Texas Advocates for Justice

Mission Statement

Texas Advocates for Justice is on a mission to end the criminalization of our communities, to break down barriers to reentry from jail and prison in Texas, and to demolish the legacy of racism in the criminal justice system. TAJ unites formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, people of all faiths, and allies to build safe and resilient communities through organizing, leadership training, and connections to community resources.

Declaración de Misión

Los Defensores de Tejas por la Justicia está en una misión para poner fin a la criminalización de nuestras comunidades, para romper las barreras de la reentrada de la cárcel y las prisión en Texas, y para demoler el legado del racismo en el sistema de justicia criminal. TAJ une a los individuos que han estado encarcelados, sus familias, personas de todas las religiones, y aliados para construir comunidades seguras y resilientes a través de la organización, capacitación en liderazgo, y conexiones a recursos de la comunidad.

Our Work

We believe that people who have been directly affected by incarceration, together with their families, should lead the movement for change in Texas. That’s why we offer intensive community organizing trainings, designed to build on the expertise, experience, and powerful commitment of our members. Graduates of our training become members of our action network where we put our training into practice and advance our mission to end the criminalization of our communities.

Nuestro Trabajo

Creemos que las personas que han sido afectadas directamente por el encarcelamiento, junto con sus familias, deben liderar el movimiento para el cambio en Tejas. Es por eso que ofrecemos entrenamiento intensos de la organización comunitaria, diseñados para construir sobre el conocimiento, la experiencia y fuerte compromiso de nuestros miembros. Los graduados de nuestro entrenamiento se convierten en miembros de nuestra red de acción donde ponemos nuestra capacitación en práctica y avanzar en nuestra misión de poner fin a la criminalización de nuestras comunidades.

Upcoming Leadership Trainings

Próximo Entrenamientos de liderazgo


 

Related Posts

Jan 17, 2017
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VICE

How Medical Copays Haunt Prisoners and Their Loved Ones

In the Texas prison system, illness is just another way for the state to profit on the back of inmates.

It's early on a weekday morning and Kyle Walker is thinking about what she has to do to keep her incarcerated boyfriend alive. At over six feet tall, the energetic 41-year-old stands out from the relatively somber rush hour crowd making their way to the office buildings of downtown Austin, Texas. She's on her way to work as a legal assistant, the job that supports her two kids and her boyfriend, who despite being in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice still needs a constant stream of help just to have the most basic necessities behind bars. 

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Walker's boyfriend* has been labeled as a sex offender since he was 17, after he slept with his then-girlfriend, who was 13 at the time. Upon finishing a seven-year term in the Barry B. Telford Unit, a prison in New Boston, Texas, he struggled to find a home because of his sex offender status. When police came by her home acting on a tip that there were drugs on location in early 2015, Walker says, they arrested and charged her boyfriend with failing to register his residence, a violation of probation. Now he's back at the Telford Unit, the same prison in which he spent much of his youth. Despite making parole last summer, he's been unable to find a legal place to live, a condition of his release. And until Walker and her boyfriend sort that out, he needs to cope with the Texas prison system, where inmates supplement their meager provisions with food and supplies bought by their families on the outside. 

More than anything else, though, it's health care that comes at a steep price.

After a 2011 Texas law raised the copay for medical care from $3 for each visit to a $100 annual flat fee, families of the incarcerated have scrambled to find a way to pay the difference. If a prisoner is considered indigent, meaning they don't have any money in their "trust fund"—the account that's used to pay for items like food and toilet paper—then they don't have to pay the $100 to receive health care. But once any money is deposited into the trust fund, half of it is docked to go towards the outstanding copay until the full amount is paid off. For Walker, that means any money she places into her boyfriend's account would go to pay off his debt for the health care he's already received, which includes care for managing his schizophrenia, desperately needed dental work, and further treatment for mental health issues. 

"I can only afford to spend $30 to $40 every couple of weeks to support him, and even to just put the money in his trust fund, there's a fee for that transaction," Walker explains. "So for them to deduct half of the money for services he's already received—it defeats the purpose of me even sending him money."

Families and significant others like Walker have found themselves shouldering a growing financial burden as prison systems across America look to raise revenue by charging inmates for necessities like clothing, food, toilet paper, and even the prison cell they're being kept in. Right now, at least 35 states charge their prisoners for health care in some way or other, with some county jails going so far as to pursue civil actions against prisoners after they're released in hopes of recouping health care costs. But Texas has the highest state prison population in the country, with an average of over 150,000 people sitting in its cells at any one time. And like many things in Texas, the state's prison medical copay is easily the largest in America

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But the fact is that in Texas prisons, commissary—and the funds sent by families to ensure access to it—plays a key role in ensuring the safety and health of prisoners. Jennifer Erschabek has spent years advocating on behalf of the families of inmates as executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association after her own son was incarcerated. Her son developed serious rashes on his hands and arms after working in a metal shop in incredibly hot conditions. Erschabek was able to buy for her son the anti-fungal medication to keep him from developing a serious medical problem, but others aren't so lucky as to have someone on the outside looking out for them. Scabies, skin infections, chicken pox, norovirus and other easily treated conditions confront prisoners, who face a constant struggle to maintain their health. 

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And even when prisoners see a doctor, either by claiming indigence or paying the copay, there's still a serious gap between what prisoners receive and the healthcare people get in the outside world. Jorge Renaud spent 27 years in the Texas prison system and is now an organizer at Grassroots Leadership, a national organization that aims to take profit out of the prison industry. For the amount of agricultural and physical labor that prisoners have to do, Renaud says, he witnessed indifference on the part of some authorities to physical pain. 

"I didn't have a really good medical check up the entire time I was there," Renaud tells me. "The medical care is atrocious, and every individual who has been incarcerated could give you a story about it."

For the past several years, the state has slashed millions from the budget for medical care, provided for most prisons by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which runs a prison hospital in Galveston. As the age of prisoners continues to rise, along with the cost of care, UTMB has relied on telemedicine to make up the difference, where doctors can videoconference with prisoners instead of being on site. Dr. Owen Murray, the vice president of correctional managed care at UTMB, has watched as the population in the prison shifted considerably—there are now 27,000 inmates over the age of 50. With costs running so high, and the governor looking to cut the overall prison budget by as much as $250 million, Murray doesn't see the money generated by the copay as making much of a difference in the larger picture. People aren't paying, but the state continues to need to provide tremendous amounts of money for care.  Read more about How Medical Copays Haunt Prisoners and Their Loved Ones

Feb 1, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

A coalition of more than 100 immigrants, activists and former inmates marched through downtown Austin on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to give them a break as they consider legislation aimed at punishing so-called sanctuary cities and rolling back “fair chance” hiring policies.

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The experiences of former jail and prison inmates are not always the same as those of immigrants who entered the United States illegally, but Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, said there are many parallels to the challenges they face.

“There is a (cross section) between the same communities who are being exploited and oppressed for profit and for gain from these private prison corporations, and from those who would wish to push us down through these bills in the legislature,” Casini said.

Lewis Conway Jr., a towering man who spent eight years in prison and another 12 on probation shouted into a megaphone as the crowd rumbled through downtown behind a booming drum line.

“Make Some noise for no more prisons, no more deportations, no more ICE, no more police brutality, no more drug wars in our community,” he said.

Conway now serves as a criminal justice program associate for Grassroots Leadership, a group that seeks an end to mass incarceration, deportation and privately run prisons. He called the prison system a social control mechanism.

“Many of the members of our community are locked in that jail, and they keep making excuses for keeping them locked up. But we’re not going to accept any more excuses,” Conway said. “The same excuses they made for those jails they made for slavery. The same excuses they made for why black lives don’t matter (are) why that jail exists.”

Melvin Halsey, a Navy veteran with the Texas Advocates for Justice said he wants to promote unity between the LBGT community, immigrants and the formerly incarcerated, and band together against the challenges the groups face.

Halsey, who said he suffers from mental health issues and has been incarcerated four times for offenses related to drugs and alcohol, said he is looking for a chance to be a good father and grandfather.

“There are so many of us who are formerly incarcerated who need a job, who need housing, who need to take care of our children and grandchildren,” Halsey said. “To kill that would just be devastating to a lot of us.” Read more about Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

200+ individuals from across Texas impacted by incarceration and deportation to march and rally at Capitol

WHAT: Statewide #kNOwMORE2017 Advocacy Day

WHEN: February 1st, series of events takes place between 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

VISUALS: 200 marchers lift off, speakers in front of the jail, rally speakers and art installation at the Capitol

WHO: Led by Texas Advocates for Justice, participating organizations will include: Read more about 200+ individuals from across Texas impacted by incarceration and deportation to march and rally at Capitol

As the legislature and governor attack local communities, those most impacted by incarceration and deportation announce action at the Texas Capitol

WHAT: Press conference detailing plans for Feb. 1st statewide #kNOwMORE2017 Advocacy Day

WHO: Formerly incarcerated or deported individuals and their families and advocates

WHEN: Monday, January 30th, at 9:00 a.m. Read more about As the legislature and governor attack local communities, those most impacted by incarceration and deportation announce action at the Texas Capitol

What we're fighting for at the Texas Legislature

Today marks the first day of the 85th Texas Legislature, and we're gearing up for a fight. We are ready to stand with those who have felt the devastation of our mass incarceration crisis first hand. We will fight to protect immigrants and keep families together. And, on February 1, 2017 criminal justice and immigration groups from around the state will converge in Austin for a march, rally, art exhbit and visits to legislators to speak boldly about what we are fighting for. We hope that you'll join usRead more about What we're fighting for at the Texas Legislature

Jan 7, 2017
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The Huntsville Item

Rules helping ex-cons find work are now targeted

The state's capital last spring became the first city in the South to stop private employers from looking into an applicant's criminal past before a job offer is on the table.

The rule followed a similar measure for government workers and won support from advocates who called it a step toward restoring citizenship, and lowering unemployment, among ex-convicts.

But the rule and similar "ban the box" laws, which seek to erase criminal history questions from job applications, are taking criticism. A Republican lawmaker wants to stop Texas cities from enacting them, wiping Austin’s off the books.

Rep. Paul Workman, of Travis County, author of House Bill 577, cited several reasons to stop the rules, including the binds they slap on business people screening would-be employees.

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But critics of Workman's bill note that 1 in 3 adults in Texas has a criminal history — a factor that screens out many applicants automatically and disproportionately affects people of color.

Unemployment among parolees has been measured at more than 51 percent, according to the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law.

A 2011 survey of parolees and former inmates in Austin and Travis County found that more than three-quarters said their convictions were the biggest barrier to reentering society.

“Even with a ban-the-box ordinance, the employer is under no obligation to hire the person. What they’re trying to do is provide a fair shot," said Ed Sills, communications director of the Texas AFL-CIO.

Jorge Renaud knows what it’s like to look for a job with a record. Now an organizer for Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based civil rights group, Renaud served 25 years for robbery. He later earned a graduate degree in social work.

“I got out and had difficulty finding employment and housing,” said Renaud, 60. “People would throw my application off the top of the pile. I appreciated people who would sit down and say, ‘Tell me what happened.’"

"If you get to know me," he said, "you’ll see that I’m a reasonable guy.” Read more about Rules helping ex-cons find work are now targeted

Dec 13, 2016
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KXAN

Proposed bill would ban Texas cities from ‘fair chance’ hiring ordinances

Texas lawmaker Rep. Paul Workman introduced bill HB 577 that wants to ban local governments, like the city of Austin, from forcing private employers in “Ban the Box” and “Fair Chance” hiring ordinances.

Back in March, the city council voted to delay background checks until a potential employee was given a hire-offer. The goal was to allow people with criminal history abetter chance at finding jobs.

Jorge Renaud, the Organizer for Texas advocates for justice, says the new proposed bill would hurt people like him who needed to get back into the workforce.

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Some, however, think ordinances like Austin’s create an undue burden on local businesses. The Texas Association of Business’ Vice-President of Governmental affairs, Cathy Dewitt says, employers aren’t getting the full picture of who they’re talking to when ordinances like the fair-chance one are put in place.

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She argues that if local governments want to use hiring practices like “Ban the Box” or “Fair-Chance” they can, but it infringes too much on private businesses. “The city of Austin is the only one that has extended it to the private employers, and how they’ve done so, almost creates a protected class for criminals, while we do want to help them, in creating a protective class, can be considered unfair.”

Renaud says, “All those individuals, you’re going to deny them the opportunity, the real opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with a potential employer, we’re going to say no because of that history" Read more about Proposed bill would ban Texas cities from ‘fair chance’ hiring ordinances

Incoming sheriff can tackle criminal justice reform while stopping deportations

By Alejandro Caceres and Jorge Antonio Renaud

A recent Statesman editorial (Wanted: Sheriff who keeps Austin out of Legislature crosshairs, Sept. 24) about the race for Travis County Sheriff suggested that we cannot have both criminal justice reforms and an end to deportations in Travis County. We couldn’t disagree more. We see everyday why you cannot stack a broken immigration system on top of a broken criminal justice system and expect a more just world. Read more about Incoming sheriff can tackle criminal justice reform while stopping deportations

Sep 27, 2016
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The Daily Texan

Activists gather to address additional funds for Travis County Jail

Criminal justice advocates gathered Friday at the Travis County Commissioner’s Court to call on officials to scale back the $2.4 million in funding allotted to hiring 36 additional correctional officers for the county jail.

Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting mass incarceration, led a press conference at the commissioner’s court where advocates emphasized the need to fund programs that could potentially keep people out of jail.

“Our goal here today is to demand that before voting to allocate more resources to jail staff, that the county commissioners and other local policy-makers prioritize funding community-based services that address the root causes of mass incarceration in our community,” Grassroots Leadership member Jorge Renaud said. Read more about Activists gather to address additional funds for Travis County Jail

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