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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Ramshaw on geriatric care in state prisons, with Miller's photo essay inside those walls; M. Smith interviews the state's newest Supreme Court justice, Debra Lehrmann; Aguilar finds fewer Mexicans seeking asylum in the U.S; Galbraith sorts out the politics of pollution and whether our air is dangerous to breathe; Thevenot discovers authorities writing tickets for misbehavior to elementary school kids; Philpott reports on early hearing about political redistricting; Kreighbaum examines fines levied against polluters and finds they're often smaller than the economic benefits of the infractions; and Stiles and Babalola spotlight some of our data projects from our first seven months online: The best of our best from May 31 to June 4, 2010.

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Since our November launch, we've published more than 30 web applications made from government records, including the most comprehensive public payroll database in the state, an interactive database with all 160,000 inmates serving time in the 100-plus state prison units, rankings of more than 5,800 public schools, a comprehensive list of every red-light enforcement camera in Texas, and databases with state-level fundraising and spending  for members of the Legislature and statewide elected officials. Readers have viewed these pages more than 2.3 million times — more than a third of the site's overall traffic.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has nearly doubled its number of administrative enforcement actions against polluters in the last five years — yet critics charge the agency still levies penalties too small to act as a deterrent.

Redistricting is a highly partisan exercise, but there's likely to be more at work than mere politics in 2011. Shifts in the state’s population and demographics will play a large part in shaping where new congressional and legislative boundaries are set.

With the rise of get-tough juvenile crime policies across Texas, the municipal courthouse has become the new principal’s office for students who get into fights, curse their teachers or are generally “disorderly” — even in elementary schools. Campus police in the Austin, Houston and Dallas ISDs, among others, write thousands of citations per year, with young students regularly ticketed and minority students disproportionately targeted.

Since last week's announcement that the EPA is getting tough on Texas, the state and the feds have been going at it. But does alll the hubbub mean that the air we breathe is dangerous?

Texas’ “geriatric” inmates (55 and older) make up just 7.3 percent of Texas’ 160,000-offender prison population, but they account for nearly a third of the system’s hospital costs. Prison doctors routinely offer up the oldest and sickest of them for medical parole, a way to get those who are too incapacitated to be a public threat and have just months to live out of medical beds that Texas’ quickly aging prison population needs. They’ve recommended parole for 4,000 such inmates within the last decade. But the state parole board has only agreed in a quarter of these cases, leaving the others to die in prison — and on the state’s dime. We visited a geriatric prison unit to describe life on the inside for Texas' elderly inmates.

Despite the drug war raging on the other side of the border, the number of Mexican nationals applying for asylum in the United States is declining. Approvals are down even further.

Debra Lehrmann, the Texas Supreme Court justice-to-be (she'll take retiree Harriet O'Neill's seat on June 21) talks about judicial elections, the recent ethics complaint filed against her, women on the bench and what happens when she disagrees with the law.


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Courts Criminal justice Health care Immigration Public education State government Debra Lehrmann Education Federal health reform Public Information Act Redistricting State agencies Texas Department Of Criminal Justice Texas Education Agency Texas Legislature Texas Supreme Court