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Juvenile Justice, Equal Pay and The Full Menu: Wednesday’s show (March 4, 2015)

A federal civil rights investigation into law enforcement and criminal justice in Ferguson, Missouri will be released Wednesday. A law enforcement official familiar with the report tells NPR the investigation determined blacks were disproportionately targeted by police and the justice system, leading to – or reinforcing – a lack of trust in both police and the courts. […]


A federal civil rights investigation into law enforcement and criminal justice in Ferguson, Missouri will be released Wednesday. A law enforcement official familiar with the report tells NPR the investigation determined blacks were disproportionately targeted by police and the justice system, leading to – or reinforcing – a lack of trust in both police and the courts. That lack of trust towards the criminal justice system, particularly among minority youth, did not start with the case of Michael Brown, and is not just limited to Ferguson.

On this program, we’ve explored such perceptions of inequities in criminal justice in Houston, and efforts among law enforcement here to better relate to the people they serve. As we learned in the latter conversation, how youth first engage with law enforcement and the courts can make a big difference. If you only ever interact with police and judges after you’re in trouble with the law, you’ll always see them as adversarial. Nevertheless, those are the circumstances young people who break the law find themselves in, and as a result, some are sent to juvenile detention centers.

A 2015 study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics examines a decade’s worth of data on some 35,000 juvenile offenders in Chicago, and among the findings, concludes young offenders who go before judges who tend towards higher incarceration rates are less likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to go to prison as an adult. That study reinforces the findings of one from last month by The Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, which analyzes the state and local impact of juvenile justice reforms here in Texas. It concludes forms of community-based supervision, where juveniles receive treatment and supervision closer to home, instead of being shipped off to faraway juvenile detention centers, might prevent Texas youth from being arrested again, and may save taxpayers money along the way.

On this edition of Houston Matters, in light of this research and the ongoing debate over youth and our criminal justice system, we learn about the state of juvenile detention centers in Texas as we talk with David Reilly, Executive Director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, and Debbie Unruh, the Chief Ombudsman for the department, who advocates for youth detained in juvenile facilities across the state. We discuss the impact of reforms starting in 2007, prompted by cases of abuse in the state’s juvenile detention centers. We also consider what further steps could be taken to better address kids that are already in juvenile detention, and identify those who would be better served through alternate forms of punishment.

Also this hour: State Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, has filed Senate Bill 65, which would allow Texas women to sue private businesses if they find out they’re not getting paid equally for similar jobs, regardless of when they learn about the salary discrepancy. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same concept covered in the federal Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and a similar bill passed through the Texas Legislature back in 2013 — but was vetoed by then Gov.Rick Perry. Could it pass again? And if it does, will it be vetoed by Gov. Abbott? We hear from Senator Ellis then welcome your questions for Prof. Elizabeth Gregory, Director of the University of Houston’s Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program.

Then: Our gaggle of foodies shares their thoughts on some of the best appetizers, entrees and desserts in Houston in our latest installment of The Full Menu.

Plus: Houston Matters’ Maggie Martin talks with Texas based novelist Henry Chappell, about his new book, Silent We Stood, which examines how the Underground Railroad might have operated in Texas just before the Civil War.

(Image Courtesy: Texas Tribune)

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Craig Cohen

Craig Cohen

Executive Producer/Host, Houston Matters

Craig Cohen is the executive producer and host of Houston Matters, which airs weekdays at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Houston Public Media, News 88.7 FM. Craig is a 20+ year veteran of broadcast journalism. He's spent the bulk of his career in public media, in roles ranging from programmer...

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