On Saturday, July 19, TCJC and the ACLU of Texas hosted a town hall at the Texas Capitol. It was one of 26 simultaneous town halls across the country – all part of The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls’ national convening, which brought together women impacted by the criminal justice system and leaders committed to engaging in gender-responsive reform efforts.
At our town hall, we talked about the fact that more women are incarcerated in Texas than any other state in the U.S., and that 81 percent of them are mothers. We also discussed how the majority of women in Texas prisons are there for nonviolent offenses, predominately drug offenses, and how nearly all of them experienced victimization prior to their incarceration.
The majority of attendees were formerly incarcerated women with a wealth of lived experience to share. Most came to the town hall after connecting with Lauren Johnson, who works with the ACLU and was formerly incarcerated. Lauren’s personal experience seemed to center the conversation and, in my opinion, had a lot to do with why participants felt comfortable sharing their own experiences.
The small but mighty group brainstormed what could be done to change the dismal statistics related to women incarcerated in Texas. We envisioned communities and families that are healthy, supported, and thriving. We identified gaps in public health services, like trauma recovery and substance abuse treatment. We talked about how, across the country, state legislatures have been filing “Dignity” bills intended to improve the conditions and outcomes of women in the criminal justice system. To date, five states (Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky, Maryland, and Connecticut), have passed “Dignity” bills of some kind. And four states (California, Arizona, New Jersey, and Georgia) have “Dignity” legislation pending.
We believe it’s now Texas’ turn. During our 86th Legislative Session, which begins in January 2019, TCJC will work alongside formerly incarcerated women to advance “Dignity” legislation. To all the naysayers who would tell us it can’t be done, I’m reminded of a quote by Jasmine Heiss: “In my lifetime, we have built an international space station and vastly expanded the capacity of the internet to connect people around the globe. It must also be possible to both stem the flow of women into our nation’s prisons and jails and fundamentally change the experience of incarceration to one rooted in dignity. To believe anything else is simply a failure of imagination.”
Want to join the fight? Here are a few ways you can support our women’s justice efforts:
Talk to Your Legislators
Meeting with or talking to legislators can be intimidating at first. Just remember, they’re regular people who want to make a positive difference in their communities. It’s important for you to share your perspective as an engaged constituent on issues that pertain to your community and state. Not sure who your state representative and senator are? Click here to find out who represents you.
You can also sign up for TCJC’s e-newsletter to get legislative updates and opportunities to advocate on women’s issues at the Capitol. Sign up here.
Donate to TCJC to Help Us Keep Up the Fight
Don’t have the time to testify or speak to your legislators, but you still want to help? Donate to TCJC! Your gift will help TCJC push for better policies for vulnerable and marginalized populations, including women, who become entangled in Texas’ criminal justice system.
To donate, simply click here. Whether you can give a lot or a little, ANYTHING and EVERYTHING helps in this fight for justice.
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