AUSTIN — Last Tuesday, November 13, Travis County Commissioners Court voted and confirmed 12 individuals of the 15 member working group tasked with, "correct injustice by making recommendations with the aim of ensuring robust and client centered indigent defense, which includes considering civil, legal consequences in Travis County while considering costs to the county by analyzing, at minimum, the management, accountability, and expected cumulative and interrelated effects of; a public defenders office, managed assigned counsel, reformed payment structure for private assigned counsel." The Commissioners agreed that those who have been impacted by the injustice of the criminal justice system are vital voices in the creation of a public defender’s office by naming members of the community to be included into this work group.
“We welcome the inclusion into this working group and are excited to work with all of the varying levels of expertise that will come from the county attorneys, judges and commissioners. All too often, people with direct experience are not taken seriously as crucial contributors to discussions that will have significant impact on our lives. What’s at stake is the type of holistic and client-centered public defense our community needs and deserves” said Claudia Muñoz, Immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership.
“Even if we start small, we need to start this office with the type of organizational culture we want it to have at the end of the process, one where the input and participation of those who are going to be most impacted by the work of the public defender is valued and deeply apart of the office’s work. The outcome of this vote is a step in a positive direction, ” said Annette Price, statewide director for Texas Advocates for Justice.
The need for immigrant community member involvement in developing a public defender office is particularly notable in Travis County. Data released last month by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse put Travis County in the top 20 counties in the U.S. for all arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As of 2016, immigrants in Travis County make up 17.5 percent of the population, according to U.S. Census data. As long as any arrest or interaction with police can have additional consequences for immigrants and their families, a new public defender’s office must be in touch with this community.
Texas Advocates for Justice is a group of formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones with chapters in Austin and Houston. Their mission is 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.
ICE Out of Austin is a group of immigrants and their families who live in Travis County, who are at risk of deportation either through interactions with ICE or local law enforcement. ICE Out of Austin works to end all deportations by expanding deportation defense beyond legal representation and works to create a city where all families are safe independent of immigration status.
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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past. Follow us @Grassroots_News.