Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Closing Corsicana

When the Texas Juvenile Justice Department released a report in June 2013 recommending the closure of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Facility, situated in the small city of Corsicana, Texas, 55 miles south of Dallas, the authors presented an arresting image. The campus, they wrote, “continues to pose a risk to the vulnerable youth population it serves as hazardous debris and glass are continually unearthed after rain or strong winds.” The roughly 90 youths at the facility, most of whom had been diagnosed with severe mental illnesses and who had committed crimes, were using the glass and debris to "harm themselves." Many of the buildings, the authors noted, "warrant complete replacement."
When Corsicana was finally emptied by the Texas Legislature in December 2013, many in the world of juvenile justice reform already viewed the facility as dangerous and unsalvageable. A federal Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that in 2008, 23 percent of Corsicana inmates reported having had sexual relations with staff. Violence was up as well; in 2012, the facility was responsible for 32 percent of all violent incidents in the juvenile justice agency, despite housing only 10 percent of the agency’s youths.
It hadn't always been this way.

Read the rest at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (also posted at The Center for Public Integrity and The Texas Tribune)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Can a Wrongful Conviction Ever Be Forgiven?

Every story of a wrongful conviction is a story of lingering bitterness and lasting feuds. Consider Anthony Graves, who is filing a complaint with the State Bar against prosecutor Charles Sebesta, who has never admitted to the mistakes that led to Graves’s sitting on death row for twelve years. The San Antonio Four, sent to prison for more than a decade for a bizarre sexual assault that never happened, have had no contact with the prosecutors, police, or doctor involved in their convictions.  And even when former district attorney Ken Anderson publicly apologized for “the system’s failure” that sent Michael Morton to prison for nearly 25 years for a murder he didn’t commit, Anderson still defended his prosecution of Morton. 

Do these stories ever end with reconciliation? Is it even possible to forgive such an egregious error? Perhaps it really is a matter of time healing all wounds. Nearly thirty years after wrongfully convicting Timothy Cole, the City of Lubbock is accepting its involvement in this tragedy. The city is unveiling a ten-foot-tall statue of Cole, who was convicted of rape in 1986, died in prison in 1999, and was proven innocent by DNA evidence in 2009. It’s the most direct instance yet of an institution—in this case the City of Lubbock—publicly commemorating its own failures in sending an innocent person to prison. “It really is about reconciliation, and hope,” Cole’s brother Cory Session explained.