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.
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.
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.
Not even prisons are immune to the #toiletpaperapocalypse of 2020. On Wednesday, Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials imposed a one-roll-per-day buying limit on corrections officers at state prisons after they began buying it by the case from at least one prison commissary.
As the number of infections and deaths from the new coronavirus rise across Texas, prison officials are ramping up efforts to prevent an outbreak among the state’s 149,000 inmates.
As imprisonment rates for women rise disproportionately across the nation, a group of formerly incarcerated women in Texas has called for family-oriented policies that provide mothers with community-based alternatives that allow them to avoid jail, in addition to major changes to state sentencing guidelines such as sharply lowered penalties for nonviolent drug offenses.
COVID-19: Texas Advocates, Community Leaders, and Justice System Experts Send List of Urgent Mitigation Directives to Governor’s Office
Today, a group of advocates, community leaders, and justice system experts sent a list of urgent recommendations regarding COVID-19 and incarcerated populations to Governor Abbott. Urging state leadership to recognize the particularly dire threat that the global pandemic poses to people incarcerated in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities, the letter lays out recommendations for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, county jails (including sheriffs, courts, and district attorneys), law enforcement, and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
Last week, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Texas rose, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner urged local police to think twice about who they arrest and bring to his jail.
Zero-tolerance policies can set up a pathway that leads a child’s future to be defined by their misbehavior, no matter the other situations happening in the child’s life. If you break the student codes, if you are struggling, if you have an emotional blow-up while at school, if you mess up, does that mean you don’t matter?