Sunbelt justice: politics, the professions, and the history of sentencing and corrections in Texas since 1968
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In late 20th-century Texas, during decades of rapid economic growth and abrupt social transformation, traditional state institutions and other features of a less affluent Southern past persisted side by side with the modern and newly developed. Criminal justice, in Texas as in other states, became a realm that was fiercely contested politically and in the courts. Sentencing and corrections, in particular, bore the brunt of changes promoted by the frequently conflicting forces of federal grant aid to states and federal judicial intervention. In the case of Texas, comprehensive reforms ordered by federal courts became a crucial, if limited, impetus for change that challenged the resistance of the political establishment. The courts typically sought to compel state institutions to meet standards of service provision set by professional experts and certifying organizations. The lead role played by federal courts--rather than Texas professionals themselves and their statewide organizations--in advocating for reforms indicates that in a state political environment marked by a tendency toward concentrated power, and with few independent, politically insulated institutions of their own, Texas doctors, lawyers, academics, and other professionals had few active roles to play. As examples of courtordered reform, the cases of prison medical care and juvenile confinement both display the chronic abasement of professional standards by state institutions, the limits of effective judicial intervention over time, and the long-term cyclical patterns of state politics. Other episodes of attempted reform--the use of federal grant funds originally intended to upgrade criminal justice agencies, and a succession of initiatives to change the criminal sentencing code--demonstrate the prevalence of political pressures over state-supported professional expertise. The particular importance of physicians--and the absence of state medical organizations--in promoting the revival of a modernized death penalty is emphasized by a comparison with England, where doctors asserted a professional interest in criminal justice policies and preempted the medicalization of capital punishment. Ultimately the fate of each of these initiatives in the realm of sentencing and correction reflects the pressures tending against the creation and maintenance of independent professional authority in Texas.