(AUSTIN, Texas) — On the second anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death in a Waller County Jail, Austin criminal justice and immigrant rights groups and formerly incarcerated Austinites are reacting to a new report from Grassroots Leadership that shows dramatic racial disparities in the Travis County Jail. Advocates are calling on local officials to act to reduce incarceration rates and racial disparities in the jail.
Chris Harris, author of “Travis County Jail in 2015: Data points to racism and longer confinement of African Americans,” said that his research 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 shows that African Americans experienced significantly longer periods of confinement in jail and were jailed at a much higher rate than white people. African Americans spent an average of nearly two weeks more in jail compared to Whites for bookings that included a felony charge and wide discrepancies also existed for misdemeanor charges and when the disposition resulted in a PR bond.
African American-led organizations and criminal justice and immigrant rights groups also called on local officials to address the mass incarceration crisis by implementing policies that would reduce incarceration rates and racial disparities in the jail.
Immigrant rights organizations also addressed the need to implement policies that reduce arrests in the run-up to the September 1st implementation of SB4, a bill passed by the Texas legislature that allows police to check immigration status and has led to worries about racial profiling and increased deportations.
The #DecarcerateATX coalition also asked community members to join a Sandra Bland remembrance march hosted by Counter Balance ATX on Thursday evening.
Advocates react to the report:
Elizabeth Henneke, Partner at Elizabeth A. Henneke Law
"The Grassroots report has revealed an underlying imbalance in our criminal justice system that every Austinite should be aware of and work to remedy. I look forward to working with criminal justice stakeholders in Travis County to address the issues raised by this report and hope that the rest of Texas will undertake similar reviews of their own system."
Fatima Mann, Executive Director at Counter Balance ATX
“Unfortunately, the data also clearly reflects that law enforcement, pre-trial services, and magistrates in Travis County genuinely believe its acceptable for people with more melanin than others to be detained at higher rates than their Eurocentric counterparts. If not then the numbers would reflect people off all races being detained for an equivalent amount of time for the same criminal charge.”
Alonzo Mendoza, United We Dream
“The root causes of arrest found in this report will be made worse by the racist SB 4 law passed during the legislative session, a law that forces local police to work as Donald Trump’s deportation agents and that enables racial profiling of all people of color by allowing police to ask for our papers. Now is a moment where we need bold action from our city and county officials to protect all their residents while resisting SB 4. It starts by reducing the criminalization and arrests in our communities.”
Douglas Smith, Policy Analyst at Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
“There are no good outcomes when people are held in jail awaiting trial. People receive no meaningful programming during the pretrial phase, leaving them worse off and more likely to be arrested again when they are released. Our current policies harm communities without improving public safety. Travis County must create more pretrial intervention programs with access to treatment and programming, recognizing that nearly everyone Travis County detains in jail will eventually be released back to the community.”
Meme Styles, President of Measure Austin
"There is no time better than now to act upon and to facilitate a change of policy and process. I am thankful for organizations like Grassroots Leadership who have the guts to shine a light on a sore that has infected our justice system and Measure Austin requests that this report is evaluated by the Mayors’ Taskforce for its role in institutionalized racism in Austin."
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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.
Holly Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-499-8111