June 8, 2008
State sets up watchdog unit for criminal justice system
In a "call to action" to address problems in the justice system, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey on Wednesday announced a new Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit.
The unit has officials from across the state, including Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and lists a broad slate of criminal justice issues that could use improvement. The issues include improving indigent defense, improving eyewitness identification and better compensating the wrongly convicted.
The court can address some areas, while the Legislature must address others. Hervey said she plans to work through the summer so the group can have solid proposals when the Legislature meets in January.
Different members have different priorities. Ellis has worked on compensation issues in the past, while Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has gained prominence for his efforts to bring attention to convicts who were exonerated by DNA evidence.
An easy start, Hervey said, will focus on writ training. Writs, for the most part, are a last-chance process for someone who has been convicted and has exhausted the normal appeals process. [Mark Godsey]
'Policing Gangs in America' wins book award for ASU professor
An exhaustive study of the police response to gangs in four U.S. cities, co-authored by an ASU professor, has received international acclaim. The Academy of Criminal Justice Studies (ACJS) chose Policing Gangs in America (Cambridge University Press), co-authored by Charles Katz of ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, for its 2008 Outstanding Book Award.
Katz and Vincent Webb from Sam Houston State University received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to study gang units within the police departments of Phoenix, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Inglewood, Calif. “We looked at topics including why police gang units were created, how and why they respond in the ways they do to gang activity, and how effective they are,” Katz says.
Information-gathering techniques Katz and Webb employed in each of the four cities included observing officers in the field for periods of up to three months, interviewing officers and community leaders, and examining local news coverage of gangs.
The authors’ findings showed both positive and negative aspects of police gang units. “These units can become isolated from the public and other officers; they can turn into mini-departments within a police department,” Katz says. “This situation is problematic and runs in contrast to the trend in recent years for police operations to emphasize a freer communication flow within departments and with the public.” [Mark Godsey]