Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crowded (court) house

Might something actually be done to alleviate the overcrowding at the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center?  Although defense attorneys have complained for years about the ridiculous conditions inside the courthouse, the mainstream media has just now caught hold of the story.

The cattle calls in the 15 misdemeanor and 22 felony courts every morning creates two long lines around the front of the building and unbelievable waits for elevators in the lobby. These delays then cause citizens to see their bonds forfeited because they were unable to get into the courtroom in time for a 9:00 a.m. docket call.
"(The building at 1201 Franklin is) the most poorly designed criminal justice center in the United States of America." -- Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos
Over at 201 Caroline, the crowds are much more leisurely -- particularly since tort reform did away with entire caseloads. Escalators take folks to the first four floors and two large banks of elevators serve the courtrooms. There are no escalators at 1201 Franklin leaving everyone attempting to get to the 2nd floor and the district clerk's office on the 3rd floor to fend for elevators. The stairs are hidden and are, for the most part, inaccessible to the public. Of course the 37 men and women in black robes have the luxury of sharing two elevators (making the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder seem downright negligible).

The problems could be (somewhat) alleviated by staggering dockets throughout the morning to spread out the arrival of people and by the courts providing longer resets.

See also:

"What's wrong with this picture?" The Defense Rests (March 31, 2010)
"Docket call at the criminal courthouse: Double whammy nightmare" The Houston Press (April 2, 2010)

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