Even with Supreme Court Intervention, still too many people put to death in Texas

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Communications Coordinator

Texas leads the nation in the number of executions.  In fact, we have executed more than 4 times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1976. If Texas were its own country it would have tied for eighth in the world (with Syria) for the number of executions in 2010.  Though barely publicized, the US Supreme Court intervened twice this month to save the lives of two inmates on death row in Texas.

First, on September 15, after he had eaten his last meal, Duane Buck got news that his execution had been temporarily stayed by the Court.  Buck was tried in 1997, and racist testimony by psychologist Walter Quijano suggested that his being African American would contribute to “future dangerousness” to inmates in prison, a factor that is considered before issuing a death sentence.  Despite the fact that Mr. Buck’s conviction was one of six that former Texas Attorney General (and now US Senator) John Cornyn said needed to be reopened because of Mr. Quijano’s racist testimony, Gov. Perry refused to grant Buck a 30-day stay for his case to be reviewed.

Just last night the Supreme Court intervened in Texas’ death penalty system once again.  The Court stopped the execution of Cleve Foster less than three hours before he was to be put to death. This is the third time the court has intervened on behalf of Mr. Foster, and it did not explain why it issued the stay.

This pattern of intervention from the highest court in the land should compel Texas to take a good look at our death penalty system.

Breaking Schools’ Rules: Focus on Solutions Backed by Evidence

By Frank Knaack
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

The Breaking Schools’ Rules report clearly demonstrates the need for Texas lawmakers to review and reform school discipline practices. One sensible, effective and cost effective approach is positive behavioral interventions and supports (or PBIS for short). PBIS improves individual student behavior by coordinating behavioral supports and interventions throughout the school environment. It functions as a guide for all school administrators and staff by establishing a multi-tiered system for selecting and implementing evidence-based behavioral interventions.

Though historically PBIS was associated with special education interventions, research has shown that it is a powerful tool for bringing school-wide reform that benefits all students. In those schools where PBIS is effectively implemented, data has shown:

o Reductions in disciplinary problems and referrals
o Increased academic achievement
o Decreased anti-social behavior, such as bullying
o Increased attendance (which has the added benefit of more money for cash-strapped districts)

Schools benefit from PBIS by fostering safer and more academically successful campuses, while students benefit from PBIS by experiencing a less punitive school climate and a reduced likelihood of being referred to the juvenile justice system.

During the 82nd Texas legislative session, our proactive efforts at the Capitol in the area of school discipline were focused on furthering evidenced-based approaches to discipline in Texas’ public schools, such as PBIS. As the evidence demonstrates, if realized these efforts would have made our students, teachers, and administrators more safe and our schools more productive.

While our efforts at the Capitol came up short during the last session, we made great progress in educating legislators and their staff about the importance of moving toward PBIS in Texas schools. We are optimistic that these necessary reforms will succeed in the 83rd session, but to succeed we also know that we will need your help! Stay tuned.