Austin, TX — Today, nearly 30 community organizations and more than 65 community leaders sent a letter to Travis County Commissioners Court members urging them to vote against the building of a new women’s jail and commit to a community-led process to create a Justice Reinvestment Plan to replace the outdated “Master Plan.”
Organizational signatories to the letter include: Austin Justice Coalition, Communities of Color United, Grassroots Leadership, Jane’s Due Process, Latino Justice, Lilith Fund, MEASURE, MELJ Center, Reentry Advocacy Project, SAFE, Texas After Violence Project, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Fair Defense Project, Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Workers Defense Action Fund, amongst others.
Individual signatories include nearly 70 clergy, law professors, progressive leaders, environmentalists, and reproductive and gender justice leaders. The full list is here.
“I am here to speak against building a brand new, state-of-the-art cage for women in Del Valle,” said Annette Price, co-Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, one of the organizational signatories. “It doesn’t matter what name you give it, it’s a dehumanizing place to put anyone in.”
In the last several years, Travis County voters – along with City and County public officials – have approved a number of reform measures that have reduced the jail population. These efforts, along with reductions in crime, have resulted in the lowest jail population in Travis County since 1990.
“Jail caused me trauma,” said Maggie Luna with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, one of the signatories to the letter. “The person I was before going to jail is not the same one that came back out. Ask [directly impacted women] what’s going on, and when you ask us, listen to us. Nothing inside that jail helped me become a better person. We need to invest in communities, not jails.”
These policy changes also signal widespread public support for investments in alternatives to mass incarceration that address the root causes of crime and violence outside of the criminal legal system. When the women’s jail project was delayed in 2018, the Travis County Commissioner’s Court committed to undertaking efforts both to analyze the drivers of incarceration for women and create a complete asset map of diversion programs. Neither of these projects were completed, and the need for these analyses as a foundation for any planning has only become more clear with the decreased jail population and public support for alternatives to mass criminalization and incarceration.
“Building another jail isn’t going to help anyone,” said Pam Bryant, a member of Texas Advocates for Justice. “You can redecorate it, but it’s not going to get any better. It’s still going to be hard cement floors, the food will still be nasty, and you still need to stay there until you’re sentenced.”
Formerly incarcerated people and civil rights groups are urging the Travis County Commissioners Court to vote down new expenditures on the Women’s Jail and embark on a community-led process to create a Justice Reinvestment Plan led by directly impacted leaders to replace the outdated “Master Plan.”
“The women’s jail population has gone down even more drastically, from 383 in 2017 to 153 people today, said Amanda Woog, Executive Director of the Texas Fair Defense Project. “That’s a more than 60% reduction. It is mind boggling that the Travis County commissioners are seriously considering continuing with these plans, and as part of them, an $80 million investment in a women’s jail.”