justice’.

            If you can’t admit that you’ve made mistakes or that its possible to incrementally improve your procedures then you just get your organization locked into a spiral towards ever worse performance.

            We can start with the idea that a prosecutor ever loses a case. Prosecutors never lose – they either meet or fail to meet the burden of proof. Both are wins – for justice.

            1. I mistyped. I meant to say, “No one is suggesting it doesn’t”.

              Kind of fucked up my whole point.


  4. “But movement may still have some life left in the states.”

    Paco really has a unique editing style. Me like.

    Reason is making this too easy now.

  5. I had no idea that Robert Mitchum and Norm Macdonald ever worked together.

  6. “Time to find out if the Alamo has a basement”

    1. These masturbation euphemisms are getting pretty abstract.

      1. I thought was a gay sex euphemism.

        1. Isn’t all masturbation gay sex, if you think about it?

          1. Way to other my gender fluidity, Citizen X. Just because I present as a male in public doesn’t mean I present as a male to myself during my special time, you cis-hetero shitlord.

            1. You’re into “the Stranger,” huh?

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