This past August, breaking news revealed a major crisis in Texas youth prisons. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), an agency that’s always been plagued with problems, was at a point of collapse. Due to severe staffing shortages, kids were stuck in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, forced to use the bathroom in water bottles and on lunch trays. In many cases, these are kids who are already traumatized – and isolated in tiny cells, their mental health was profoundly impacted. Nearly half were at risk of suicide, and many had self-harmed.
Alternatives to Incarceration
One year ago today, our organization launched a new name—and with it, a new vision for what justice can mean in Texas.
After 21 years—during the bulk of which we were called the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition—our staff, board, coalition members, and community came together in an important decision: it was time to change our name.
If you’ve followed previous posts in our beginner’s guide blog series (which you can scroll down to revisit!), you may know that the Texas Legislature only holds its regular session from January through May of every other year. But the reality of how our laws are made is actually a little more complicated–in part because legislators start working early, in what’s called the interim.
I’m sure you’ve seen the posts all across social media: it’s the time of year when people reflect. They’ll share their most heard songs (mine: “Jackson” cover by Trixie Mattel and Orville Peck, “Jerome” by Lizzo, “The Six” by the Six the Musical cast). Or they might note personal accomplishments from the year (mine: a lot of homemade empanadas and one truly phenomenal maple pecan pie).
When I was an intern with TCJE, I jumped into a project analyzing a dataset of arrests for possession of a controlled substance in Travis County (Austin). The previous work on this project sparked my interest because it highlighted the communities that I’m from. I have lived in East Riverside for about 5 years and before that I came from a similar neighborhood in San Antonio. My whole life I’ve witnessed police saturation in my communities, but I always assumed it was a normal practice in every neighborhood.
Last updated: June 19, 2021
After a divisive legislative session in Texas, lawmakers are headed home. But our work doesn’t end here. Over the next 20 days, the Governor will review the bills that have reached his desk and sign them into law, let them pass into law without a signature, or veto them.
In 2019, I had the memorable experience of visiting the Texas Capitol as part of an amazing team. And although I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with some of my fantastic coworkers again this year, that’s not what I’ll remember about the 2021 session. In the time of COVID-19, what’s stuck with me is a different experience--watching bills travel through the legislative process from behind my laptop screen.
In early 2020, the TCJC team had a vision: a week of justice-focused events, displays, and lobbying at the Texas Capitol during the state’s 2021 legislative session. We pictured our posters, tables, and reports laid out for legislators, staff, and visitors to learn about our work and get involved in the statewide movement to end mass incarceration. We imagined our team meeting people face-to-face and sharing stories in person.