I am formerly incarcerated, and I have spent a few Valentine’s days in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). On holidays, there is a feeling of loneliness like no other behind the brick walls of prison. I remember the homemade cards women would receive from their children in the days leading up to February 14th. Husbands would send thoughtful cards to their wives. Those cards were a glimpse of hope and humanity sent from the outside. I would receive a thoughtful handwritten letter... Read more >
No matter how many times you walk into the Texas Capitol, you never lose the feeling of awe at being in such a beautiful and historic place.
Before I joined the TCJC team, I had visited the Capitol a few times. But during Second Chance Month (April) 2019, I walked through the doors with a new sense of belonging. I was there alongside my coworkers, colleagues, and friends to watch from the gallery as a... Read more >
This year, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition turned 20 — and, as always, the TCJC team has been working to ensure that our mission is meeting the moment. Over the past several months, as the interconnected challenges of COVID-19 and racial injustice have earned the national spotlight, we have seen calls for improved health and safety approaches. As budgets are upended and incarcerated people remain at risk from COVID-19 outbreaks, TCJC’s advocacy to... Read more >
Since 2008, October has been dedicated to youth justice. Every year, advocates, family members, and system-impacted kids have come together with leadership from the Campaign for Youth Justice to mark Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), formerly called Youth Justice Awareness Month.
In a typical year, YJAM is an opportunity for the youth justice community to highlight wins and needed reforms through rallies, events, and more. We get to meet face-to-face and share stories of... Read more >
A year ago, I sent out an email asking TCJC’s supporters for your input on our work. We collected survey responses from 140 people, who represented all walks of life and levels of justice system impact. I read about your priorities for policy reform, your difficulties navigating an opaque and insensitive justice system, and your reasons for joining us in this fight.
None of us could have guessed how different the world would be a... Read more >
“It’s just a messed up system. It makes me feel like…I’m not a free American citizen.” –George*
The pretrial detention process is chaotic, frustrating, and exhausting for the people mixed up in it. It creates and perpetuates a cycle of criminality on the basis of poverty. George, introduced in a previous blog post, bluntly encapsulated this sentiment when he described his anger towards the bail process and the larger criminal justice system. His... Read more >
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 >