July-August 2012

Our first-ever online Brady training

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

We are very pleased that our first foray into the world of online training is on a very timely topic: the prosecutor’s duty to disclose exculpatory evidence. TDCAA’s leadership, through our Long-Range Plans, has taken a cautious approach to online training. Our leaders wanted to be sure that the technology was sound, the topic was timely, and the quality was worthy of TDCAA.
    First, I’d like to thank Buck Files, the incoming State Bar President, and Pat Nestor, the State Bar’s online training director, for helping us produce our first online training. They really went the extra mile to launch the first program, the materials for which appear in this edition of The Texas Prosecutor (see the cover story). The Bar has an excellent facility and the experience to produce some very good training.
    Second, the topic is most certainly timely. An hour devoted to Brady is an hour of ethics, which everyone is keen to have. TDCAA has offered a steady stream of Brady training in the last three years, and our goal is to be sure that everyone has access at a seminar or now online.
    Finally, the quality is what you’ve come to expect from TDCAA. You will be the judge of that, and after taking the hour-long course, we really want your feedback. Be sure to email your comments to our training director, Erik Nielsen, at erik.nielsen @tdcaa.com, or to me at [email protected]. We want to be able to offer timely training in this manner in the future, but we need to be sure it meets your expectations. I hope to hear from you!

NDAA elections report
Somewhere squeezed in between running a great prosecutors’ office and just plain running, Henry Garza, the DA in Bell County, has the time to work at the national level for the benefit of our profession. Congratulations to Henry on his nomination for the position of President-Elect of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA). The election will take place at the NDAA July meeting, and with no opposition, Henry will take the helm of NDAA in July 2013.
    Henry will be the first Texan at the helm of the NDAA since his predecessor, the late Arthur C. “Cappy” Eads in 1986. There is little doubt that prosecutors needs an effective national association to advance our profession on that level, and Henry is the Texan for the job. Good luck!

A major Texas export: “justice reinvestment”
We all know that Texas criminal justice takes its share of lumps from the national media. As a southern state with a functional death penalty, that is to be expected. But truth be told, the Texas criminal justice system has been exporting methodology, ideas, and programs for years.
    It probably started in 1991, when a small state agency called the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council was funded to do a national first: a comprehensive study of the criminal justice system. Our crippled Texas system was laboring under extremely inadequate capacity, outrageous parole rates (anyone else remember the “parole in absentia” cases where inmates were paroled before they actually arrived from the county jail to the prison?), and huge lawsuits by the counties that were housing state prisoners.
    The council, led by Dr. Tony Fabelo, did a comprehensive study of the system to find out who was in prison, for what crimes, and for how long. Most importantly, the council designed a way to collect, analyze, and report data in a way that was simple and clear for our policymakers. It took a huge amount of work from prosecutors to “drill down” into the files and find the needed information, but the resulting comprehensive report gave our legislative policymakers the ability—for the first time—to make knowledgeable, rational decisions about resources, their allocation, and the effects of every change they were considering—no more legislating by anecdote.
    That study led to an increase in capacity, a new and refocused Penal Code ranked best in the country for simplicity and clarity, and a new system of state jails to implement the concept of local rehabilitation, drug treatment, and judicial oversight of offenders. It was some real ground-breaking stuff when it came to handling non-violent, property, and drug offenders.
    A couple things happened in the next 15 years of lowering crime rates, stable prison populations, and inadequate budgets. People kinda lost interest in the rehabilitative promise of the state jail system, and the programmatic aspects of intensive supervision and “short leash” jail therapy were scrapped. And with Texas in relative criminal justice bliss, our leaders lost interest in the focused work of the Criminal Justice Policy Council, zero-funded the operation, and transferred its duties to the Legislative Budget Board.
    Dr. Fabelo and his crew found a home in the world of consulting non-profits at a think-tank called the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments (see its website at www.justicereinvestment.org). The council is a bi-partisan association of state elected officials, and the Justice Center is the criminal justice analysis and development arm of the council. And now, with most states involved in major budget problems and with crime ranking very low on the public’s list of concerns, there is a renewed interest in anything in the world of criminal justice that will save money and at least tread water when it comes to public safety.
    Re-enter Dr. Fabelo. His crew and others have been working in Texas on efficiencies within various components of state criminal justice entities to develop programs that give more than just lip service to public safety while making the system more efficient, all with the goal of taking savings and reinvesting in criminal justice initiatives. They have taken the methodology developed in the 1990s to make the system more transparent and data-driven and applied it to all sorts of criminal justice-related activities.
    It has now gone national. Lots of groups are working on these programs, but the concepts are the same that were originally developed in the early 1990s in the Texas state jail concept. And as legislatures around the country end their sessions for the summer, you will see a little bit of Texas everywhere. Missouri just passed its version of justice reinvestment: Probationers can take a “quick dip” in jail for probation violations, probation terms are shortened, and the system is “front-loaded” with intensive supervision options designed to avoid a revocation to prison. And Pennsylvania recently passed reforms similar to the Texas effort in the ’90s, reworking its penal code structure, designing diversions for non-violent offenders, and ramping up treatment alternatives. Hawaii, Oklahoma, Ohio, and North Carolina have adapted their criminal justice policies in different ways, but all in response to a data-driven examination of the key factors impacting the effectiveness of the various systems.
    I don’t think anyone in the criminal justice field is naive about the nation’s renewed interest in criminal justice reform—it is all about state budgets. The public has the right to remain skeptical about the promises that public safety won’t be compromised by initiatives whose primary interest is to save money, but maybe, just maybe, some of the things that have been developed here in Texas in the last 20 years (and the lessons we’ve learned) will be useful around the nation and be properly implemented and funded. The key, of course, will be the follow-through after the budget crisis subsides. Do the reforms and initiatives have the substance and merit to survive into the future, and will the ultimate promise of uncompromised public safety come to pass? I think it is safe to say we are going to find out.

“Right-sizing” Texas ­corrections
Now here is some interesting stuff if you believe that the Texas prison system offers the proper amount of correctional bite to our judicial system bark. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will undergo sunset review. Every state agency undergoes this top-to-bottom review every few years, and it gives lawmakers an opportunity to make some pretty big changes in the core functions of an agency. TDCJ’s last sunset review was in 2007.
    There has been a lot of talk in public forums about the need to save more money in the state’s criminal justice budgets, and doubtless those pressures will be big in 2013. In recent meetings, the Sunset Advisory Commission has been discussing a wide range of cost-saving measures: better re-entry programs, more flexible medical release rules, and better coordination between TDCJ and the Board of Pardons and Parole. But more than one expert has observed that we have pretty much hit “operational efficiencies” in the system—that is, there may not be much more to be saved by trying to make the prison system leaner. So how are you going to save significant chunks of money in the prison system? You’ve got to close units. Hence, in the near future you will likely hear lots of discussion about “right-sizing” Texas corrections. If you want to read the Sunset Advisory Commission’s report on TDCJ, go to www.sunset .state.tx.us/83rd/CJ/CJ_HM.pdf.

R2R2R HG 2012
What does this jumble of letters and numbers mean? It is code for “Henry Garza is half-crazy.” Henry, mentioned above, took his love of exercise and the outdoors to a new level in May when he completed the R2R2R—which stands for Rim to Rim to Rim—at the Grand Canyon. Yes, it is just as it sounds: You start on one rim, go down and climb up to the other, then go back. Henry finished this trek of 45 miles of trail and nine miles of elevation in an inspiring 22 hours. His motivation for this challenge? “To completely understand the answer, you really have to experience the adventure,” Henry says. “And explaining the adventure is a joy that takes a while. Why? We wanted to do something extreme, challenging, and tough—something that very few will ever accomplish or even think of doing. We did, and it was incredible!”   
    From what I can tell from the Internet posts, it is a life-changing type of thing. Just Google “r2r2r” and you will get pages and pages of blogs, photos, videos, and testimonials on the event. Congratulations, Henry!