Criminal justice experts propose pretrial reforms in new report and videos from conference hosted by the University of Houston Law Center and the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs

Report features expert recommendations on a wide range of issues from how to improve police practices and jail safety to bail reform and diversion policies for the mentally ill.

HOUSTON - March 29, 2016 – The Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center (UHLC) and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin today released videos and a report that focused on issues examining pretrial policies and procedures from a suspect’s arrest to trial. The resources stem from a statewide symposium held earlier this year at the University of Houston called “Police, Jails, and Vulnerable People: New Strategies for Confronting Today’s Challenges.”
The report, which is derived from symposium proceedings, details experts’ recommendations on such issues as policing, pretrial diversion for persons with mental illness, bail reform, jail safety and suicide prevention.  Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, prepared the compilation with the assistance of her graduate students.

Click here to download.

“Texas lawmakers are poised to make some much-needed reforms on these issues in the next legislative session,” Deitch said.  “We hope these resources will provide helpful guidance in shaping those reforms to be as effective as possible, so we can better protect public safety and the lives of those caught up in the criminal justice system.”

At the symposium held in January, some of the nation’s top experts offered their recommendations on ways to make the pretrial process in Texas more efficient, cost-effective, humane, and safer, especially for those with mental health issues. They were joined by several Texas legislators.  

Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, gave a keynote address expressing strong support for bail reform in the next legislative session.  “Bail is not supposed to be punishment,” he said. “It is to make sure you show up.” He argued that people charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses should not be jailed simply because they are poor, and that jail should be reserved for dangerous people.  Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said pretrial release issues would be his “highest priority next session,” adding that he would have “zero tolerance” for jail suicide.

Cedric Alexander, chief of police of DeKalb County, Ga. was the opening speaker. His talk titled “Policing Issues in the 21st Century,” called for better management, recruiting and training and encouraged law enforcement officers to build relationships in their communities. Thompson moderated the “Ethical and Practical Considerations in Pretrial Detention” discussion that featured Rebecca Bernhardt of the Texas Fair Defense Project, Marie VanNostrand of Luminosity Consulting and Jon Wool of the Vera Institute.

Jail suicide prevention expert Lindsay M. Hayes pointed to statistics that jail suicides have decreased nationally over the past 20 years in a panel on jail safety. However, Deitch said there is still a need for improvement with 13 deaths in Texas county jails in the past four months. Kate Eves, an ombudsman for all prisons in the U.K. and Wayne Dicky, a jail administrator for Brazos County also participated.
The symposium concluded with a Texas Legislative roundtable that included state Reps. Garnet Coleman, James White and Gene Wu and state Senator Konni Burton. The discussion was moderated by Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune. Among topics discussed was the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana in Texas.

Other participating institutions included the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, SMU Dedman School of Law, South Texas College of Law, The Earl Carl Institute of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, the University of Houston Clear Lake - Department of Criminal Justice, the University of Houston-Downtown - Department of Criminal Justice, and The University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

“This symposium brought together some of the best minds in the country to discuss critical issues of bail reform, jail safety, mental health in jails, and community policing,” said UHLC Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, one of the event’s organizers.  “This new report and the videos are invaluable tools for policy makers in Texas and nationwide.”

Click here to watch the symposium videos.

Media contacts: Carrie Anna Criado, UH Law Center Executive Director of Communications and Marketing, 713-743-2184, cacriado@central.uh.edu; Susan Binford, Assistant Dean for Communications and Outreach, (512) 232-4006, susan.binford@austin.utexas.edu; John T. Kling, UH Law Center Communications Manager, 713-743-8298, jtkling@central.uh.edu.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation's best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation's fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 42,700 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.

About the University of Houston Law Center
The University of Houston Law Center is the leading law school in the nation's fourth-largest city. Founded in 1947, it is a top-tier institution awarding Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) and Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees. The Law Center is fully accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools.

About the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.
The Lyndon B. Johnson or LBJ School of Public Affairs is a graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin. It was founded in 1970 to offer professional training in public policy analysis and administration for students interested in pursuing careers in government and public affairs-related areas of the private and nonprofit sectors. Degree programs include a Master of Public Affairs (MPAff), a mid-career MPAff sequence, 16 MPAff dual degree programs, a Master of Global Policy Studies (MGPS), eight MGPS dual degree programs, an Executive Master of Public Leadership, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy.

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