Friday, April 6, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 127



Staff Editorial


Tom Carpenter                      Ed De La Garza                       Crystal J. Doucette 
Romina Kim                           Jim Parsons


A good start

Texas inmates fighting for their freedom will finally have access to DNA testing.

Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that would let those inmates whose guilt is in question to take state-paid tests that could prove their innocence.

It would allow between 30 and 50 inmates -- provided they qualify -- to take the $1,000 to $1,500 tests each year. The state would have to preserve DNA evidence to be used in future testing.

Such evidence could also be used to solve unsolved crimes with the creation of a statewide database. Police wouldn't be relegated to using photos, sketches or fingerprints alone.

It could be seen as a way to appease public outcry over Texas' high prison population and high execution rate, but it is something the state most certainly needed to do.

There have been far too many cases where a prisoner isn't exonerated until after he or she has been locked away for months, or even years. It's a step in the right direction for a state in dire need of prison reform.

When President Bush made his run for the White House, his record as governor was taken to task. Texas was labeled a backwater state with an itchy trigger finger. It was as if the governor spent his time giving the green light to executions. It was as if Texans were proud to have more inmates than any other state.

The death penalty is a part of Texas law, but the new bipartisan supported bill could take the "What if they're innocent?" argument away from detractors.

DNA evidence has proven to be the smoking gun in many a court case. Used to prove a person's guilt, it's only right it now be used to help change a decision -- if an inmate was falsely imprisoned.

But while the law would help after a person has been convicted, it doesn't change the fact that people are still wrongfully imprisoned, making it just the beginning.

There is a definite need for prison reform. The state cannot build more jails so it can accommodate more prisoners. It cannot provide "justice for those who can afford it" rather than justice for all. There needs to be true reform -- keeping the prison population from escalating and making certain only those who are truly guilty are locked away.

At least, with Texas now joining about 12 other states, this decision could help our chances of escaping that backwater label.

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