[DP] Fwd: Funds requested for DNA testing
Marie des Neiges Leonard
mariesnows99 at yahoo.com
Sun Apr 20 11:42:38 CDT 2003
Rick Halperin <rhalperi at mail.smu.edu> wrote:To: TCADP-BOARD01
From: Rick Halperin
Date: Sat, 19 Apr 2003 22:22:00 -0500 (Central Daylight Time)
Subject: [TCADP-BOARD01] death penalty news---TEXAS
$150,000 more in city funds sought for DNA lab testing
Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford is asking City Council for an
additional $150,000 to pay a private lab that is doing DNA tests on
evidence from crime scenes.
The private lab, Identigene, has been handling DNA testing after the
Houston Police Department shut down its own crime lab's DNA division
because an independent audit uncovered widespread problems.
Bradford next week will ask City Council to add to the existing contract
with Identigene to prevent the interruption of trials, such as Ray
McArthur Freeney's, which was put on hold Wednesday.
City Council already has approved about $95,000 for Identigene to test
evidence for pending cases and retest evidence originally processed by
HPD, while the department decides whether it will permanently shut down
its lab or revamp it.
But additional money is needed after the company said it doesn't have
enough funds to perform more tests.
Earlier this week, a judge halted Freeney's capital murder trial after he
discovered Identigene had not processed the evidence requested by lawyers
on both sides because the money it received from the city was running out.
Caroline Caskey, president of Identigene, said its workload, which has
grown to 186 pending and disposed cases that must be tested, cannot be
completed with the current funding.
The DNA retesting started after the independent audit found HPD's lab had
poorly trained analysts, unsound science and a leaky roof that threatened
delicate evidence, among other deficiencies. The lab's problems have
prompted a sweeping review of DNA evidence in the 1,300 cases it has
processed since 1992. Prosecutors have ordered retesting in 107 cases,
including 17 death row cases.
Secondary tests have upheld the convictions of 5 men, including 3 on death
row, and verified test results in 1 capital murder trial. Retesting
prompted the release of 1 man from prison. No other tests have been
HPD is in the midst of awarding a long-term contract for DNA work and is
soliciting proposals from the 5 accredited labs in Texas and Louisiana,
according to the request Bradford sent to City Council on Friday. HPD
expects to ask council to approve that contract in about 60 days, Bradford
wrote, but in the interim the department appears to be facing a funding
gap that could stall the prosecution of more of the 79 pending cases that
must be tested.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
CRISIS MENTALITY -- Stupidly shifting mental illness to our jails and
As the Texas Legislature grapples its way through tough budgetary choices,
some will laud the members for forcing down the size of state government
and holding the line on taxes. That's certainly the picture many in Austin
would like to paint.
But like the famous Rorschach ink blot test, perception doesn't
necessarily reflect reality. We may appear to be holding the line, but in
surreptitious and damaging ways, we're actually shifting the costs of
dealing with many problems.
One method is making Texas' criminal justice system -- its courtrooms, its
jails and prisons, and its police forces -- a default system for dealing
with mental illness. An estimated 44,000 mentally ill persons help crowd
Texas prisons and jails today. Many more are on probation and parole.
Treating these people before they get into the criminal justice system is
much less expensive and helps prevent crime.
Yet, Texas budgeters are leading us in the opposite direction. Texas only
serves one-third of eligible people with serious mental illness. Proposed
budget cuts would reduce this number and the question, say experts,
becomes not if more people will end up in jails and prisons, but when.
And at what added costs?
Is this real fiscal responsibility?
Unstable people with serious mental illness, who aren't on medications and
might be homeless or near homeless, often are arrested for petty offenses
like shoplifting, trespass or other charges related to their confused
state and unmanaged behavior. Houston police say they answer about 800
mental health calls a month. The number is growing, and the growth could
accelerate if proposed budget cuts are imposed.
There are costs associated with handling those calls and processing those
arrests. State Sen. Jon Lindsay, a former county judge here, points out
that the Harris County jail already has more mentally ill patients in it
than any of the state hospitals. Others point out that people with mental
illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence,
driving up the cost of emergency room care and other services.
At the Harris County jail, the mental health forensics unit, with an
annual budget of $3.6 million, evaluates and deals with inmates with
In 2002, the unit handled more than 12,000 referrals, screening and
treating 9,614 inmates. Most are given medication and managed within the
jail's general population.
However, people who are too ill to fare well in the general population may
have to be remanded to the jail's in-patient unit, which has only 48 beds.
The unit can now handle only acute crisis stabilization, according to
Leslie Gerber, director of public policy of the local Mental Health
This means many very ill inmates, once stabilized, are returned to the
jail's general population, where they get less treatment and are in
In addition, the forensics unit last year handled almost 1,200
court-related evaluations of defendants and screened more than 3,200 in
the pre-trial release program. At the state prisons, the problem is
magnified. As the population of state hospitals has declined, the prison
mental health population has grown dramatically.
An estimated 16 percent of the Texas adult prison population and 50
percent of the juveniles in Texas Youth Commission institutions have
A person who has repeatedly cycled in and out of the justice system can
cost taxpayers up to $55,000 a year, according to a study by the Criminal
Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project. This compares to a few thousand
dollars in other treatment settings. Furthermore, people with mental
illness tend to serve longer prison sentences than other inmates and are
more likely to commit new crimes when they are released.
The total cost to Texas for "revolving door offenders" is an estimated
$682 million per year. Community health centers could treat these people
for $92 million. So, as the budget is squeezed for community health
centers and other programs, it is likely that the numbers being served in
the more costly jail and prison environment will grow. Or the numbers of
mentally ill people on the streets of Houston and other cities will grow.
Or both will occur.
Harris County gets about $14 per capita from the state for mental health
services. This compares to about $17 per capita statewide, so the county
is already operating at a disadvantage even before the new round of budget
cuts worsens the disparity between funding and need. Unless something
changes dramatically before the Legislature finalizes the budget for the
next biennium, even the most fiscally conservative taxpayer is likely to
find that the burden of caring for the mentally ill -- and other needy
Texans -- has only been handed down to the local level or shifted to the
more costly criminal justice system. This is not a pretty picture.
Editor's note: This editorial and the one below are parts of a series on
how Texas is dealing with its mental-health budget crisis.
CRISIS MENTALITY II -- Juvenile justice system also pays mental health
Texans and their elected policy-makers should consider these realities
about our juvenile justice system: During 2002, more than 419,000 children
in Texas suffered serious mental illness that impaired their ability to
function at school, at home and in the community.
Of those, according to the Mental Health Association in Texas, more than
151,000 were considered "at risk" and eligible to be served by the Texas
Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Yet fewer than 40,000
of these vulnerable children were served.
Even if the mental health budget were maintained at current levels -- not
a likely outcome of the current legislative session -- Texas would be
seriously underserving its young people at enormous social and monetary
cost. And that doesn't take into account the strong likelihood that the
level of problems will grow with the population of Texas.
Children who do not get adequate care end up being served to one degree or
another in homeless shelters, in emergency rooms or in our juvenile
justice system. One of the sad ironies, says Betsy Schwartz, executive
director of the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston, is that
Harris County's juvenile probation department has about double the mental
health and mental retardation department's $6 million annual budget.
That means, says Schwartz, that kids are twice as likely to receive mental
health care in the juvenile justice system. In other words, untreated
mental health problems put young Texans on a trajectory toward jail rather
than college or jobs.
Something is seriouly wrong.
Leaving young Texans' mental health problems untreated is neither
cost-effective nor responsible. This is not bleeding-heart liberalism. One
way or another, taxpayers are going to end up paying. In 2001, almost
2,600 of the youths in the Texas Youth Commission (about 50 percent of the
total TYC population) and 48 percent of the youths referred to the
Juvenile Probation Commission had a serious mental illness, according to a
study by the Criminal Justice Policy Council.
Almost 13,000 youths on probation or parole had mental health problems,
yet fewer than a third of them were receiving any care. Of those who
receive inadequate or no care, many cycle through the system, committing
petty or serious crimes, presenting dangers to themselves and others,
clogging the courts and taking up space in costly incarceration
During the 2001-2002 biennium, the most costly juvenile or adult criminal
justice program was incarceration, according to Tony Fabelo, executive
director of the Criminal Justice Policy Council.
In 2002, a CJPC report states, the cost per day per juvenile housed in a
TYC facility was $151.28. This represented a 16.9 percent increase over
the $129.36 reported in 2000. Another way costs get driven up, says
Schwartz, is that youngsters in community programs rather than in juvenile
facilities can be eligible for federal Medicaid or Children's Health
Insurance Program funds. Because these are matching funds, they are a way
for Texas to leverage every dollar it spends. Cutting state dollars
results in losses of federal dollars. The budget cuts contemplated by the
Legislature are likely to increase the number of young people funneled
into this costly alternative.
Where is the budget sense in that? If the exercise, as some legislative
leaders have suggested, is to limit the role of government, then perhaps
they'd care to explain how the fiscal policies they're pursuing will
actually put more young people behind bars, thereby increasing the role of
government by adding costs for the already overcrowded jail facilities.
Neither the math nor the policy makes sense.
It's shameful, and Texans likely would be calling for jail time if
corporate executives tried to perpetrate the same sort of scam on their
(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle)
Witness: Ochoa in danger in pen
If he doesn't get a death sentence, life in prison will be a life of
danger for convicted murderer Abel Ochoa Jr., a prison expert testified
S.O. Woods, a retired administrator for the Texas Department of
Corrections, testified on the fifth day of Ochoa's capital murder trial.
Ochoa was convicted Tuesday in the Aug. 4 shooting deaths of his wife, 2
young daughters, father-in-law and sister-in-law. Defense attorneys are
trying to prove that his life should be spared, arguing that he is a good
man who was afflicted by cocaine addiction.
But if the jury spares his life, Ochoa will face plenty of danger while
serving a life sentence in prison, Woods said. He said that only about 15
percent of inmates cause trouble, but prison gangs are still able to
orchestrate illicit activity, including violent retribution.
"He will probably be approached to enter a gang," Woods said. "Members of
these disruptive groups are criminals who control the drugs coming in from
the outside, sex, and especially tobacco.
"He may not be as desirable to them as someone who is more streetwise, but
he'd still be a body. The strength of these organizations is recruitment."
Woods added, however, that Ochoa might face a particular threat
considering that he shot and killed two young daughters. He said that the
culture of prison inmates holds contempt for prisoners who have murdered
or molested children.
"As peculiar as it may seem, inmates have their own moral code," Woods
said. "It's a very unpleasant lifestyle.
"There is a considerable amount of violence. It's the nature of who is
being confined. Inmates have all day to figure out how to make trouble."
Also Friday, Ochoa's brother-in-law, Victor Faz, testified that he helped
get the defendant into a church-based treatment program called the Rescue
Home, but Ochoa didn't stay long enough to fully beat his cravings for
"He can't get free of this problem," Faz said through a Spanish
interpreter. "I'm sorry for not being able to help him before all of this
Rodolfo Ojeda, a deacon at Ochoa's church, said he visited Ochoa at the
Lew Sterrett Justice Center, where he has been held since his arrest.
Ojeda said the defendant was sincerely remorseful.
"As soon as he saw me, he started crying," Ojeda said.
The deacon added that during a 2nd unannounced visit, he saw Ochoa pacing
in his cell, praying.
"One thing I know," Ojeda said, "he repents for all the things that have
The trial will resume Tuesday in 194th District Court. Judge Mary Miller
said a defense witness won't be able to testify until Tuesday.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
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