This week the House Committee on County Affairs met again to discuss DPS traffic stops, county jail standards, inmate care, training, coordination among different local and state agencies, the Sandra Bland case, and other recent jail suicides that have occurred in the state. I want to thank the members of this committee who came from across Texas to make this a great hearing: Rep. Ramon Romero, Jr., Rep. Leighton Schubert and Rep. Stuart Spitzer.
This will likely be our last hearing in County Affairs this year, but we will continue to work on these issues in 2016 and into the 85th legislative session. I’m very proud of the work the committee has done already on these issues. Thanks in part to the effort of the committee – changes have already have been made to make Texas better. If you were not able to view the hearing live, you can watch a recording of it by clicking here. I have also included a brief summary of the hearing below. It does not capture all of our great discussion, so I strongly encourage you to watch as much of the full hearing as you can.
Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
Director McCraw recognized that changes need to be made to properly record traffic stop data, and going forward DPS will no longer auto populate a driver’s ethnicity onto a ticket, in order to ensure that Hispanics and other races are not mistakenly listed as white or other. I believe that Director McCraw is committed to improving DPS and will continue to work with us to make sure that happens.
Frank Baumgartner, Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Professor Baumgartner and his team analyzed DPS traffic stops from 2003 to 2014 and produced an excellent report which can be read here. His report shows that there is significant racial disparity in the rates in which Blacks are searched during a traffic stop when compared to Whites. His insightful analysis of the DPS data shows that more work may need to be done to ensure that laws are being fairly applied.
Brandon Wood, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS)
Executive Director Wood presented the updated mental health screening intake form. He explained, the new form is a major improvement because it is: less vague, will better identify individuals in need, and gives clear direction on when and what to do when flags are raised. The form has been tested in the jails – in order to work out any kinks, and will be mandatory starting December 1st. I am confident that once the form is fully implemented it will help decrease jail suicides. The Committee also discussed the need to create better diversion methods to keep those in crisis out of jail in the first place, and the use of tele-psychiatry as a cost effective resource for rural jails to handle their inmates potentially in crisis.
I also want to thank all of those who came and made their voices heard during public testimony, their input is greatly appreciated. There is still work to be done on these issues, but I am glad that the Committee has already helped make the changes discussed at the meeting by TCJS and DPS.
Because I hope you will stay with the Committee as we continue to work on these issues, the song of the week is “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith.