County Criminal Justice Planners met with (l to r) Dr. Vokhid Karimov of Uzbekistan and Yeskali Salamatov of Kazakhstan, Interpreter Natalia Kononenko and Rinat Kabiyev of Kazakstan.
On Friday, October 1, the international visitors and Texas planners met to exchange ideas about prison conditions and policies here and abroad. Among the topics discussed were correctional management, medical and psychological support, reintegration into society, sentencing, job training, alternatives to incarceration, prison reform and prisoner rights, the role of the courts, and legislative changes.
The hourlong meeting, which was followed by visits with officials from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and tours of the Estelle Unit, were part of a three-week visit to the United States sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The visitors included Rinat Kabiyev, head of the Department of Regime, Supervision, and Protection, Penitentiary Committee in Kazakhstan; Yeskali Salamatov, Deputy Chairman of the Penitentiary Committee, also from Kazakhstan; and Dr. Vokhid Karimov, a medical doctor from Uzbekistan who monitors the health and well-being of inmates in the country’s prison system.
"We’ve learned a lot and we’ve understood a lot,' said delegation leader Salamatov.
In the past, CMIT has hosted other State Department-sponsored groups, including visitors from Cyprus, Italy, Korea, and Poland, but this is the first time a foreign country has participated with criminal justice planners.
The ongoing Executive Forum for Criminal Justice Planners brings together executive managers from counties across Texas who are charged with overseeing the criminal justice system in their jurisdictions, including the effective flow of inmates through the jail system; the effectiveness and efficiency among the many components of the local criminal justice system, and effective alternatives, diversion, and reentry of their population.
The planners represent the five largest counties – Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis – as well as small counties through representatives from The Texas Association of Counties (TAC).
The group discussed ongoing issues such as the use of GPS, pre-trial interventions, indigent defense, and alternatives to incarceration. They also previewed TAC’s Jail Population Control Pilot Program, providing feedback and suggestions for building bridges to smaller counties around the state.
"We have similar problems and similar issues," said Caprice Cosper, Director of Harris County's Office of Criminal Justice Coordination. "This has exposed me to emerging issues on the national level. It is about sharing ideas on what has been tried that has failed and what has been tried that has been successful. It's all about communication and collaboration and what we can take with us in order to change policy."
"It is a really positive thing that CMIT is doing," added Ron Stretcher, director of Criminal Justice for Dallas County. "It allows us to easily find out what’s happening in the other counties. We can find out what process worked and what processes didn’t work. It lets us to tap into the funding grapevine and allows us to be more organized to push similar agendas."