Most of my clients are on bond. However, some unfortunates have cases of sufficient severity that bail has been set too high to make. One female client of mine, who is charged with two cases including Capital Murder, sits in the jail on Baker Street awaiting trial. I visit her frequently, but court settings are more difficult since the Harvey flood.
As recounted in a previous blog post, male jail inmates have court at the 701 Franklin jail, in the basement. Female inmates have a somewhat more practical situation set up. Their court settings are in a room on the female floor of the Baker Street jail. Like the male inmates, courts share a couple fold out tables in one room. However, more courts are involved at one time, since there are fewer females to attend to.
At the male jail docket, a request must be made to bring an inmate up to court. Once they make it there, they are brought into the same room as the Judge, prosecutor and court personnel. Privacy is challenging for the males. The females are set up differently.
Their system works something like this: All the female defendants from four different courts are placed into a large room next to the room where the courts are set up. They wear their fetching orange jumpsuits and sit on plastic chairs lined against the wall in a semi circle. There are at least 80 of them. In the front middle of the room sits another fold out table with two chairs on the door’s side of the table. The room is completely silent.
When it comes time to visit with your female inmate, you inform the assigned jailer and your client is called to the table. She is happy to see you and the entire scene begins to feel like a scene from “The Bachelor”. The two of you whisper to each other across the table, and the other girls sit in their silence desperately hoping to hear something of the conversation. On occasion, a lawyer will bring in plea papers or a dismissal form, which seems symbolic of a rose ceremony. Sometimes there is applause.
There is one benefit to the new jail docket system, both for females and males. Speaking to your client face to face, without the sanitized separation of Plexiglas enclosures is far more humanistic. The conversations are more civil. The discussions are less one-sided. Frankly, the holdovers in the Criminal Courthouse seemed designed to create conflict; an Us vs. Them mentality. On the other side of the door, where defense attorneys had access was a court system, foreign to the inmate and seemingly designed to make their life as harsh as possible. Secrets were held there. The new jail dockets are transparent to the inmate. Nothing is sanitized. I think it probably helps.
We received official word the other day that it was unlikely we would get back into the Harris County Criminal Justice Center in 2018. We heard whispers of that right after the flood, but it is still unnerving to know that the courthouse was that damaged. I maintain hope that Harris County takes this opportunity to make permanent changes to the building, i.e. new elevators and a reconfiguring of the courts. The criminal defense lawyers, judges and prosecutors that are suffering through the current purgatory deserve better.