Harris County (Houston) is Texas’ largest county, as well as the state’s largest driver of people into local- and state-level incarceration. The county jail holds approximately 8,000 people on any given day, the majority of whom are legally innocent, awaiting trial; prosecutorial practices and an inadequate treatment infrastructure further push people into the justice system. Youth, too, have historically been failed by local practices, including over-policing in schools.
TCJC began making strategic strides in Harris County in 2011, but we formally expanded our office to the Houston area in 2014, hiring Jay Jenkins as our Harris County Project Attorney. For over six years, Jay has worked to build coalitions and advocate for change in the local justice system, addressing issues like bail reform, alternatives to incarceration, youth justice, and more.
Fighting for Community Reconciliation
From 2011-2013, TCJC undertook an effort to build a working unity among Black and Immigrant communities in Houston, resulting in groups sharing stories of injustices, providing words of encouragement to each other’s communities, and standing in solidarity on pressing struggles – including at the Janitor’s Strike for a living wage, in efforts opposing privatization of the county jail, and by addressing the death toll of the Mexican Drug War during the Caravan for Peace’s stop in Houston. TCJC ultimately released a report – read more
Providing “Know Your Rights” Trainings
TCJC collaborated with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office to provide interactive “Know Your Rights” presentations about police encounters and justice system involvement. We have conducted dozens of presentations, including during resident meetings at public housing complexes, at churches, in schools, and with other young people.
Fighting for Bail Reform
ADVOCACY WITH STATE AND NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS: From 2015-2016, TCJC was invited to sit on a state-level advisory group to assist a standing committee of the Texas Judicial Council, which issued recommendations for Texas courts on enhancing public safety and social outcomes when making pretrial release decisions.
Separately, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and John Jay College of Criminal Justice invited input int...read more
Opposing Prosecutor Expansion
TCJC continually fights to reduce the overall front-end push of people into the justice system, including through fewer prosecutions. In February 2019, DA Kim Ogg asked the Harris County Commissioners for $20 million for 102 new prosecutors, claiming that additional prosecutors would help reduce high attorney caseloads and provide more opportunities for diversion. TCJC and TOP opposed the DA’s budgetary request, highlighting concerns with redirecting money fro...read more
Promoting Alternatives to Incarceration
EARLY SUPPORT FOR DIVERSIONS: We have long fought to reduce the Harris County Jail population through advocacy for diversion programs (recommendations issued in 2012) and legislative testimony specific to safely right-sizing the jail’s population (provided to the House County Affairs Committee in 2014).
Furthermore, we hav...read more
Seeking Better Outcomes for Kids
ADDRESSING THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE: We have been working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in Harris County. We have analyzed data on students impacted by school policing, which has revealed stark racial disparities and troubling spending ratios on law enforcement compared to dropout prevention, college readiness, and parent and community engagement combined. We also released a read more
Building Transparency Through Our Harris County Data Dashboard
Our Harris County data dashboard, which we launched in 2018, puts data on disparities in Harris County’s justice system right at your fingertips to hold leaders accountable. The dashboard, created with January Advisors and with support from Microsoft Cities Team, overlays data from more than 800,000 criminal court cases with demographic information to create a comprehensive view of case outcomes in Houston – including the degree to which arrests are skewed in communities of color, how bail amounts differ, and ind...read more
Partnering with Rice University to Build Research and Advocacy Skills Among Students
Since fall 2017, Jay has partnered with Rice University in its Law Practicum program, where undergraduate students interested in legal careers get real-world, hands-on experience in justice reform advocacy by working for TCJC and gaining class credit. Additionally, Jay has worked with the University’s Center for Civic Leadership and its HART (Houston Action Research Team) program; students apply to work for TCJC and spend a semester researching a specific issue. This partnership has produced valuable research on school policing, bail reform, c...read more
Nearby Work: Addressing the Legacy of Convict Leasing in Sugar Land, Texas
Reginald “Reggie” Moore is a former prison guard at the now-closed Central Unit in Sugar Land (Fort Bend County). He has long been vocal about the city’s use of leased convicts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 2011, after the Central Unit closed, Fort Bend County acquired the land and, in 2018, construction began on a new Career and Technical Center for Fort Bend ISD. Ultimately, 95 graves were found on the si...read more