Off the Desk:
Though the press is just now getting around to writing about Gov. Bush's "patronizing" comments to Rep. Glen Maxey during the legislative session, Capitol reporters knew about the encounter not long after it took place on the House floor. Why? Because Maxey spilled the beans to reporters during one of those after-hours beer-drinking sessions that go on while the Lege is in session. A now widely published photograph of Bush and Maxey engaged in what looks like a friendly chat is not what it appears to be. Bush, according to Maxey's version of the encounter, stopped to congratulate Maxey on "cramming the [Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)] down our throats." It was a reference to Maxey's successful passage of the bill. Then, according to Maxey, Bush told the openly gay legislator: "I value you as a person and I value you as a human being, and I want you to know, Glen, that what I say publicly about gay people doesn't pertain to you." Bush's aides deny that the governor made the comments. At any rate, Maxey is certain to capitalize on the exchange at his "Cram-a-rama" fundraiser to celebrate the victory of the CHIPS bill. The event takes place from 5-7pm Monday, Aug. 30 at the Dog and Duck Pub ...
The Austin Convention Center was totally PC this week as some 1,400 technos drifted through the doors to take part in Dell Computer's DirectConnect meeting to address the future of the personal computer business. "It's a very elaborate production," Convention Center director Robert Hodge marveled. "There's a lot of Hollywood in this -- lights, sound, decorations." The big draw Wednesday morning was Microsoft's Bill Gates. The invitation-only affair allowed a fair number of local and national press through the door, but no amount of pleading gained this alt weekly entrance. "The Chronicle just doesn't fit into this bucket," Dell's David Frink said ...
Not to be outdone by the city's chunky budget, Capital Metro will offer up its financial tome for public review beginning Monday, Aug. 30. Initial numbers call for about $82.5 million in operating expenses and an additional $4.9 million for capital projects. A public hearing on the Cap Met budget is set for Sept. 20 ...
You'll be hearing a lot more in the next few weeks about the city's proposal to buy water from the Lower Colorado River Authority. City staffers insist we need the H20 for future use, but the SOS Alliance says that argument is just so much backwash. If you're wanting to learn more about the pros and cons of this deal, here's a series of upcoming information meetings designed to bring you up to speed:
- Sept. 7, Kealing Junior High School, 1607 Pennsylvania
- Sept. 14, Murchison Community School, 3700 North Hills.
- Sept. 21, Bowie High School, 4103 W. Slaughter Lane.
- Sept. 28, LCRA Hancock Building, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd.
All meetings take place Tuesdays at 6:30pm. Additionally, the City Council will hold public hearings on the issue at 6pm Thursday, Aug. 27, and again on Sept. 2. Read more about the proposal in this week's "Council Watch." --A.S.
Tough on Drugs
The brouhaha over whether or not Gov. George W. Bush has used drugs continues to dog the presidential contender. And while it's not yet known whether Bush inhaled, snorted, or injected, there is no mystery about his drug policies in Texas. And Bush hasn't exactly been overly compassionate toward other Texans who have been "young and irresponsible" with illegal drugs.
In 1997, the governor signed into law a bill toughening penalties for people convicted of selling or possessing less than a gram of cocaine. Before he signed the measure, state law required judges to give mandatory probation for those offenses. Two years earlier, Bush signed another measure which increased penalties for anyone caught selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or school bus.
The more important issue is Bush's attitude toward drug treatment. His predecessor, Ann Richards, pushed hard for drug treatment programs in prisons, outlining a 14,000-bed program for inmates, up to 80% of whom admit some type of substance abuse problem. Bush opposed Richards' plan, insisting that "incarceration is rehabilitation." During his first session of the Texas Legislature, Bush helped gut Richards' program, cutting it back to 5,300 beds. While doing so, however, Bush said that if the treatment programs were proven effective, he'd expand them.
Well, statistics released in January by the Criminal Justice Policy Council, a state agency that advises the Texas Legislature and the governor on criminal justice issues, show that the program does indeed work: In the first year after inmates complete one of the state's drug treatment programs, recidivism drops by 63%. After three years, the rates decrease but are still significant: Overall, the recidivism rate for inmates who complete the treatment course is 20% less than for inmates who do not. Last year, a study done for the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services found that 19% of the inmates who received substance abuse treatment were re-arrested in the year after going through the program, compared to 60% in the year prior to treatment.
Reducing recidivism could provide real savings to the state, which currently spends over $1.45 million per day keeping adult drug offenders behind bars. Indeed, the Texas prison system holds a panoply of dubious distinctions: * Of the 1.17 million inmates now held in state jails and prisons around the country, one in eight (about 144,000) are locked up in Texas.
- Texas has the second highest incarceration rate of any state, with 724 of every 100,000 residents in prison, behind only Louisiana.
- Since 1990, the number of inmates in Texas prisons has increased by 154%, the biggest increase of any state.
- Texas has more people on parole and probation than any other state.
- Finally, Texas has nearly twice as many women in prison (10,343) as Minnesota has inmates of both sexes (5,572).
Robb Southerland, the CEO and founder of the Crime Prevention Institute, an Austin-based nonprofit group that promotes drug treatment in prison and the workplace, argues that reducing recidivism will mean real savings for the state. And he believes that treatment programs need more attention -- and more funding. Southerland, himself a recovering substance abuser, says most inmates will eventually be released from prison. When they get out, "Isn't the community better off having somebody who is recovering from their addiction than having someone who's still addicted and still committing crimes to support their addiction?" asks Southerland. "There's no question we should have as many treatment beds as possible so we can get as many people as possible into recovery before they are released. Five thousand beds is a good start, but we need more," he said. --R.B.
Waters in the Pokey
Ten months ago, David Waters contacted The Austin Chronicle to give his spin on the disappearance of atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Jon Garth Murray, and Robin Murray-O'Hair. The missing trio, Waters insisted, were on the lam; all of the talk about foul play in their disappearance was idle speculation. Today, Waters is in state prison and although he has not been charged in the disappearance of the missing atheists, Waters, 52, will stay incarcerated for a long time to come.
Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks sentenced Waters to eight years in federal prison for violating federal weapons laws. Waters, a convicted felon, is prohibited from possessing any ammunition or firearms. A March 24 raid on Waters' Austin apartment by state and federal authorities uncovered 119 rounds of ammunition. The federal sentence will be "stacked" on top of a 60-year sentence given to Waters earlier this month by a state district court judge for violating the terms of his deferred adjudication. The stacking provision means that Waters will have to serve the state and federal terms consecutively. He will likely have to serve at least 15 years of the state sentence. Then, he must serve the entirety of the federal sentence.
In sentencing Waters, who has prior convictions on murder, battery, and forgery, Sparks said, "It is my opinion that you should be kept out of society for as long as possible. I see nothing to indicate that you will not commit further offenses." Sparks also questioned the judgment of the Travis County District Attorney's office, which, in 1995, agreed to give Waters deferred adjudication after he admitted stealing $54,000 from the atheists' offices. "It's a mystery to me how he got deferred adjudication," Sparks told the two dozen or so people in the courtroom.
Meanwhile, although no bodies have been found, Waters remains the chief suspect in the disappearance of the three atheists. He is also a chief suspect in the murder of Danny Fry, a Florida man who lived with Waters shortly before the atheists disappeared. Fry's headless, handless body was found dumped in southern Dallas County on October 2, 1995, three days after the atheists disappeared.
Gerald Carruth, the assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, refused to comment on whether Waters will be charged with the murders of Fry or the O'Hairs, but said "the investigation into the O'Hair disappearance will continue until those responsible are brought to justice." --R.B.