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Texas Edition
Curated by @carimahwheat

In Justice Today, Texas Edition, is a publication of Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project. We also publish a newsletter of national justice system news every weekday. You can sign up here.

This is a preview of the new weekly Texas edition of the In Justice Today newsletter. If you'd like to receive the Texas newsletter every week, you can sign up here

What you’ll read today about justice in Texas.

  • Spotlight: Something is missing from the conversation about Kameron Prescott, the six-year-old boy killed by police: that children are collateral damage when officers open fire.

  • Spotlight: Will Texas figure out a way to overhaul a broken juvenile justice system?

  • Around the state: Harris County has agreed to pay $185,000 for one woman’s invasive cavity search; it’s problematic for the state prison system to manage public defenders; and more...

In the Spotlight

Kameron Prescott  [Courtesy: GoFundMe]
Collateral Damage

On Dec. 21, an hours-long police chase ended in the fatal shooting of Amanda Lenee Jones, an unarmed woman, and Kameron Prescott, a six-year-old boy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Jones had been on the run, suspected of stealing a car, and eventually broke into a trailer park home where Prescott happened to be. Jones exited the trailer with her hands on a “tubular object” and Bexar County sheriff’s deputies opened fire. Prescott was reportedly standing in the hallway behind her. “Earlier in the day, there were three different deputies on two different occasions that tell us they were not only physically threatened with that gun—they saw it pointed at them—but she verbalized at that point, too, that she was going to harm them with it,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said.  However, a gun hasn’t been found and a report from his office tells a different story now.

  • No gun: New details tell a noticeably modified version of the events. According to the report, which was submitted to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Jones “did not carry, exhibit, or use a deadly weapon.” Instead, deputies worried that an “unknown object” in her hands was a firearm. Right before the shooting, the report says, Jones said she had a gun and pointed the object at the deputies who fired on her. [Emilie Eaton / San Antonio Express-News]

  • Administrative leave: Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood is investigating the shooting. Four deputies  are on administrative leave, but Sheriff Salazar believes they followed department protocol. [Emilie Eaton / San Antonio Express-News] Meanwhile, Salazar has since increased the number of training hours cadets and deputies must complete. [Alex Zielinski / San Antonio Current]

  • Missing context: Prescott’s killing in particular drew national backlash as yet another example of police violence. But what’s missing from the conversation is the fact that children are often collateral damage when police open fire. This was true when police in Baltimore County opened fire on Korryn Gaines and accidentally shot her five-year-old son in the leg. This was true when a volunteer Constable in Pennsylvania killed a 12-year-old, having missed her father. Even if kids aren’t physically hurt, like Philando Castile’s daughter, they have to live with the trauma that comes with watching cops kill their parents. This happens over and over again, because cops aren’t trained to interact with children in this position. [Carimah Townes / ThinkProgress]

Shaking up the juvenile justice system

Last year, the Dallas Morning News pulled back the curtain on sexual abuse committed by guards at the Gainesville State School, a youth detention center in North Texas. The publication also discovered that youth were given drugs in exchange for assaulting their peers. The revelation may have come as a surprise to readers at the time, but juvenile justice advocates say these facilities are rife with these sorts of problems. So, what is the state doing about it?

  • New blood: Both Governor Greg Abbott, who urged the Texas Rangers to investigate sexual abuse in other youth facilities, and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) have made some key staffing changes. By a 12-1 vote, the TJJD board chose Camille Cain to direct the department. But she hasn’t actually worked with young people in the system, which raises some red flags for juvenile justice advocates. Cain is also against raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18. [Jolie McCullough / Texas Tribune] On Monday, Abbott tapped judge and former juvenile probation officer Wes Ritchey to head the TJJD’s 13-member board, ousting Scott Fisher. The latter assumed the role of board chairman in 2011 and was supposed to hold is until February 2019. [Jolie McCullough / Texas Tribune]  On Tuesday, Abbott replaced independent ombudsman Debbie Unruh with an unnamed investigator. Representatives from the Lone Star Justice Alliance and Texas Criminal Justice Coalition called said her ousting marked a “sad day.” [Keri Blakinger / San Antonio Express-News]

  • The problems run deep: Juvenile lockups are understaffed and underfunded, rendering them ill-equipped to rehabilitate the people who walk through their doors. They are also full of violence. Young people endure sexual abuse, physical assault, and harassment from guards and other people their age. They don’t receive consistent counseling or effective group therapy, and they’ve reported “lack of clothing, hygiene items, and toilet paper.” Overall, there is little structure to help them succeed. [Michael Barajas / Texas Observer]

  • Advocates say the facilities need to be shut down altogether: In November, citing “decades of problems related to state secure juvenile facilities,” a coalition of juvenile justice organizations implored the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to close the remaining five lockups. In a joint letter, they described years of sexual assaults, safety concerns, poor staffing, and the inability to meet young people’s needs. “As many of us have noted during numerous legislative committee hearings, in meetings with agency officials, and in the press, the problem is not with the kids, with funding levels, or even with agency or facility leadership,” they wrote. “The problem is with the ongoing use of a model proven to be inconsistent with the system’s purpose of rehabilitating young people and putting them back on the path to productive citizenship.” [Texas Appleseed]  See also: Why Texas should close its last five juvenile lockup sites. [Nila Bala / My Statesman]

Stories From Around the State

District Attorney Nico LaHood’s cite and release program is in effect—sort of: As of February 1, 46 law enforcement agencies can cite and release people arrested for possession of small amounts of pot and other low-level misdemeanors, such as driving without a valid license. In lieu of an arrest, anyone cited can complete eight hours of community service, participate in a course that’s “relevant to the charge,” shell out a $250 fee, and pay restitution. But multiple agencies haven’t actually been told about the new option or offered guidelines. [Kelsey Bradshaw / San Antonio Express-News]

Harris County settles lawsuit with woman in roadside cavity search: 24-year-old Charneshia Corley will receive a $185,000 settlement for an 11-minute cavity search by Harris County sheriff deputies in 2015, which was filmed on a dashboard camera and drew national backlash. The invasive search was made in the middle of a parking lot where anyone could have watched the scene unfold. Charges were filed against the deputies involved, but the cases never made it past a grand jury. “Certainly, the county is not admitting any liability by paying that amount,” Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said of the settlement. “But it seemed to be a reasonable thing to do based on what we knew at the time and what we still know.” [Jay R. Jordan & St. John Barned-Smith / Houston Chronicle]

Exoneree Johnnie Lindsey in 2013. (YouTube)

He lost 26 years to wrongful conviction, and now his future to cancer: After he was released from prison in 2008, exonerated of rapes that he spent 26 years behind bars for, Johnnie Lindsey did what he could to make up for lost time without feeling bitter about the past. He became a better musician. He found a life partner. He tried to “give unconditionally.” He fought for criminal justice reform and investigated potential wrongful death cases. Then, cancer cut his life short. [Jennifer Emily / Dallas Morning News]

Prosecutor weighs charges against mother who delivered stillborn baby in jail: A woman jailed in Johnson County for an outstanding warrant gave birth to a baby that appeared stillborn last Monday. According to the local sheriff, opioids and methamphetamine were found in the woman’s system. The jail knew that she was pregnant, but the woman hid her labor pains until the baby was crowning.  The Johnson County District Attorney’s office is investigating the case and could decide to file new charges against the woman. [Matthew Martinez / Star-Telegram] It’s hard to know why the woman failed to alert jail staff or other people in her holding cell about her labor pains, but there is reason for  women with substance abuse disorder to be afraid of speaking up about their pregnancies and health complications. In response to the growing opioid crisis, some prosecutors are hitting pregnant women with criminal charges—even though medical professionals agree that criminalizing drug use during pregnancy isn’t the solution. [Katha Pollitt / The Nation]

Does Texas’ system for electing judges violate the Voting Rights Act? No judicial candidate running for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the Texas Supreme Court has received overwhelming support from the state’s Latinx population and gone on to win a seat in the past 25 years. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law believes the current election system is, therefore, a violation of the Voting Rights Act, which is supposed to pave a way for minorities to get adequate representation in the government. The organization will make this argument in federal court on Feb 12 and ask that the system be tweaked so that voters elect judges based on the district they live in. The state currently has an at-large system, which allows voters throughout the state to elect judges to any seat in Texas. [Ashley Lopez / KUT 90.5For years, Latinx Texans have struggled to cast their votes—let alone swing judicial elections—due to the state’s discriminatory voter ID law, which went into effect in 2013. That law, ruled unconstitutional by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016, forced otherwise eligible voters to show government identification cards that are historically difficult for Latinx and black communities to obtain. Last year, a judge ruled that the law was designed for that purpose [Manny Fernandez / New York Times]

Indigent defense attorneys shouldn’t be under the control of the state prison system: The State Bar of Texas recently concluded that it’s problematic for attorneys who provide indigent defense to be managed by the Texas prison system. But that’s the reality for attorneys who represent people accused of committing a felony offense during a period of incarceration. The State Counsel for Offenders is currently run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and defense lawyers say they’ve been forced to compromise their clients’ cases because of decisions from higher ups. They also say they’re paid far less than prosecutors overseen by the same department. [Michael Barajas / Texas Observer]

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Copyright © 2018 The Justice Collaborative, a project of The Advocacy Fund, All rights reserved.

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