As demographic change sweeps away Anglo-rule from Texas, the erosion of the Anglo-American heritage of the judicial system is swift.
Black Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot, who ran on a platform of ending mass incarceration (i.e. stopping police from arresting black and brown criminals) has now introduced sweeping reforms to stop police Dallas County from prosecuting theft of personal items worth less than $750.
All to help “people of color and people who are poor” from going to jail. [Dallas DA reveals plan for ‘ending mass incarceration’ for petty crimes, slashing probation and bail, Dallas News, April 11, 2019]:
Dallas County will move away from “criminalizing poverty,” District Attorney John Creuzot announced Thursday, outlining a reform plan to decriminalize low-level crimes and decrease the use of excessive probation and bail.
In an open letter to the public, Creuzot detailed his plan to curb overly high bail amounts and stop prosecuting most first-time marijuana offenses and some misdemeanors that he believes often stem from poverty.
“When I ran to become your district attorney, I promised you that I would bring changes to our criminal justice system,” Creuzot wrote in the letter. “The changes that I promised will be a step forward in ending mass incarceration in Dallas County, and will make our community safer by ensuring that our limited resources are spent where they can do the most good.”
In a news release, Creuzot’s office called the changes “data-driven” instead of influenced by race or financial standing.
Creuzot’s plan would initiate sweeping changes to the county’s probation and bail policies, both of which he says have often been used imprudently.
Although he gives no timetable for rolling out the changes, Creuzot instructed prosecutors to ask for shorter probation periods: six months for misdemeanors, 180 days for state jail felonies, two years for second- and third-degree felonies and five years for first-degree felonies.
In cases relating to “technical” violations that don’t threaten public safety, such as failure to pay fines, Creuzot told prosecutors not to ask for any jail or prison time.
These are bold moves for a Texas prosecutor, said Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia University Justice lab. A former commissioner of New York City’s probation department, he has advocated for similar changes nationwide and works to help other jurisdictions reform their probation practices.
“For district attorneys to take the lead in this area is a completely new development and a positive one,” Schiraldi said. For too long, probation focused on failure and punishment instead of successful outcomes and avoiding prison, he said.
“A lot of times, people on probation — especially people of color and people who are poor — they feel like it’s such a recidivism trap, that they’re just destined to go to prison anyway, so they would rather just go and get it over with,” he said.
Creuzot’s efforts in Dallas County to decriminalize poverty will include declining to prosecute theft of personal items worth less than $750 unless the theft was for financial gain.
County officials pledged in December 2016 to reform the cash bail system after The Dallas Morning News published an article about a woman jailed for more than a month on $150,000 bail for a $105 shoplifting charge.
Under the changes that Creuzot announced Thursday, Angela Jessie, the woman featured in that News article, probably never would have been jailed on such high bail or prosecuted.
Dallas County officials had pledged bail reforms immediately after Jessie’s story was published. But after a year passed without any significant changes to the system, four nonprofit groups sued the county in 2018 on behalf of six jailed inmates who could not afford their bond.