Criminal Justice

Photo via Flickr/Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

In 2003, then President George W. Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The bill required federal and state lockups to implement certain procedures and standards that would address sexual abuse behind bars. Not doing so, states would run the risk of penalties, such as the loss of federal grant money.

The final rules took effect in 2012, and the Texas governor at the time, Rick Perry, refused to sign on. However in a 180-degree reversal, Gov.Greg Abbott says the state will be brought in-line with the law.

Image via Flickr/Paul Townsend (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

It's been 121 days since the so-called biker gang shootout in Waco. Despite nine deaths and a mass arrest of 177 people – each held for days or weeks on $1 million bonds – there have been exactly zero formal charges brought against anyone. Nor has any evidence been offered to support the arrests. And there's been no word whatsoever on whether (or when) cases might be presented to a grand jury, which is currently led by a Waco police detective.

Flickr/Ira Gelb (CC BY-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Last week Amnesty International joined a chorus of other human rights groups, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization, in calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

Joining us in the studio is Angel Daniels, Assistant Professor in the Department of Forensic Psychology at Marymount University. Daniels teaches and studies the psychology of sex work, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, violence and abuse.

Flickr/Joe Gratz (CC0 1.0)

From Texas Standard:

A Smith County judge recently ordered a 21-year-old man to marry his 19-year-old girlfriend after he assaulted her ex-boyfriend.

The story has gone viral, but as strange as it may sound, this unorthodox sentence is just one of a handful of “shaming”-type rulings that have made headlines in the past few years.

Evan Young is an attorney with Baker Botts in Austin, and he says the marriage sentence isn’t all that uncommon. “The reality is that this is one of many types of sentences that a judge might try to impose,” Young says.

Image via Flickr/Paul Townsend (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Tamara Tabo runs The Center for Legal Pedagogy, and she has some concerns over how authorities are handling the cases of more than 170 bikers arrested in the May 17 shootout in Waco, Texas.

Flickr/Chris Miller CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

For 35 years, Jerry Hartfield sat in a prison awaiting trial — and now he’s finally getting one. Hartfield was convicted in 1977 of murdering a woman in Bay City. He was sentenced to death, even though by today’s standards, his IQ of 67 is considered mentally impaired.

Three years after that conviction, in 1980, it was overturned because of problems with jury selection. The governor of Texas at the time, Mark White, commuted the sentence to life in prison. The problem? The underlying conviction has been invalidated, so there wasn’t even a conviction to commute. Hartfield waited for years in prison for a trial that never came.

Flickr/thomashawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

The highly publicized shootings of Michael BrownSam Dubose and several other African-American men has shined a spotlight on how the criminal justice system interacts with men of color. But with Sandra Bland’s recent death in the Waller County Jail, some are now asking how that same justice system treats women of color.

On the cover of the largest African-American-owned paper in the City of Houston — The Houston Forward Times — the headline reads, “The New ‘Jane’ Crow: Black Women Are The Target For Mass Incarceration.” Jeffrey Boney is the author of that article, and he lays out some pretty staggering statistics on African-American women being involved with the criminal justice system:

  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison.
  • African-American women are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than White women.

Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

From Texas Standard:

Sandra Bland’s case has made international headlines. But as the Houston Chronicle reported this week, Bland’s suicide is hardly a one-off incident in Texas county jails. Since 2009, 140 inmates in Texas jails have died by suicide; that’s when the state started tracking those numbers. Journalist Sinjin Smith has been following the issue for some time. His most recent article on this issue focuses on the methods and ways that inmates complete suicide in jail. He investigated the case of Danarian Hawkins, who was found last year hanging from a noose he’d made from a bed sheet tied to his cell’s sprinkler system.

Sarah Montgomery for KUT

John Legend is well-known for his music. He’s won Grammys and, most recently, he and Chicago rapper Common won an Academy Award for the original song “Glory” from the film Selma. During his acceptance speech, Legend used the podium to draw attention to the high incarceration rate in the U.S.

Yesterday, he came to the Texas Capitol to continue that advocacy and kick off a national campaign called Free America, which aims to drop the country’s incarceration rate.

In Augusta, Ga., a judge sentenced Tom Barrett to 12 months after he stole a can of beer worth less than $2.

In Ionia, Mich., 19-year-old Kyle Dewitt caught a fish out of season; then a judge sentenced him to three days in jail.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Stephen Papa, a homeless Iraq War veteran, spent 22 days in jail, not for what he calls his "embarrassing behavior" after he got drunk with friends and climbed into an abandoned building, but because he had only $25 the day he went to court.

Liang Shi, KUT News

Texas lawmakers are looking into whether more should be done to provide mental health services for inmates at state prisons.

Prison officials say inmates already have access to medication and individual or group counseling for mental illness. Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston says the legislature has provided enough mental health funding in recent years for prisoners and parolees. And, he says, it shows.

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the Dr.

Caleb Bryant Miller for Texas Tribune

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov.Rick Perry signed a bill that requires adetailed review of the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons.

Four months after the measure became law, though, the committee charged with hiring an independent party to study solitary confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice hasn’t met and has no intention to.

Justin Carter, the 19-year-old who was arrested and jailed in February after making a Facebook comment about a school shooting, is out of jail. An anonymous donor posted the $500,000 bond to allow Carter to go home. Carter plans to stay near New Braunfels, Texas, to await his trial on a felony terroristic threat charge.

Liang Shi for KUT

Texas lawmakers have approved new mandatory sentencing for minors convicted of capital murder.

It would require a life sentence with the opportunity for parole for 17-year-olds convicted of the crime, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life without parole for minors last year.

"A former justice of the peace has been charged with murder in the slayings of a North Texas district attorney and his assistant who prosecuted him for theft, officials announced Thursday," The Associated Press reports. Eric Williams is also charged with the murder of the district attorney's wife.

"The wife of a former justice of the peace is being held on a capital murder charge in the killings of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife and a top prosecutor," The Dallas Morning News reports.

Sarah Lim

You might be familiar with the case of Michael Morton. He's the Georgetown, Texas man who spent more than 20 years in prison for killing his wife. But he didn't do it. And it was DNA testing that eventually freed him.

Texas lawmakers say criminals are leaving more than fingerprints behind at crime scenes.

Today, representatives discussed a bill that would allow police across the state to take swabs of DNA from arrestees accused of a Class B misdemeanor or above. That genetic information would then be archived in a database and the swab would be destroyed.

courtesy Chris Goldberg at

The nonpartisan Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says the state should stop locking up so many drug offenders and invest more in substance abuse treatment.

A report the advocacy group released today says arrests for drug possession have skyrocketed and far outnumber arrests for drug delivery or distribution.

Executive Director Ana Yanez-Correa says the root of the problem is addiction, and she says addiction isn’t taken care of behind bars.