Act on prison suicides
The tragic jail death of a woman initially stopped for a traffic infraction spurred Texas to take stronger steps to reduce suicides in local jails. Now the state needs to afford that same level of concern to inmates in the state prison system, which last year saw 40 suicides — the most in 20 years.
Completed suicides in Texas prisons doubled between 2013 and 2018, even as the prison population declined. Meanwhile, suicides in the state’s jails dropped by a third over the same period, to 17 last year. That drop was largely due to reforms made after the July 2015 death of Sandra Bland, who hanged herself with a plastic trash-can liner in the Waller County Jail. That happened three days after she was charged with assaulting a state trooper who stopped her for failing to signal a lane change. ...
Her suicide led to passage of the Sandra Bland Act in 2017. The Texas statute mandates additional mental health training for jailers and law enforcement officers and improved supervision in jails of suicidal and mentally unstable prisoners, including round-the-clock monitoring and sensors or cameras to ensure continual checks of cells containing at-risk prisoners.
Similar reforms are needed to reverse the rise in prison suicides. Unfortunately, there’s been no similar urgency for action. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. Unlike jail inmates who are awaiting trial, most prison inmates have already been tried and convicted. The public has less sympathy for felons so politicians are less motivated to act. They barely responded when inmates complained about stifling conditions in hot cells that needed air conditioning or about difficulty eating solid food because inmates weren’t provided dentures.
A 20-year high in prison suicides should not be ignored. ...
Allow public comment
Restrictions on citizen comments at public meetings should be like that fire extinguisher hanging on the wall — something that’s there for general safety but rarely used. Public boards should not only tolerate but encourage people to speak out freely on any issue that comes before them.
This will mean that sometimes people go too far and say something off-topic or even inappropriate. But that’s a challenge well worth putting up with. Elected officials should realize they have to take the good with the bad on this issue and many others. ...
Public boards have to err on the side of tolerance when considering limits on public comment. When tax dollars are involved, taxpayers have every right to voice their opinions, even if it ruffles a few feathers on the other side of the table. A raucous democracy is always preferable to an orderly dictatorship.
Porch pirates, beware
“Porch pirates,” beware.
Anyone who has ever encountered the frustration that comes from having a package stolen from their front porch will take solace in knowing the state Legislature moved to address the growing menace that has come to be known as “porch piracy.”
Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that will increase punishment for stealing mail, which, according to the legislation, is defined as “a letter, a postal card, a package, bag or other sealed article” addressed to an individual that has been dropped off by a common carrier or delivery service or has been left by a customer for pickup.
Passing a law with stronger penalties was wise. According to surveys, as many as three in 10 people say they’ve had a package stolen. ...
It has always been against the law to steal someone else’s mail, but this legislation, which becomes effective Sept. 1, steps up the penalties for “porch pirates” acting with impunity and exhibiting greater degrees of brazenness. They are a particularly pronounced nuisance during the holiday season.
Under the new law, a convicted mail thief can face as much as 10 years in prison, depending on how many people they took advantage of. Fines range from $4,000 to $10,000. It also includes additional penalties in cases where the disabled or elderly are victimized.
Mail theft is a felony under federal law but had typically been a misdemeanor under state law. Convicted offenders received the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, and the crime became a felony only if the equivalent of $1,500 was stolen and only if prosecuted. The new statute boasts serious consequences and should be a deterrent to would-be offenders. ...This may seem like a low priority to some, but because other measures have not been effective, it was time for Texas to address a growing issue and put stiff penalties in place ...