Jan 4, 2018
Houston Chronicle

Texas prisons push back against claims of freezing, unheated units

"Lewis Conway Jr., who served time in a slew of different prisons across the state, said officers sometimes wielded control of the heater to make a point.

'If you weren't being compliant or obedient, that thing stayed off,' said the Austin man who now works with Grassroots Leadership. 'Every winter the only choice you have is a heater that blows on high regardless of the temperature so you're in a sweltering hell or if you're in a dorm where there's no central air or heating and it's just concrete and steel.'" [node:read-more:link]

Oct 13, 2017
Austin American-Statesman

ICE plans new 1,000-bed facility in South Texas ‘detention alley’

As the Trump administration cracks down on illegal immigration, the federal government is making plans for a new privately run detention center along Interstate 35 in South Texas, adding 1,000 beds to what is already the world’s largest immigrant detention system. [...]

“This would be yet another for-profit detention center in South Texas along the I-35 corridor, which has become detention alley,” said Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, which opposes private prisons.

“What Trump promised was the very high deportation numbers, and the way you get that is through the detention and deportation of asylum seekers” at the border, Libal said, “but if that number remains constant or goes down, you have to find new populations to deport.”

The result, Libal said, is likely to be more ICE raids in immigrant communities, “the stuff that is really terrifying, really dystopic.” [node:read-more:link]

Jan 30, 2017
Texas Observor

Taking Shelter



Residential shelters, in contrast, are based on a model that stresses humane treatment. They offer freedom of movement and a sense of community. Immigrants in shelters also have a dramatically better shot at finding legal representation and winning their cases.

Yet the federal government has shown little appetite for embracing such a model, instead expanding its detention regime. In October 2016, the detainee population hit an all-time high of42,000.

ICE does have a $126 million alternatives-to-detention program, the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, or ISAP, but it’s run by a for-profit company and relies on punitive methods, such as GPS ankle monitors, rather than residential shelters.

Advocates for more humane alternatives faced a setback when President Trump won the election.Private prison corporations saw their stocks soar immediately after his victory. In his first week in office, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to establish new detention centers along the border, begin construction of a wall and swell the ranks of Border Patrol and ICE.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin group that fights private prisons, said he predicts another round of growth for the immigrant detention regime. But that doesn’t mean he’s given up hope.

“Trump is volatile; he doesn’t know when he wakes up in the morning what he’s going to do,” Libal said. “There’s a fiscal argument to be made that might still hold sway.”

Oct 23, 2015
Texas Observer

Travis County Inmates to See Families Face-to-Face Again

Nearly two dozen of Texas’ 254 counties applied for an exemption. One of them was Travis County. In May 2013, the county ended in-person visitation, with help from Securus, which provided the video service at “no cost to the county” but at significant personal and financial cost to inmates and their families. Members of the Travis County Commissioners Court, which controls the county budget, have said that at the time, they were led to believe that video visitation would be a supplement to, not a replacement for, in-person visitations.

Securus pushes its “remote visitation” option as a money-saving initiative that saves public dollars on jail staff and “minimizes the dangerous and costly movement of inmates within a facility,” and advertises its video software as technology that “minimizes contraband.”

However, researchers with Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that focuses on prison reform, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that disciplinary cases for possession of contraband at the Travis County Correctional Complex increased, along with assaults and other disciplinary infractions increased after video-only visitation became the default policy in Travis County. [node:read-more:link]

Oct 14, 2015
Houston Chronicle

Inmate still on lam after escape from Liberty County Jail

News of the escape raised concerns from criminal justice advocates and civil rights advocates.

The incident "seems to encapsulate all of problems of turning a jail over to a for-profit prison corporation," said Bob Libal, Executive Director Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based civil-rights organization and an outspoken opponent of the private prison industry. "Including incentivizing high rates of incarceration, staffing at a very low level to mazimize profits, which lead to operational outcomes like you've seen - failed inspections and escapes. These things are all preventable, but symptomatic of for-profit prison corporations operating jails as for-profit and not for rehabilitation or public safety, frankly." [node:read-more:link]

Sep 3, 2015
Texas Public News Service

Texas Takes the Lead with In-Person Visitation Law

AUSTIN, Texas – A new law passed by the Texas State Legislature last session goes into effect this week, assuring county jail inmates of at least two 20-minute in-person visits per week.

The legislation was introduced in response to a growing trend of replacing face-to-face visitation with video technology. Kymberlie Quong Charles, director of criminal justice programs with Grassroots Leadership, says the value of traditional visitation extends beyond prison walls.

"Staying connected to community, staying connected to family, leads to much more stability and opportunity for people who are leaving a period of incarceration," she says. "This ultimately leads to lower recidivism rates."

Legislation protecting in-person county jail visits goes into effect

(AUSTIN, Texas) — September 1st marks the first day of the fiscal year in Texas, as well as the effective date of new laws passed by the 84th legislative session.  HB 549, which clarifies existing rules for visiting policies at Texas’ county jails, will now help assure that incarcerated people receive a minimum of two 20-minute in-person, face-to-face visits per week. [node:read-more:link]

County Jail Visitation Bill Filed Without Signature, Becomes Law

Austin, TX - Last night HB 549 was filed, making the legislation official law. Authored by Dallas Representative Eric Johnson, and Houston Senator John Whitmire, HB 549 clarifies existing county jail rules stating that the two weekly 20-minute visits afforded to all people in jail are to happen in-person and face-to-face.  The current policy has been in place since 1993. [node:read-more:link]

ACTION ALERT May 19, 2015 | We need you ASAP to protect jail visitation for Texas families!

May 19, 2015
The legislative process is long and layered and takes several rounds of engagement before a bill passes.  With your help we have gotten HB 549, a bill that protects the face-to-face visitation rights of people incarcerated at Texas county jails from being replaced with expensive, poor quality video chats, all the way to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.  In order for it to have a chance of passing, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee needs to hear from you TODAY.  (see more background here)
Please call and write the members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee ASAP and let them know you support protecting face-to-face visits at County Jails.  Consider reminding them that the Texas debate on the issue has gained national attention, and we have a perfect opportunity to set an important precedent for the rights of incarcerated people and their loved ones.  Below is a brief list of notable state and national media about visitation, video technology and county jails in Texas.  

May 12, 2015
Dallas Observer

Texas Lawmakers May Require County Jails to Allow In-Person Visits

"While we understand that the financial burden of retrofitting these few county facilities is a hardship for counties, we are also very concerned about the families and their incarcerated loved ones who have been stripped of their ability to see each other in person, a practice we know leads to positive outcomes for rehabilitation and recidivism," Kymberlie Quong Charles, director of criminal justice programs at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based inmate advocacy organization, said. "This emotional and financial hardship on families was not calculated when these counties opted to move toward facility construction that precludes face-to-face visitation."

The amendment, according to Grassroots Leadership, will exempt about a dozen counties from the requirements. [node:read-more:link]


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