Last year, the Texas prison system unwittingly started a controlled experiment. Agency leaders have long blamed prisoners’ friends and families for a constant flow of drugs they say are often smuggled in through visits and greeting cards. To combat this, prison officials in early March set up new rules curtailing prisoner mail. Two weeks later, they shut down visitation to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
TCJC In the News
Press Contact: For all media inquiries, please contact Madison Kaigh, Communications Manager, at mkaigh@TexasCJC.org or (512) 441-8123, ext. 108.
On Feb. 8, the Houston Police Department (HPD) arrested a homeless man, 57-year-old Israel Iglesias, for allegedly handing an undercover cop 0.6 grams of methamphetamine. Iglesias died the next day in the county jail. Results of his autopsy remain pending. Iglesias’s death has raised obvious questions about what priorities the police and the Harris County prosecutor’s office have when it comes to solving or preventing crimes: Why, critics have asked, did police find it necessary to execute an undercover drug sting in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic?
George Floyd’s loved ones appeared before a state House committee Thursday to support a sweeping police reform bill named for the former Houston resident, who was killed last May when a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck for almost nine minutes.
Social justice activists from around the state are planning to gather at the Texas Capitol building Thursday to urge state legislators to pass police reform bills introduced in the wake of the officer-involved killing of George Floyd. One of the bills, named the George Floyd Act, would ban police choke holds, require deadly force to end "the moment the imminent threat" ends, and limit the use of qualified immunity in police brutality lawsuits, among other measures.
Lia Pikus is no stranger to the intersection of seemingly unrelated passions. As a recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a grant that allows graduating seniors to pursue an independent study project outside of the United States, she is bringing together two passions of hers — music and prison abolitionism — for her project “Beyond the Bars: Music’s Role in Reimagining Punishment.” At some point in the near future, she will be setting off to observe inner-carceral music programming first hand and experience musical community on a global scale.
Dallas ISD must stop using school suspensions as the district works to redress racial disparities, a group of local and statewide education advocates demanded Tuesday. Doing so would help keep children on track and position DISD as a national “game-changer” in taking meaningful steps toward policies that underscore the Black Lives Matter movement, advocates said.
One Year After First Taking Action on COVID-19, Texas Criminal Justice Reform Advocates Decry Continuing Dangers for Incarcerated People
Exactly one year after the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) first asked Governor Greg Abbott to protect incarcerated people and their communities from the urgent threat of COVID-19, the organization is remembering the lives lost to the virus and continuing to push for action. On March 16, 2020, TCJC and a large group of advocates and system-impacted people published a letter to Governor Abbott and the state’s criminal justice agencies with clear directives to mitigate the potential disaster of a deadly and fast-spreading virus in youth and adult corrections facilities.
Starting Monday, Texas prisoners will be able to see their loved ones in person again with some restrictions. It's been one year since Texas banned prison visits due to the pandemic. Here & Now's Tonya Mosley speaks with Kirsten Ricketts, who hasn't seen her husband Jeremy Ricketts since March 13, 2020. She's on the steering committee for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's Statewide Leadership Council.
For the first time in a year, Texas inmates will be allowed in-person visits, another sign that the state is working to return to some semblance of normalcy following the disruptions of COVID-19. The policy takes effect Monday (March 15), according to a recent story from the Texas Tribune.
During the Pandemic, Houston Cops Went Undercover and Arrested a Homeless Man Over 0.6 Grams of Meth
Last year, according to documents obtained by The Appeal, the Houston Police Department received a tip that drugs were being traded in an encampment for unhoused people at the 700 block of Booth Street, near Moody Park. On Oct. 20, as COVID-19 cases were just beginning to surge around the nation to previously unseen levels, at least two officers took an undercover stroll through the encampment.
Starting Monday, Texas inmates will be able to resume in-person visits with family and friends for the first time since the governor declared a public health disaster a year ago, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In the last year, Texas prisoners have struggled through the pandemic, getting sick by the hundreds and seen fellow inmates and prison staff die from COVID-19 — all without being able to see their loved ones.
On International Women’s Day, Texas Women’s Justice Coalition Continues Fight for Better Outcomes for Women Impacted by the Justice System
For the fourth consecutive year, the Texas Women’s Justice Coalition is taking action on International Women’s Day to keep women out of the justice system and improve outcomes for those who have been impacted by arrest and incarceration. The Texas Women’s Justice Coalition is comprised of more than 70 formerly incarcerated women, advocates, and service providers seeking to stem the tide of women’s incarceration, improve their conditions of confinement, and help women successfully return to their families and communities.
When LaToyia Walker was sent to Texas Lockhart Correctional Facility in 2017, her grandmother would scribble short notes on pre-written greeting cards before mailing them to the prison. Writing letters had become challenging after her grandmother suffered a stroke in 2012, and the greeting cards were a critical way of maintaining contact.
Statewide Leadership Council: Advocates Call for Emergency Planning in Texas Prisons Following Horrific Week [Press Release]
After historic winter weather caused a statewide emergency and devastated power and water supplies throughout Texas, families of incarcerated individuals from across the state are demanding better emergency preparedness for Texas prisons. The horrifying conditions experienced by incarcerated individuals and prison staff during the winter storm revealed a lack of preparation by prison officials to address even the most basic needs.
As a winter storm battered Texas, 4.5 million people lost power. A humanitarian crisis mounted across the state, as residents lost heat and running water while food stocks dwindled. Dozens have died since February 11, likely from hypothermia. People without basic services sought sanctuary with friends, received assistance from mutual aid groups or, in the case of Senator Ted Cruz, fled to the warmer pastures of a balmy beachside resort in Cancún.
Who is at fault for the misery in Texas, and who should take responsibility for its alleviation? This is the debate as extreme winter weather and infrastructure failures in the state have left at least two dozen people dead and millions without heat, water, and/or power. And it's not an unreasonable debate to have, with one glaring exception: lock-up.
Letter to Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman: Inspect 2 Protect “Creates a Barrier to Vital Support Networks”
Today, a group of advocates, organizations, and system-impacted individuals released a letter sent to Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Patrick O’Daniel, which highlights the negative impacts of the “Inspect 2 Protect” policy enacted at Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) facilities last year. The letter—which received 29 signatures from local, state, and national groups—reiterates previous advocate requests for the policy to be reconsidered.
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Jay Jenkins of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition joined The Appeal Live to talk about Houston jail overcrowding and COVID-19.
As of Sunday, there were 8,889 people incarcerated inside Houston’s Harris County Jail, the largest facility of its kind in Texas. Of that number, 7,772—more than 87 percent—are being held pretrial. Nearly half of the people held in the jail, according to the county’s online jail population database, have been arrested on nonviolent charges.
A group of San Antonio Independent School District students called for the district to include more diverse student voices that accurately represent them in district decisions during a discussion on student rights Tuesday. The SAISD Student Coalition and Poder, the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel’s social justice caucus, held a Facebook Live discussion on student rights Tuesday, with experts from the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based nonprofit working to end inequities in state laws.