Travis County (Austin) is the state’s fifth-largest driver of people into state prison and home of the state’s fifth-largest county jail population. Drug possession is a large driver of local incarceration, with felony drug possession cases increasing by 34% from 2014 to 2019. The local treatment infrastructure has been insufficient to address the high need for services.
While TCJC does not have a staff person dedicated exclusively to working in Travis County, our Austin-based staff have been participating in local advocacy since 2016. Our work, in strong partnership with other advocates on the ground, has been incrementally paving the way for pre-arrest and pretrial reforms that will improve people’s access to treatment and programming, reduce the number of people entering incarceration, and make Travis County safer.
Supporting Pretrial Reform [2016-2017]
In 2016, various advocates – including TCJC, Grassroots Leadership, the Texas Fair Defense Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Texas Advocates for Justice – began working with Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt and other local leadership on pretrial issues. We collectively provided her information and recommendations related to pretrial interventions and related reforms, and TCJC and other groups called on local leaders to invest in community-based program...read more
Working to Improve Policing, Especially for People in Mental Health Crisis [2016-2018]
TCJC partnered with various criminal justice and civil rights groups in a coordinated campaign against the City of Austin’s contract with the police union; among other things, that contract governed disciplinary measures in response to police misconduct, as well as oversight and accountability, but it also informed police responses to particular situations, like mental health crises. In fall 2017, TCJC released a brief...read more
Opposing Construction of a New Women’s Facility [2017-2021]
In September 2017, DecarcerateATX members testified at a Travis County budget hearing in opposition to a proposal to build a new women’s jail. Many women in Travis County’s jail are confined for low-level possession offenses and kept for lengthy periods – rather than being offered access to programming in the community, despite many having higher needs. At the hearing, advocates emphasized other ways to address the growing number of females confined in the jail, including through stronger pretrial interventions.
Over the following six months, TCJC and other De...read more
Fighting for a Public Health Response to Addiction and Behavioral Health Issues 
While Austin has implemented specific programs to address minor marijuana possession offenses (effective January 2018), driving with a suspended license (June 2018), and state jail felony-level drug and property offenses (June 2018), it is in dire need of a pre-arrest diversion program, but it lacks services and resources for people who would be eligible. However, the District Attorney and law enforcement leadership have expressed interest in alternatives to arrest and incarceration.
To lay out our vision for reform, TCJC released a ...read more
Analyzing Local Offense Data to Inform Policing and Prosecutorial Recommendations [2018-2020]
Beginning in late 2018, TCJC began collecting county data on nearly 3,000 less-than-a-gram drug possession cases filed from June 2017 to May 2018. (A gram is the equivalent of a sugar packet.) We worked with Grassroots Leadership, the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, and the University of Texas School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic to analyze the data and develop recommendations related to drug possession and police practices.
We jointly issued our read more
Protesting Racism by Police [2019-2020]
LETTER SEEKING A "NO CALL" POLICY: In late 2019, TCJC signed on to an advocates' letter to District Attorney Margaret Moore requesting that her office implement a “No Call” policy, under which her office would not issue charges, seek arrest or search warrants, or consider cases that rely on the word of law enforcement officers who are found to be biased or dishonest. The letter referenced the senseless tasing of Quentin Perkins, a Black man on his ...read more
Building Transparency Through Our Travis County Data Dashboard 
TCJC launched our Travis County dashboard in mid-2020. Created with January Advisors and with support from Microsoft Philanthropies, the dashboard puts data on justice system disparities right at your fingertips to hold leaders accountable. It reveals 400,000 criminal court case outcomes - including bail amounts by offense, and individual judges’ sentencing decisions - and it shares racial and gender information for people arrested. This resource is especially helpful in informing budget proces...read more