Another hat tip to Grits for Breakfast, who always provides great coverage of the usual craziness that is the Texas Legislature. The Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice told Texas legislators this Wednesday that they should decriminalize truancy, better fund legal aid and indigent defense, and spend more on military veterans. Amen to all three!
For the purposes of this space, I’ll focus on truancy and indigent defense. According to the Chief Justice, almost 100,000 criminal truancy charges are filed against children every year. 100,000! Of course that sets up a direct pipeline for kids to enter the criminal justice system, for some of them, there’s no way out. And indigent defense – costs continue to rise and counties are struggling to pay for it. We can’t keep increasing the number of criminal offenses and the severity of criminal penalties (thus growing the criminal system) without paying for it.
I totally agree with Grits, though. Increasing funding is just one step. We also have to step back from the bloated criminal justice system we’ve created. Decriminalize some minor offenses (possession of marijuana, anyone?) and deduce penalties for lower-level offenses elsewhere. It’s the only way we’ll get this out of control train under control.