Two months ago, as the threat of COVID-19 began to rapidly alter life on the outside, Sam says changes were happening more slowly inside the Wynne Unit, a state prison in Huntsville, where he’s currently incarcerated. Even as cities banned mass gatherings and told people to stay home, life in lockup remained mostly the same. That is, until late March, when the first Texas prisoners and prison employees began testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
TCJC In the News
Press Contact: For all media inquiries, please contact Madison Kaigh, Communications Manager, at mkaigh@TexasCJC.org or (512) 441-8123, ext. 108.
Clutching a clear plastic bag of belongings, Lisa Oxendine walks slowly out of the Durham County Detention Facility and into a crowd awaiting her arrival. “I’m so glad to meet you,” Serena Sebring says, handing her a bouquet of bright flowers. “Welcome home.”
COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in Texas prisons in recent weeks, with the virus infecting and killing incarcerated people and staff, and likely spreading into nearby communities through the thousands of workers who travel back and forth each day. Yet some confirmed COVID-19 cases in state prisons are being excluded from the Texas health department tally with little explanation from government officials.
Texas criminal justice advocates: Jails, prisons 'epicenters' of coronavirus as more than 2,000 test positive
When news of the coronavirus swept across the globe, Jay Jenkins, Harris County project attorney for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said one place immediately came to mind as a deadly hot spot: jails. “In a pandemic, a jail is one of the most dangerous places to be,” he said.
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. last month, the number of young people in local secure detention centers fell by 24%, according to a new survey by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Some juvenile justice experts would like to see the reduced rates become permanent.
Activists are demanding that Austin Police Chief Brian Manley be terminated, and Mayor Steve Adler on Monday called for an investigation in the wake of a police officer’s fatal shooting of a man. Michael Ramos, 42, was killed Friday evening after an officer shot at him as he slowly drove away from police outside an apartment complex on South Pleasant Valley Road, video taken by witnesses shows.
A new report from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) provides a snapshot of COVID-19’s impact on the Harris County justice system. The report analyzes population data beginning on March 19, 2020, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a statewide health emergency.
In the midst of a pandemic, examples of mental fortitude and courage can be found. Yet social media is filled with anxious people wondering who is a coronavirus carrier, who can be trusted, how to get through this time of relative isolation. We are social creatures, so the longer shelter-in-place orders stretch on, the more our untested isolation skills will be frayed.
With the novel coronavirus upending society, Rachel Schuyler felt like a sitting duck. At the Bexar County lockup in downtown San Antonio, she lacked supplies like hand sanitizer and cringed each time a dormmate coughed. On April 3, she was finally released—one day after county officials announced a deputy at the jail had tested positive for the virus, the first of at least 23 cases among staff and inmates at the facility.
Many Texas prisoners have been approved for parole but can't walk free yet. Advocates say coronavirus should change that.
The Texas parole board had decided: Stephen Shane Smith was going to get out of prison. The 40-year-old was less than a year into a five-year sentence for a drug conviction when he was approved for early release in January. The only thing standing between him and his freedom was completing an in-prison life skills program.
Last month, Travis County criminal justice officials felt fairly successful in their efforts to reduce the overall jail population and to provide personal recognizance (PR) bond releases – that is, not levying cash bail – for most people accused of non-violent offenses.
Until last week, Brittney Cardenas was one of about 150 residents at Fort Worth’s Cenikor complex, an addiction rehabilitation center that treats its residents through what it calls work therapy. It’s in a low-slung brick building in an industrialized area just south of John Peter Smith Hosptial.
In response to an executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition released the following statement: “Contrary to the advice of public health experts, legal experts, and sheriffs across the country, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Sunday that suspends basic constitutional protections for people detained in county jail and puts thousands of people – many of whom have chronic illness – at grave risk of contracting COVID-19."
Meme Styles watched her three brothers cycle through the criminal justice system starting at a young age. “Since we were teenagers, since we were kids, as a matter of fact,” she said. “In many cases, these are youth that maybe just need that support of their community, or if their father is not there, a mentor to step in and say, ‘I do care.’“
TCJC Releases Urgent Statement Regarding Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order Suspending Jail Release for Thousands of Texans
Contrary to the advice of public health experts, legal experts, and sheriffs across the country, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Sunday that suspends basic constitutional protections for people detained in county jail and puts thousands of people – many of whom have chronic illness – at grave risk of contracting COVID-19.
Several criminal justice reform groups are objecting to one of Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders issued on Sunday. The mandate, Abbott said, is to prevent the release of “dangerous criminals” from Texas jails.
Here in the Estelle prison unit, most of the male inmates in the geriatric dormitory first ran afoul of the law years or even decades ago, convicted of crimes ranging from murder and sex offenses to forgery and repeat DWIs.
A teenager at Harris County’s juvenile detention center has tested positive for COVID-19 and is being treated on site, officials said Thursday. The child is under the age of 16 and has been detained at the facility since late 2019, said Kendall Mayfield, a spokesperson for the downtown center.
By the time the jail reported its first staffer with COVID-19, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had spent days working on an executive order that would allow broad-scale compassionate releases of medically vulnerable, nonviolent inmates. But the effort has been complicated by an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, indicating to local officials the state may try to intervene.
One Texas prisoner has tested positive for COVID-19 and is being treated at a hospital in Galveston. The 37-year-old man is now medically isolated after reporting shortness of breath and a cough Saturday at Lychner State Jail, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) announced Tuesday.