Report Highlights Travis County Jail Racial Disparities

July 13, 2017
Downtown Austin Patch

A local civil rights organization unveiled a study on Thursday showing dramatic racial disparities in the Travis County Jail in terms of booking and length of confinement.

Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice and immigrant rights group in Austin, released its new report while calling on local officials to reduce incarceration rates and racial disparities. Drawn from 2015 jail data, the study shows "significant and persistent discrepancies" in booking and in the number of days spent in the Travis County Jail by people of color, particularly African Americans, as compared to whites. The data show African Americans experienced significantly longer periods of confinement in jail and were jailed at a much higher rate than white people, officials said.

Titled "Travis County Jail in 2015: Data points to racism and longer confinement of African Americans," the study was unveiled at a noon press conference staged Thursday in front of the Blackwell Thurmond Criminal Justice Center at 509th W. 11th St. The study's release was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland at the Waller County Jail in what began as a simple traffic stop.

The study's author, Chris Harris, said the data show African Americans spent an average of nearly two weeks more in jail compared to whites for bookings that included a felony charge. Findings also showed wide discrepancies for misdemeanor charges and when the disposition resulted in a personal recognizance bond.

The findings showed that African Americans experienced longer periods of confinement at the Travis County Jail despite representing less than 10 percent of the Travis County population in 2015. That year, the group represented just 8 percent of the Travis County population yet represented 22 percent of individuals booked into the Travis County Jail, the study found.