Until now in this series, I’ve been focusing on the time that people unjustly spend in pretrial detention. Interviews with people like Lance* and George* (introduced in previous blog posts here and here) have shown first-hand the cruelty of present jail conditions and the confusion with which cases are reset and delayed. Lance and George have characterized their time inside the Harris County Jail as chaotic, frightening, and assaultive—a punishment for a crime... Read more >
Jail isn’t a great place. But it’s not supposed to be, right? It’s a “bad” place for “bad” people. That’s okay then; jails are what they’re supposed to be.
For too many years, this embarrassingly childish way of thinking created tension between my perception of jails and the values of humane treatment. I, like many outsiders, never actively wanted jails to be terrible places. But I was certainly comfortable with their reputation as subpar, writing... Read more >
Finding the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition was a bit of a fluke—or at least that’s how it felt at the time. Doug Smith, TCJC’s Senior Policy Analyst, had come to speak to one of my classes at St. Edward’s University in 2018. I spoke to him after his presentation and asked for one of his business cards. About a year later, when I decided I wanted to spend my summer making a difference, I found... Read more >
Dissecting the criminal justice system in a classroom always felt comfortably analytical. Built on a foundation of logic and reason with the end goal of order and peace, the system made sense to me. It seemed to be a desirable and right institution in a very chaotic and wrong world. But this sheen of reasonability hides the system’s creativity; its loopholes and bureaucracy work like snares against those whose wallets are too thin to cut... Read more >
Each courtroom in the United States houses an American flag. When judges bruise their benches with gavels, it happens under the watch of our stripes and stars. Like all the other neighbors in my sleepy Iowa town, naivety and the protection of middle-class suburbia let me grow up believing that the threads of our flag are woven with liberty and justice. The ubiquitous message throughout my schooling and in my home was that I didn’t... Read more >
It’s an old question: what’s in a name? When it comes to our work, words matter and names matter. Labels define who we are and what we do. This is the dilemma facing Texas schools today, where so many kids are in need of meaningful help to get them on a safe, stable path to fulfilling their potential.
In our work with Independent School Districts (ISD’s), we often hear about schools’ investments in “counselors.” On... Read more >
TCJC condemns targeted and police violence against Black people and people of color across the country and reaffirms commitment to racial justice.
While coronavirus has ravaged our prisons, jails, and communities – hitting poor people and people of color particularly hard – another epidemic has captured our national attention: race-based violence. The brutal images that have arisen in the last two weeks are burned into our consciousness: a police officer remorselessly murdering George Floyd in... Read more >
How Formerly Incarcerated and System-Impacted People Are Leading the Fight to Mitigate COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails
As of May 27, 2020, nearly 4,500 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas, nearly 12 times the number of cases this time one month ago. Thus far, 36 incarcerated people have died and at least five officers have lost their lives. Tens of thousands of men and women have been on lockdown in their cells or dorms for a month or more. There appears to be little end in sight.
Few... Read more >
During a worldwide pandemic that’s overwhelming our healthcare system and triggering unprecedented layoffs, it’s no surprise that many of us have forgotten that April is Second Chance Month.
If it were another time, I would be reflecting on my own journey over the past six years from prison to Senior Policy Analyst and Adjunct Professor. I would be celebrating Maggie Luna, TCJC’s Peer Policy Fellow who has overcome every obstacle to shine as a leader... Read more >
The warnings and recommendations of health experts indicate that Harris County is not doing enough to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in its jail. A variety of local health experts have emphasized that jails are particularly vulnerable to an outbreak of COVID-19, as they contain optimal conditions for the spread of infectious disease. Holding thousands of people in close quarters, jails are unable to comply with CDC recommendations like social distancing and hand washing. Jail... Read more >
The first time I heard about “restorative justice” was during the summer before my senior year of high school, on my first day at TCJC. I was an eager-to-please Policy Associate (and very much still am, just now under a different title!), and I was excited to get my first glimpse into the policy world. Over the coming months, I would spend a large part of my time at TCJC poring over research about restorative... Read more >
March 16, 2020
The Honorable Greg Abbott
Office of the Texas Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711
Mitigating Disaster: Urgent and Just Responses to COVID-19 in the Texas Justice System
Dear Governor Abbott:
Thank you for quickly halting visitation in Texas prisons and jails across the state in response to the grave threat that a COVID-19 contagion poses to incarcerated populations and staff members. Today we write to you in support... Read more >
On Thursday, February 20, a reporter from the Texas Tribune contacted me for comment following the announcement by Senator John Whitmire that the state plans to close two prisons. The closure is a result of the prison population’s decrease from 145,402 to 141,549 people between January and December 2019, despite projections by the Legislative Budget Board that the incarcerated population would remain at or above 145,000 through 2024. Shuttering two prisons is a... Read more >
Perception Equals Potential: New Coalition in Dallas Will Work to Reverse the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Dallas has historically been a tale of two cities: one Black and one white. This problem exists to this day, especially when it comes to the divide in education, policing, and housing. South and West Dallas contain the highest concentration of Black and Latinx citizens.
The schools in these areas have a well-known reputation for excessive use of disciplinary action, which results in suspensions, expulsions, and justice system referrals. When it comes to... Read more >
Before April 2017, I truly believed that I was destined to either perish as a result of my addiction or spend my life in prison. I was a woman who’d been trapped in a cycle of drug use and incarceration for 20 years, and I had no idea how to get out of the mess I had made of my life. I’d faced incarceration in so many ways—from finding myself in and out of county... Read more >
To close out this year’s progress on TCJC’s “Justice for Women” campaign, we took to the mountains—or, more accurately, the hills! From November 8-10, formerly incarcerated women, advocates, and service providers who have been working to advance women's justice legislation in our state gathered at beautiful Mo-Ranch in Hunt for the first-ever Texas Women's Dignity Retreat. The goal was to celebrate all of the incredible progress that’s been made, build community, and plan next steps... Read more >
In the age of limitless streaming and nonstop social media saturation, we see a lot of holiday imagery that evokes peace, joy, and plenty. But if your loved one is spending the holidays behind bars, or if you’re system-involved yourself, it can be challenging to remain in the holiday spirit when December rolls around.
At this time of year, a simple gesture like a message of love and support can make all the difference for... Read more >
In 2011, I heard a loud bang on my door. My heart began to pound in my chest. I’d heard that knock before. A “cop” knock. Complete and utter despair set... Read more >
Justice for Women Campaign Update: Texas Prison Program Focuses on Trauma and Education Needs of Incarcerated Women
Yesterday, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ, the state prison system) unveiled a first-of-its-kind women’s reentry program designed to help incarcerated women address and heal from trauma, as well as connect with jobs that will be waiting for them upon their release. The program is small—only 31 women in the inaugural class, though TDCJ is aiming to double it by the end of the year—and it starts late—during the last 12 weeks of... Read more >
Over the last two years, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has worked to make the state’s criminal justice system more transparent by obtaining and visualizing criminal court data. Beginning with Harris County, this project has helped hold people in power accountable for their promises of reform.