Texas Advocates for Justice

This Mother's Day, I'm Fighting to End the Mass Incarceration of Our Children

On a day like today, when everyone is smiling and wishing you a happy Mother's Day, a part of me is not so happy. Today reminds me of the day my son entered a plea deal. Just before he agreed, he looked at me, and my gut was screaming, "Noooo!" Nothing was right.

My son suffered from PTSD after the murder of his brother, my second son. He was the third and last. He got into some serious mischief with a girl that lured him away from me with some Bonnie and Clyde nonsense. They hired a lawyer and he got 6 years, she got 6 days. Read more about This Mother's Day, I'm Fighting to End the Mass Incarceration of Our Children

Mar 15, 2018
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Texas Observer

Texas Prison System Sheds Men, Swallows Even More Women

"Travis County officials say they’ve implemented a laundry list of reforms to divert people from jail in recent years, such as drug courts and cite-and-release policies for certain low-level offenses. But the coalition of community activists, drug treatment providers and formerly incarcerated women who attended last week’s commission meeting questioned how well those programs are working, particularly for women. For instance, the number of women with mental health issues booked into the jail has doubled since 2013.

'What are our mental health diversion programs doing?' Cate Graziani, a researcher with Grassroots Leadership, told commissioners. 'That is an indicator that they’re not working.'

[...] Brandi French, who first entered prison at age 19, asked Travis County commissioners last week to put the money they would have spent building a new women’s jail into community recovery programs.

French, who calls herself a recovering drug addict, says she spent most of her 20s behind bars. She tried both college and church to stay sober, but neither worked. When she was 34, she went with her child to a place called Austin Recovery, one of only three treatment centers in Texas that allow women to bring their children with them. 'It was the first time I was ever diagnosed with bipolar disorder,' French told commissioners. 'First time, after seven years in prison. Nobody ever looked at my mental health issues.'

'Building a new prison is not the answer,' she said. 'Putting sick people behind bars is not the answer.'" Read more about Texas Prison System Sheds Men, Swallows Even More Women

What your donation to our work means to us

We are overwhelmed by the support we received during Amplify Austin on Friday. We are happy to share that we met our $10,000 goal. We couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you! Those donations will ensure that we are able to keep organizing for the long haul and fighting back against criminalization right here in Texas. For example, did you know the Travis County Commissioners Court is actually considering spending $97 million on a new jail? Read more about What your donation to our work means to us

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

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

Sep 8, 2015
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Time Warner Cable News

"Ban the Box" supporters target Austin businesses

A growing movement to help fair hiring practices across the country is getting support in the form of protest. Grassroots Leadership is calling for President Obama to enact an executive order to "ban the box." That would get rid of a question at the front of job applications asking if you've ever been convicted of a crime. Some say that puts an unfair prejudice in employers' minds before they've even had the chance to look at an application. 

Lauren Johnson with Grassroots Leadership said, "banning the box from the front of an application will not stop a business from doing a background check and it will not stop them from choosing the candidates that they're going to hire. But it is going to increase their talent pool and let them choose somebody based on their abilities and 
qualifications to do the job."  Tuesday's protest was held outside Athena Manufacturing in North Travis County. The protestors say companies like Athena keep 70 million people from getting meaningful employment. Read more about "Ban the Box" supporters target Austin businesses

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