[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Mar 6 17:48:31 CST 2005
Criminal gender equality----No free passes for women killers
I am a wife and mother. I am an elected district attorney. My duty is to
see that justice is done. This means working as hard to ensure that the
innocent are not charged as I do to hold the guilty accountable.
This includes the administration of justice without regard to religion,
race or gender. My duties also include ensuring that crime victims are
Let's talk about the forgotten. In my vocabulary the forgotten refers to
the Yates children. They are Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary, the 5
murdered children of Russell and Andrea Yates. Andrea Yates was found
guilty in 2002 of drowning the 5 children in their home bathtub, but most
of us cannot even remember their names because they are the forgotten
I believe in the delivery of services to the mentally ill in this society.
It is the right, just and humane thing to do. If the mentally ill receive
proper treatment, it can prevent horrible acts, such as murder, from
The administration of justice must be gender neutral. Neither the gender
of the victim nor the defendant should enter into decision-making and
sentencing recommendations. But society's gender perceptions do affect the
criminal justice system.
Years ago when Susan Smith drowned her two young children in South
Carolina she received a life sentence for their murder. If the father had
drowned his children, he probably would have received the death penalty,
and there would have been no discussion about whether he had been
victimized as a child.
There is much discussion and controversy concerning the Yates verdict,
prosecution and subsequent reversal of her conviction by Texas' First
Court of Appeals based on false testimony from a forensic psychiatrist.
Many cry out that Yates should not be prosecuted and instead should be
institutionalized and receive mental health services, despite the horrific
murders of her children.
The truth is this outcry comes not because Yates is a person who has had
mental illness but because Yates is a woman who has had mental illness. If
a father with a mental illness like Yates' had drowned his five young
children and committed the same acts as Yates, we would not be having this
discussion. Society would label him a ruthless killer.
It is difficult for us to set aside the gender perceptions with which we
have been raised. It is threatening to think that women can commit
ruthless crimes, and yet, at times, they do. When women commit ruthless
crimes we feel the need to explain or justify them. When the roles are
reversed we do not make the same justification for a man committing the
If Yates had killed someone else's children, such as a friend's or
neighbor's or as a child care provider, we would not be having this
discussion. A parent murdering a child is the ultimate form of domestic
violence, and yet, as those who fight domestic violence are aware, many
times people view assaults and murder of family members differently from
those outside the family.
We need to hold up the mirror of self examination and question our gender
biases. When we do, we will see the reflection of the true victims, in
this case the forgotten Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary. True justice
demands recognition of the value of their lives and should not depend on
the gender of the perpetrator.
(source: Houston Chronicle, Viewpoints -- Jeri Yenne is district attorney
of Brazoria County)
EYES OF AN AVOCATE----Legal maverick back in spotlight; Craig Washington's
novel tactics for truck driver in human-smuggling case may be heard by
After losing the congressional seat once held by the black political
legends Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland, Craig Washington hunkered down
in the Hill Country town of Bastrop and quietly resumed his work as a
11 years later, he is poised to return to the glare of the public
The maverick former Democratic congressman is best-known for his
mesmerizing oratory, his remarkable victories as a defense attorney and a
slew of personal and professional issues that left him vulnerable to a
1994 election challenge by then-Houston City Councilwoman Sheila Jackson
Washington's latest court case, defending Tyrone Williams, the Jamaican
truck driver charged with a capital crime in the deaths of 19 illegal
immigrants in a 2003 human-smuggling operation, begins Tuesday. At least
75 people were crammed into a hot, suffocating trailer when it was
abandoned near Victoria. The high-profile Houston trial is expected to
Washington already is stirring debate in the case. He argues that
prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Williams - and none of
the 13 other defendants in the case - because he is black. The 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals has twice ruled against Washington's request that
the prosecution be forced to justify its decision, and the U.S. Supreme
Court is expected to announce Monday whether it will hear the case.
Lawyers watching the Williams case in the media say Washington, as usual,
is a step ahead of the courts in his legal arguments.
"I think it's brilliant," said Frank Blazek, a former prosecutor who lost
to Washington in the defense lawyer's most famous case. "He's ahead of the
law. ... Who knows, maybe in 3 or 4 years, the Supreme Court might agree."
'Law is alive'
Washington astonished the legal community in 1984 with a legal victory for
Eroy Brown, a black prison inmate who killed 2 white prison
administrators. There were three trials in the case, and everyone thought
Brown's self-defense plea was unwinnable.
Blazek, the Waller County district attorney at the time, said Washington
was ahead of the law then, too, arguing that the prosecution should have
to give nonracial justification for striking minorities from the jury
Though the judge ruled against Washington's point at the time, the Supreme
Court, in an unrelated case, agreed with the argument 4 years later.
For years, Washington sued the Houston Police Department in cases of
suspected brutality or death involving officers. A judge asked him why,
since the law said that only the officer involved could be sued, not the
"I said, 'Because the Supreme Court is wrong,'" Washington recalled in a
recent interview. "He looked at me like, 'You poor kid, the Supreme Court
Again, the Supreme Court later echoed Washington, making it possible to
sue governing bodies for the actions of their employees.
"The law is alive," he said. "The law was made to change with the times."
Blazek, and Timothy Ann Sloan, who worked with Washington as defense
co-counsel for Eroy Brown, also praised Washington's ability to connect
with a jury. Sloan said she will never forget Washington's closing
argument in the Brown case.
"He absolutely captured the jury, and at the end of his argument there
were several jurors who were noticeably weeping," she said. ''When he
gives a jury argument, it's almost like an 'I Have a Dream' speech."
Washington, 63, set out to be a dentist, not a lawyer. He grew up in
Houston and enrolled at Prairie View A&M University at 16. It took him 8
years to graduate with a grade-point average too low to complete his
Washington did well on his exams but could not bring himself to attend
required classes that he found boring.
"I thought the mandatory attendance was stupid," he said.
Poor attendance also would plague him later in life, when his high number
of missed votes in the U.S. House of Representatives would prompt a
conservative group to demand he return a portion of his salary.
Washington said he missed only votes that "weren't important" and on
procedural rather than substantive matters.
Numerous missed court dates through the years also impelled several judges
to seek Washington's arrest and threaten him with jail time.
After being rejected by graduate schools and looking for a way to avoid
the Vietnam conflict, Washington was introduced to the dean of the law
school at Texas Southern University.
He did not understand what lawyers did, but he talked the dean into
accepting him provisionally, thinking it would help him later transfer
into a dentistry program.
Instead, he became hooked. Law school, Washington said, "was the only
intellectual challenge that I've ever had."
"I've kind of coasted the rest of the way, to be honest with you," he
Today, Washington, separated from his third wife, is living in his law
office in Midtown.
It is decorated with courtroom drawings of himself during his
highest-profile trials and old sepia photographs of his mother, picked by
Washington as the most important influence in his life.
He has 5 children, from 3 mothers, and 4 grandchildren.
Washington's oldest son, Craig II, now a paralegal, recalled that growing
up, his father would hold mock trials to find the culprit who broke the
cookie jar. Washington used a glass of saltwater as a "lie detector test,"
making the suspect child put a finger in to see if it wiggled.
"He would look at it and study it," Craig II said, until the child was so
scared he would confess.
When Craig II started playing football in school, he said, his father
"made it a point to learn everything about the game intently, all the
little intricacies. ... He almost takes the fun out of things."
Washington applies that same intensity to his work, forgetting to eat.
During proceedings for Brown, he collapsed in the courtroom and was taken
to the emergency room to be treated for fatigue.
His oldest daughter, Chival, works at his law office and hounds him to
take care of himself.
Washington entered politics in 1972 at the urging of his friends Leland
and Anthony Hall. They formed the "People's Five," a slate of candidates
to run for new districts that would allow Harris County to elect its first
black state representatives.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat who grew up in Washington's
Third Ward district and now represents it, was only 11 when Leland, Hall
and Washington went to the Texas House (the 2 other candidates on the
slate lost their races), but he was proud even then.
"What's easy for any politician to do is pander," Coleman said. "Well, he
(Washington) didn't pander. He moved forward with his ideals."
Coleman said he is particularly inspired by Leland and Washington's
examples as he serves in a conservative Legislature where Democrats have
"I think often about, 'What would Craig do? What would Mickey do?' "
Because of them, Coleman said, "I see the value in the fight."
Washington devoted his time in public office to advocating for those with
no voice: the poor, the homeless, AIDS victims.
"That doesn't make you popular, but it sure make you feel good at night,"
He persuaded the House to raise child-welfare payments in 1979, holding up
a pair of children's cheap jeans, shoes, 2 pairs of socks, deodorant,
toothpaste and shampoo, but no food.
The tab for the items came to $27.27, just under the welfare rate of
$32.58 a month.
"I want you to look at what you're giving your children," Washington said
on the House floor. "You'll see them again. You'll see them going to the
Texas Department of Corrections."
In an attempt to block reinstatement of the death penalty in Texas,
Washington tacked an amendment on the bill that would have placed the
electric chair in the middle of the House floor and required a majority
vote of both houses to turn on its power.
10 worst legislators list
Texas Monthly magazine dubbed Washington one of the 10 best legislators in
the state 3 times, calling him "unwavering in his concern for the
downtrodden" and "as born to his medium as Mikhail Baryshnikov is to
And then, in 1982, Washington was elected to the state Senate.
"Seldom has a member fallen so far, so fast," Texas Monthly said of his
first session, naming him the 1983 "Flop of the Year." He would make the
magazine's 10 worst legislators list for 2 more sessions.
Washington said he did not like the "clubby," behind-closed-doors
atmosphere of the Senate, preferring the opportunity to give rousing floor
He skipped sessions, got thrown out of meetings, lobbed accusations of
racism at one colleague, came close to blows with another and hoisted a
third by the lapels during an argument.
When his friend Leland died in a 1989 plane crash during a hunger-relief
mission in Ethiopia, Washington ran against another friend, Hall, to win
Leland's congressional seat.
While in Congress, Washington was impaired by a bankruptcy liquidation,
unpaid taxes and national scrutiny of his unorthodox means of sharing his
congressional budget with his families.
Washington moved his Houston office out of the Mickey Leland Federal
Building and into a space rented from his ex-wife. He also put Karen Joyce
Haller, the mother of one of his children, on his congressional payroll.
"Was that illegal? No," said Coleman, who managed Washington's losing
race. "Some people would say Craig was being a man, ... making sure that
his children were cared for."
Then Washington held a news conference to denounce what he said were
rumors that he was using drugs.
He laughs now, saying the news conference must have come across as "nuts"
but said he was hurt by the alleged whisper campaign (it had not reached
reporters) and wanted to draw out his unknown accuser.
Washington said he knows he was viewed in Houston as an ineffective
congressman "who had his baby mama on the payroll, and as kind of a
But in Washington, he said, he was seen as "a star on the rise."
He focused on national issues, helping Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., D-Del.,
draft President Clinton's crime bill and taking a lead role in fighting
Clarence Thomas' confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.
Members of Houston's downtown business community did not appreciate
Washington's votes against the North American Free Trade Agreement, NASA
and the Superconducting Super Collider. When they tried to discuss it with
him, he further alienated them.
The Greater Houston Partnership held a genteel meeting with several
congressmen to ask about their votes.
Washington was outraged and told them that, since none of them lived in
his district, he did not owe them an explanation.
"What gives rich people the right to have 2 votes?" he said recently. "I'm
saying, 'How dare you?'
"From that day, they were against me, and I don't blame them."
His constituents also may have felt snubbed, Washington acknowledges now,
by his refusal to engage in the district-centric politics that keep many
congressmen in office.
"Being a member of Congress is not riding in parades and coming home every
weekend," Washington said. "If that's what they want, then she (Jackson
Lee) can stay there."
Jackson Lee recently called Washington "a committed public servant and, in
many instances, an unparalleled legal strategist."
After losing to Jackson Lee, Washington found it difficult to face former
political colleagues and constituents. He sought refuge in the quiet town
of Bastrop. His estranged wife is still living in the house they own
Washington said he will never run for office again and thinks he can have
more impact on the law as an attorney than as a politician.
He stumbled upon his latest case on a drive across Texas. Returning to
Houston from a trial in Kingsville, Washington saw TV satellite trucks and
police cars all over the highway.
Arriving at his office, Washington learned not only that he had driven
past the aftermath of the previous day's immigrant deaths but that a
request that he take the case was waiting for him from John Brittain, the
former dean of the Texas Southern University law school.
Brittain's help was enlisted by a lawyer in Connecticut who knew Williams'
family in Schenectady, N.Y.
Washington felt he could not refuse.
"God just kind of put him in my way and said, 'Help this person.'"
TURNOUT SKEWS JURIES' MAKEUP-----Lower rates for poorer minorities raise
questions on system's fairness
Residents of Harris County's predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods
are up to 7 times more likely to show up for jury duty than those in the
county's lower-income, mostly minority neighborhoods, a Chronicle study
The low turnout from some pockets of the county skews the racial, cultural
and economic makeup of the jury panels from which juries are chosen.
Compounded by the fact that many criminal defendants come from areas that
have the lowest jury turnout, the disparity raises questions about whether
the accused may be deprived of their constitutional right to a jury of
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that jury pools must reflect the
surrounding community to ensure public confidence in the criminal justice
"You don't want a minority defendant being convicted of any crime and
having their punishment assessed by an all-white jury," said former Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Charles Baird. "Whenever you do that, you
undermine the legitimacy of the process.
"You want every member of the community to feel like they have some say in
the criminal justice process," said Baird, who now teaches at Houston's
South Texas College of Law.
Hispanics show lowest rate
Analyzing data from the Harris County District Clerk's Office, which
showed that more than 772,000 residents were summoned for jury duty in
2004, the Chronicle found a wide range in response rates among the
county's more than 140 ZIP codes.
Among the findings:
- While the average turnout for residents summoned to jury duty hovers
around 17 %, an examination of individual ZIP codes reveals turnout
ranging from 5 % to 35 %.
- The 10 ZIP codes with the highest turnout, all exceeding 30 %, are
predominantly white, with a median annual income of $77,083.
- The 10 ZIP codes with the lowest turnout, all below 10 %, have
populations that are predominantly Hispanic or black. Those areas had a
median income of $29,636.
- While predominantly black neighborhoods showed below-average turnout,
the areas with the lowest jury participation were Hispanic.
- Jury summonses were sent out at an almost identical rate, relative to
the district clerk's master list of available jurors, compiled using names
from voter-registration rolls and the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Apathy, low pay blamed
Court officials point to a variety of causes for the imbalance, including
apathy among many residents, low juror pay - $6 a day, unchanged since
1978 - and limited English proficiency among some Hispanics. Also, some
Hispanics receive summonses because they have valid driver's licenses, but
they can't serve on juries because they are not U.S. citizens.
Showing up for jury duty is especially hard for people who work for hourly
wages and may fear they will lose their jobs or face financial hardship if
they miss a day's work. Many salaried workers can serve on juries without
District Clerk Charles Bacarisse reviewed the Chronicle's findings and
said low juror turnout is a perennial problem.
"It's frustrating," he said. "There is no magic-bullet solution that will
suddenly increase jury turnout. I don't think it is so skewed that our
citizens can't receive a fair trial, but I do think that we could be doing
a better job."
A call for change
He urged those who criticize the criminal justice system to view jury duty
as an opportunity.
"There are a lot of people in the African-American community that don't
feel that the system serves them very well, but I would say to them,
'Don't turn your back on it. Come down here and change it.'"
State law dictates that district clerks must send summonses in exactly the
same proportion, based on their master lists of potential jurors in each
community. It is illegal to send more summonses into certain communities,
such as those with consistently lower turnout.
Raising juror pay probably would help turnout in lower-income communities,
but money alone will not solve the problem, Bacarisse said.
"That's part of the formula, but you can't buy good citizenship," he said.
Ultimately, low turnout reflects a failure to view jury duty as a priority
and a civic obligation, said John Jay Douglass, a professor at the
University of Houston Law Center.
"The real story here is, why aren't these people doing what they are
supposed to be doing?" Douglass said. "It's not that the system isn't
working; it's that these people aren't participating in it."
Johnny Mata, a spokesman for the League of United Latin American Citizens,
said low turnout could undercut the Hispanic community's credibility when
its members lodge valid criticisms of the criminal justice system.
"We cannot be complaining for justice as a community and not practice what
we preach," Mata said. "This is a disaster. It's a blow for justice, and I
think we should be very concerned."
In addition to calling for an increase in juror pay, Mata suggested that
civic leaders and clergy in minority neighborhoods help educate residents
about the importance of serving on juries. Harris County residents are
rarely, if ever, prosecuted for failure to show up for jury duty, although
it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine, authorities said.
District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said he was surprised by the disparity
among jury panels.
"In my experience, we seem to have a pretty good cross section of folks
that show up for jury service," he said.
Anecdotally, Rosenthal said, it is thought to be more common for people
from "the business class or the affluent class" to try to avoid jury duty.
D.A. disputes theory
The idea that low minority representation would jeopardize a trial's
fairness is "racist and objectionable," he added.
"I think it is horribly racist to say any given group is going to vote in
any given way, based on their race," Rosenthal said.
Although minority jurors may not deliberately base decisions on race, they
can bring a heightened skepticism about government, said Stan Schneider,
president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.
"They have witnessed abuse by the police. They have witnessed abuse by the
government," Schneider said. "They can believe that a police officer might
lie, that false charges can be brought or an innocent man can be
County officials do not compile comprehensive data on the race and
ethnicity of criminal defendants, but other indicators suggest that
minorities make up a large portion of people involved in the criminal
Among the more than 148,000 inmates in Texas prisons and state jails, 40 %
are black, 28 % are Hispanic, and 31 % are white, state records show.
Fewer than 1 % are categorized as "other."
The jury system has drawn more attention recently, both in Texas and
nationwide. The American Bar Association has begun a campaign to improve
participation and representation.
The Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins launched a statewide campaign
last year challenging several death sentences and other convictions,
claiming the trials were unfair because minorities, particularly
Hispanics, were underrepresented on jury panels.
Lawyers involved in the project say their main goal is not necessarily to
overturn individual convictions but to draw attention to jury
representation and effect new laws, such as increasing juror pay.
"A lot of people feel that they are not getting a fair shake because they
are being judged by people who don't know them, don't know where they are
from and don't have a sense of their life experiences," said Robert
Walters, a Vinson & Elkins attorney who is challenging a 1988 death
sentence from Harris County. "Perception is reality when it comes to
confidence in the system," he said.
(source for both: Houston Chronicle)
Woman loses family and questions justice
When she walked into her estranged husband's apartment that Sunday in
August 1999, Dianne Houk didn't grasp right away what was going on.
She smelled "blood and death," she said, and when she saw blond hair
bunched atop a couch facing away from the door, she thought, "What is that
doll doing there?"
When she saw her husband lying nearby on the floor, his legs stretched
straight out, all she noticed was that he didn't have his shirt on -- as
"He never wore his shirt," she said. It was a trait she'd always found
endearing and a little exasperating.
She saw the shotgun shells and then realized the unthinkable: "That was
Her hand reached for the phone to dial 911. When police arrived, they told
her to put her hands up and get down on the ground. She heard them say
that rigor mortis had set in.
"It finally started sinking in," Dianne Houk said.
Her husband, James, 50, and 14-year-old daughter, Alicia -- whom she
described as "her life" -- had been brutally shot to death.
Almost 6 years later, the memory of that discovery still is as painful for
Houk as it was then. She grieves over the loss of her family, and she
remains angry over recent developments -- as well as a lack of more
progress -- in the case.
Whitney Reeves, a 17-year-old Groves resident the night of the slayings,
was sentenced to death in the case in September 2000. However, last week,
the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for defendants younger
than 18 when their crimes were committed.
That means Reeves likely will be taken off death row soon, Jefferson
County prosecutors said.
Houk said the ruling marked a 2nd blow to seeing justice done in the
brutal slayings of her husband and only child.
In addition to not seeing Reeves put to death, Houk is upset that a 2nd
suspect in the case has yet to be charged and convicted.
The deaths occurred the day after Port Arthur resident Troydon Shonnard
Glover, who was 26 at the time, was charged with sexually assaulting
Alicia. Glover was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The now
32-year-old is scheduled to go before a parole board in August.
During Reeves' trial, Glover testified that he understood he might yet
face charges in the Houk killings. Evidence at the trial showed two types
of bullets were used, indicating there was a second shooter, but Glover
was not charged.
Glover testified he was at home drinking and watching movies and cartoons
at the time of the shooting.
His attorney in the sexual assault case, Rife Kimler, said at the time
that prosecutors should either charge Glover or stop calling him a
"Put up or shut up, basically," he told an Enterprise reporter in 2000.
Jefferson County District Attorney Tom Maness said last week his office is
working toward presenting a case to the grand jury soon -- although he
won't say exactly when.
Steve Thrower, Jefferson County District Attorney's Office criminal
investigator, said he's been contacting old witnesses and has found new
"(The Houk case) gets some of my time every day -- that's how interested
Mr. Maness is in it," Thrower said.
The prosecutors said there is solid circumstantial evidence in the case
but little in the way of hard evidence, such as a murder weapon or
In Reeves' case, a shotgun linked him to the murders, and witnesses said
that he bragged about the killings. A bruise on his arm was consistent
with one caused by shotgun recoil.
Thrower said the District Attorney's Office wants to be careful about
bringing a 2nd case to trial.
"We only get one shot, and quite frankly, we don't want to take a risk of
not being able to prosecute ... " Thrower said. "It's been six years now.
It might not get better than what it is now."
Thrower said he understands why Houk and other family members are
frustrated with the slow pace of the police work and prosecution.
"They've got every right to be as mad as they want to be," Thrower said,
adding that on the whole, the Beaumont Police Department's investigation
of the crime was solid.
A mother's nightmare
Dianne Houk said the staff was like family in 1999 at the Pleasure Island
Restaurant, which her brother owned.
She said Glover, a server at the restaurant, sometimes greeted her with a
hug and would say, "Hi, Aunt Dianne, it's been so long -- where've you
Alicia Houk got to know Glover while helping out at her uncle's
restaurant, which she enjoyed, Dianne Houk said.
Houk said she was puzzled when Glover dropped off the 14-year-old at a
friend's door one morning in May 1999 -- when the girl should have been in
bed asleep at her father's apartment.
Subsequently, Glover gave her an unconvincing explanation of what the two
were doing together, Houk said.
The next day, she picked up Alicia from school and told her daughter that
they needed to talk.
Houk said she told her daughter that she had "talked to Troy and he told
me everything, so don't lie."
"So she told me everything," she said.
According to trial testimony, the girl told her mother that she'd sneaked
out 3 times to be with Glover and that they'd had intercourse, using a
"I was so upset because he was supposed to be a friend," Dianne Houk said
this past week. "He was so much older than her -- he was supposed to be a
Houk said that after she and her husband, James, learned what their
daughter had been doing, they reported it to the Beaumont Police
The day after Glover's indictment on the sexual assault charge, Alicia and
James Houk were gunned down.
Glover was found guilty of sexual assault of a child, commonly known as
statutory rape, on June 7, 2000.
It was not Glover's 1st criminal offense. His record included misdemeanor
DWI, weapons offenses, family violence and a felony drug offense.
Dianne Houk said she still finds getting through the day challenging.
Although she and her husband had separated prior to the killings, they
still cared for one another and spoke daily. Their main concern was
Alicia's upbringing, she said.
James Houk, owner of a business called "Rugs of Distinction," and his
daughter were very close, sharing many traits in common, Dianne Houk said.
>From the time when Alicia was a tiny child, she was always smiling and
singing and laughing, Houk said. She was an affectionate child, always
hugging and holding hands and sitting in her parents' laps.
"My baby -- there was no one like her," Houk said.
Her Lumberton home is a shrine to her daughter's life: pictures of her
line the walls; a stained glass window replica of a design Alicia once
colored hangs in a window; her favorite clothes have been made into a
colorful quilt on display in the living room.
She remembers each item of clothing and tells stories about special
outings when they were worn. She plays CDs of Alicia singing -- she loved
to sing -- nursery rhymes when she was a toddler and pop songs with a
karaoke machine when she was older. She listens, enthralled, to her
These fragments are all Dianne Houk has left of her daughter.
Alicia Houk, who would have turned 20 in September, wanted to be a teacher
when she grew up, her mother said.
Houk said she has a sense of her daughter's presence, but it isn't the
same as being able to hold and kiss her. She thinks of how much she took
for granted when Alicia was still alive -- such as there always being
another day for the beach, more time for laughter and love.
"Little girls -- you have to teach them all kinds of morals and rights and
wrongs," Houk said.
(source: The Beaumont Enterprise)
Houston a huge lab for failed prison experiments ---- If Texas is ever to
solve its prison crowding problem, a solution will have to catch on in
justice system's most active county, officials say.
It accounts for about 1/4 of the criminals sent to state prisons.
It has sent more people to death row than most other states put together.
It has a reputation for handing out some of toughest sentences, even in
And state and local officials agree that if Texas is ever to solve its
growing prison crowding crisis with enhanced felony probation programs, a
solution will have to catch on in Harris County.
History here has not been kind.
"People like to throw rocks at Harris County," said Paul Donnelly,
director of the local Community Supervision and Corrections Department.
"But Texas has never given probation the tools it needs to or given us an
opportunity to sprout the innovative programs. . . . I hope this is that
In many respects, officials say, the history of Harris County probation
programs mirrors the history of other counties': Big plans often turned
into broken promises.
In 1993, Houston officials embraced a new state jail program to
incarcerate and rehabilitate nonviolent, first-time offenders. Within a
few years after it opened, though, the showcase Top Street State Jail in
downtown Houston had been taken over by the state and was housing regular
convicts with few programs.
An innovative, county-run community justice program called Baker Street -
where felons who otherwise would have gone to prison were closely
supervised in work release - withered and closed in just a few years as
funding ran out. It is now used as overflow housing for the county jail.
A boot-camp program was launched to target young offenders, drew rave
reviews and then lost funding. A conservation camp operated for several
years using tents, then met the same fate because of funding cuts, as have
residential substance-abuse treatment and mental health programs.
Bottom line: As the funding evaporated, so did the programs, some of which
were touted as national models.
A lion's share of that funding came from $112 million in fines that the
state paid to Harris County as part of the landmark Alberti jail-crowding
lawsuit. Houston jails were overflowing with convicts because state
prisons were full, and county officials scrambled to develop
community-based felony probation programs.
"It's deja vu all over again," Donnelly said, adding that state funding
for enhanced felony probation programs could both reduce prison crowding
and crime, by successfully transitioning more offenders to be law-abiding
citizens. "If the state pulls the plug on these (proposed) programs too
soon, it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We will then have to build
an even larger prison system, and we will have less and less money for
With 700 employees and almost 39,000 probationers to keep track of, Harris
County's is the largest program in Texas. Most of its $51 million budget
comes from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the agency that also
runs the prison system.
While Donnelly and local district judges have publicly expressed a
willingness to once again try new programs to reduce the prison
population, they say there are other issues that must be considered, as
well. One example: As the state's prison population has grown, the parole
rate has climbed, with more than 400 a month now coming to Houston to join
the thousands of parolees already there.
The last time there was an influx of parolees, in the late 1980s and early
1990s, the Houston crime rate mushroomed. The local conviction rate
jumped. More felons needed to go to prison.
"Harris County needs to be positive about this," said Senate Criminal
Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston. "Never before have
all the stakeholders in the state all been on the same page like they are
now. . . . We have 2 years to make a difference."
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
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