Texas Lawmakers Tackle Range Of Criminal Justice Reforms This Session

Committees in the House and Senate are beginning to work their way through the proposals.

By Christopher ConnellyMarch 7, 2017 9:30 am, ,

From KERA News

There’s not much Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on in Austin these days, but criminal justice reform is one area that has found bipartisan support over the past decade.

This year, lawmakers have introduced scores of proposals intended to improve the way police, courts, jails and prisons do business in order to make the system fairer and reduce the cost to taxpayers. Committees in the House and Senate are beginning to work their way through the proposals.

The Sandra Bland Act 

The death of Sandra Bland is overshadowing many of the reform proposals. Bland’s suicide in 2015 in the Waller County jail caused protests and sparked questions about policing and jail policies.

Bland was arrested after she was pulled over by a state trooper in Prairie View for failure to signal a lane change. After an argument, the trooper ordered her out of her car and arrested her. She was found hanged by a plastic bag two days later.

The trooper who arrested her was suspended for failing to follow protocol and later dismissed by DPS after he was indicted for perjury. Bland’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and settled for $1.9 million.

Last week, state Rep. Garnet Coleman said Bland’s experience provides a roadmap of problems in the justice system.

“We’re here to provide solutions to the challenges in criminal justice that many say should be reformed. And because of that I filed House Bill 2702, the Sandra Bland Act,” he said.

The Houston Democrat’s proposal is sweeping. The 55-page bill would revamp the state’s racial profiling laws, overhaul arrest and jail procedures and ramp up training and oversight of law enforcement and corrections officers.

Its reception by law enforcement has been mixed. One police association called it misguided. Coleman expected pushback.

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