Advocates: Release parole-eligible people from Texas prisons to prevent further COVID-19 deaths

April 29, 2020

Coalition of formerly incarcerated people, prisoners’ families, and criminal legal reform groups call on Gov. Abbott and Board of Pardons and Paroles to release people eligible for parole

AUSTIN — Today, a coalition of organizations representing formerly incarcerated people, prisoners’ families, and criminal legal reform groups is calling on Texas Governor Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Parole to release incarcerated people who are at the tail end of their sentences and are already parole-eligible.

Gov. Abbott announced on Monday that Texas businesses would be allowed to re-open at 25% capacity to maintain social distancing and curb the spread of the disease.  However, in Texas prisons, there is no such thing as social distancing.  

Advocates have launched a call-in and online campaign today to urge Gov. Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Parole to act swiftly to reduce the population.  The online campaign is using the hashtags #SaferAtHome and #FreeThemAll.

“To flatten the curve in Texas, we must also flatten the curve in Texas prisons,” said Jorge Renaud of Latino Justice, who served 27 years in Texas prisons. “Right now, we are all safer when the prison population is lower and people are at home.” 

Criminal justice leaders can play a role in slowing the pandemic.  There are currently 77,000 people in custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who have completed their minimum sentences are eligible for parole.  

“It is inhumane to keep our loved ones caged in an environment that is unsafe,” said Dianna Williams, of Grassroots Leadership and Texas Advocates for Justice in Houston.  “As the number of cases grow and possible deaths increase from COVID-19, we ask for those who are parole eligible to be released immediately. Send our loved ones home now.”

According to TDCJ, at least 13 deaths are under investigation for being related to COVID-19. More than 800 incarcerated people and 350 TDCJ employees, staff, or contractors have tested positive for the illnesses.

"The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to rise in TDCJ. Families are anxious and fearful as the prisons are lock-downed with little information coming out or going in,” said Jennifer Erschabek of the Texas Inmate Family Associate.  “Officers are working long hours as more staff become sick. It’s time to release those who are eligible for parole. Everyone is safer at home."

Participating organizations include LatinoJustice, Grassroots Leadership, Texas Advocates for Justice, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Inmate Family Association, All of Us Or None, Texas Leadership Council, Texas Prisons Air Conditioning Advocates, Texas After Violence Project, and Texas Voices for Reason and Justice. 

Jorge Renaud, LatinoJustice, Dianna Williams, Grassroots Leadership/Texas Advocates for Justice, Casey Phillips, Texas Prisons Air Conditioning Advocates, Jennifer Erschabek, Texas Inmate Families Association, Doug Smith, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition,