Community Rallies to Say Homelessness Is Not A Crime

WHAT: Press Conference and Gathering Ground “No Sit/No Lie” performance

WHO: People experiencing homelessness and their allies with the DecarcerateATX coalition, with speakers from Gathering Ground, Texas Fair Defense, University United Methodist Church, and Grassroots Leadership

WHEN:   Tuesday, April 3 at 9 a.m.

WHERE: Austin Convention Center, Atrium Entrance (Trinity St. & E 4th St..) [node:read-more:link]

Mar 14, 2018
Texas Tribune

After ruling on Texas' "sanctuary cities" law, opponents say they're down but not out

"Another option is for local governments to adopt or continue policies where being charged for an alleged misdemeanor doesn’t trigger automatic arrest, said Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based immigrant rights and private-prison watchdog group.

'Local officials need to act swiftly to stop the arrest-to-deportation pipeline that will be accelerated by SB 4,' Libal said. 'They can start by enacting policies that end discretionary arrests while ensuring that scarce public resources are not wasted on unnecessary immigration enforcement actions that terrorize the immigrant community.'" [node:read-more:link]

Mar 9, 2018
Austin Chronicle

County Delays Funding for New Women’s Jail

"Five months of protesting by criminal justice organizations culminated Tuesday with activists and former inmates packing the Travis County Commissioners Courtroom to speak against a new women's jailbuilding that is expected to cost nearly $100 million. Despite the groups' concerns, most commissioners had seemed ready to approve $6.6 million for the facility's design and preconstruction. But in a last-minute turn of events, they voted to delay the funding for a year in order to improve the county's efforts of reducing incarceration.

'The vote today is exactly the outcome we wanted,' said Holly Kirby, director of criminal justice programs for Grassroots Leadership. 'The commissioners heard community voices and listened. They made the right call today, and we are excited to get to work on driving down the jail population and investing in a healthier and safer Travis County."' [node:read-more:link]

Mar 6, 2018
Austin American-Statesman

Travis commissioners to hold off on women’s jail expansion

"Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, said after the meeting that she was pleasantly surprised by the vote.

'In the end, we got what we came for,' Kirby said. 'I think they heard us, I think they heard the very important stories from people who have been in the system … Del Valle is not the place for treatment, it’s not the place for care, and we are ready to get to work.'" [node:read-more:link]

Mar 7, 2018
Community Impact News

Travis County Commissioners delay women’s jail expansion in 3-1 vote

"Members of the community, however, felt that $6.2 million should be used for mental health services and diversion programs. Over 20 Travis County residents and local criminal justice leaders gave testimony Tuesday afternoon on the topic.

Criminal Justice Program Director with Grassroots Leadership Holly Kirby urged commissioners to halt the construction on the women’s facility asking that more research be done in creating and improving diversion programs and reducing the jail population.

'You have the power right now to show all of us and the rest of Travis County that you are committed to doing something about the mass incarceration crisis in our community before any dollars are spent on a new expanded jail,' Kirby said. 'Please vote no on a new women’s jail today and let us work with you for truly a healthier and safer Travis County.”' [node:read-more:link]

Mar 7, 2018
Austin Monitor

Commissioners Court hits pause on new women’s unit at county jail

"The Travis County Commissioners Court has shelved for a full year what was supposed to be the first installment of a $97 million plan to build a new housing unit for female inmates at the county’s jail complex in Del Valle.

The 3-1 vote came on Tuesday afternoon following lengthy and occasionally tearful testimony from criminal justice reform activists who uniformly decried the proposal to replace the existing women’s unit with a larger facility.

'We have heard you all say you want the same things that we do, that you want to see fewer people locked up, that you want community voices at the table,' Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, told the court before its members voted. “We need to see that you mean what you say.”' [node:read-more:link]

Mar 6, 2018

Travis County Commissioners Vote To Delay Jail Expansion Funding

"Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, celebrated the move after she and other criminal justice reform advocates testified for an hour prior to the vote. 

'The vote today is a huge victory for us,' Kirby said. 'The commissioners listened to the community and made the right choice. Ultimately, this is about what our community values: health, safety, and equity. The vote today opens the door for us to get to work on downsizing our jail and investing in community alternatives for a safer, healthier and more just Travis County."' [node:read-more:link]

Aug 17, 2017
The Austin Chronicle

Advocates: Reject Police Union Contract

City Council is holding budget hearings later this afternoon, with testimony expected on the proposed property tax rate, any fee changes, etc. Criminal justice advocates say they will be there to oppose the current Austin Police Association contract, and demand greater accountability over officer misconduct.

At a morning press conference prior to the Council meeting, Matthew Wallace, accompanied by attorneyBrian McGiverin, described his November 2015 arrest by Austin police officers, allegedly for “jaywalking” across Red River Street near Sixth. Wallace described being attacked, kneed, and punched by police that night, and recounted his arrest on a charge of “resisting arrest.” Those charges were eventually dropped by prosecutors.


Supporting Wallace were representatives of several criminal justice advocacy groups, among themCounter Balance: ATXTexas Criminal Justice CoalitionAustin Justice Coalition, and Grassroots Leadership. They declared their opposition to the existing APA union contract, saying that it does not require adequate accountability for offending officers (“Double or Nothing,” May 26). They said current contract negotiations are not making progress on those issues, and they would ask Council today to reject the contract and “reset” the entire process.

McGiverin said he considers the current contract, despite its negotiated creation of the Office of Police Monitor and the Citizens Review Panel, as effectively “toothless,” without serious enforcement authority. Should the city return to no union contract and only Civil Service provisions, McGiverin said, it would serve as an opportunity to “start over” and push for substantive officer accountability. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 8, 2017

Groups look to APD contract negotiations for improved police accountability

Community groups gathered in front of a city of Austin building Tuesday to send a message to the Austin Police Association and to the Austin City Council: they want more transparency and accountability from Austin police.

The groups, which include the ACLU-Texas, Austin Justice Coalition Grassroots Leadership and others, met Tuesday because they’ve been following APA negotiations with the city over their public safety contract. They want significant modifications to the police contract to ensure “transparency, accountability, and oversight.”


“We try to come to the negotiating table and say let’s get some citizen oversight and insight that’s coming from the people you engage with,” said Lewis Conway, criminal justice organizer for Grassroots Leadership.

The family of Lawrence Parrish, the man shot by Austin police in April, has also been following these negotiations, hoping they could bring about some of the changes he is looking for. At first Austin police said their four officers fired at Parrish because he had fired at them. Then they revised their statement to say Parrish pointed a rifle at the officers but never fired. APD said Tuesday that while investigations into this case are ongoing, the four officers are now back on full duty.


Williams believes the contract can help promote a culture of accountability for APD.

“If they can’t do that or at least apologize or be transparent or accountable enough, then we need to come up with another solution,” he said.

That’s why these groups are calling on city council members not to approve the contract agreement if it doesn’t adequately address accountability issues. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 21, 2017
The Austin Chronicle

Commissioners to Discuss Racial Disparities in County Jail

Grassroots Leadership report indicates detainees of color face inequalities

County Commissioners will hold a work session July 27 to discuss the county's pretrial programs and ways to better address racial disparities at the county jail, a direct response to a report issued July 13 by Grassroots Leadership. The local activist organization used the county's 2015 booking data to conclude that black people face disproportionately longer jail stays and are incarcerated at a higher rate than their white counterparts charged with the same crimes. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the Chronicle that while she's not surprised by the report's findings, she and County Commissioners are taking it "very seriously."


Despite these diversions, minorities are still experiencing higher rates of incarceration. While accounting for only 8% of Travis County's population, black people in 2015 represented 22% of jail bookings. As for days spent in jail, on average, white detainees were locked up for 16.88 days, while black detainees were held an average of 22.53 days. Eckhardt called the report "helpful" and said the county will continue to analyze it. "Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet for institutionalized racism," she said. "We have to acknowledge that sentencing is different for brown and black people and start having really uncomfortable conversations." Eckhardt said the county must question whether or not the pretrial program is improving lives or further entangling people in the criminal justice system.

"We've been asking this from a race neutral standpoint because we thought race neutral would fix it, but it's not working. We need to ask if this is better or worse for defendants of color." [node:read-more:link]


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