Interim Recap: April 2018

            Can you believe there is still snow on the ground in some places? Brrrr.


“Re-imagining” state jails (again)

            During this interim, the “Smart on Crime” confederation of criminal justice reform advocates have been hosting a series of information-gathering sessions around the state to come up with a consensus solution to the high recidivism rates among state jail offenders (which is somewhere north of 60 percent). Last week, they hosted a webinar to summarize some of the feedback they have received, and none of it will shock you. In a nutshell: SJF offenders increasingly prefer to take straight time in jail or SJF facilities instead of probation because probation is “too hard”; this is exacerbated when offenders who can’t make bond rack up jail credits that make final convictions easier to stomach due to a quicker release after sentencing; and once they begin down that path, these offenders are increasingly unlikely to escape the incarceration cycle.

            While there is a fair amount of agreement on the existence of this cycle, there doesn’t seem to be any new idea on how to end it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any proposed solutions—several failed ideas from past legislative sessions have been put forth again, including:

  • reducing drug penalties from felonies to misdemeanors;
  • creating a “wobbler” sentence that re-categorizes a felony conviction as a misdemeanor upon successful completion of supervision (vetoed as HB 1790 back in 2013); and
  • imposing “presumptive” or mandatory pre-trial diversion by the court (which no one will define for us, but which has always sounded unconstitutional to us without more details).

One potential change that might meet with approval from various stakeholders involves the increased use of the split sentences authorized back in 2013 via SB 1173. However, to make that kind of post-confinement supervision effective, the current 2-year maximum sentence would probably have to be increased to three or four years, which could be hard for some reformers to stomach.

            As of now this is all still up in the air, but if you would like to get involved in this process, contact Shannon and he will get you on the invitation list for future meetings and discussions.


Annual report on the judiciary

            The Office of Court Administration (OCA) has released its 2017 Annual Report. Some of the highlights include:

  • A slowing of case dispositions in district courts (indicating increased docket backlogs) but an increase in dispositions in county courts;
  • Year-over-year increases in drug possession, domestic violence, robbery, and capital murder case filings, but decreases in fine-only (Class C) misdemeanor, DWI, murder, and theft (especially theft-by-check) case filings;
  • A five-percent overall increase in juvenile case filings driven by a rise in violent and sex crimes;
  • An all-time high in the number of applications for involuntary mental health commitments; and
  • At the appellate level, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed 49 percent of the cases they accepted on PDR.

There are plenty of more details in the full report, so check it out at the link above for more information.


DPS Sunset review

            On the heels of our March update, in which we told you that DPS was