(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. Read more about New report points to racism and longer confinement of African Americans in Travis County Jail
A coalition of attorneys and immigrant rights groups is suing 10 federal agencies over withholding documents related to how the Obama administration is dealing with deporting alleged criminal immigrants.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Asian-Americans Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus and the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School, alleges the agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office of Immigration Review, have violated public records laws for not releasing information about implementing the Priority Enforcement Program, also known as PEP. The program is intended to prioritize the deportation of what government officials have called “the worst of the worst.”
"ICE is, once again, operating in secrecy. It's time for the nation's largest police force to come clean," said NDLON executive director Pablo Alvarado.
Some groups in Texas maintain the policy change hasn’t made any difference, despite federal officials' promises that PEP would be less sweeping.
“The deportation rate in Travis County, Texas, home to so-called liberal oasis Austin, continues to be one of the highest in the state and the U.S. An average of 19 people a week are deported from Travis County,” said Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit group opposed to Secure Communities and PEP, in a statement in July. The group posted on its website a video clip of Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton telling county commissioners that PEP was, in essence, the same as Secure Communities and “all [the government] did was change the name.” Read more about Activists Sue 10 Federal Agencies Over Secrecy in Deporting Alleged Criminals
“This is a huge victory for everyone who has worked to return in-person visitation in Travis County!” said Lauren Johnson, Criminal Justice Fellow at Grassroots Leadership. “Giving families a choice between visiting their loved ones in person or through video should have been the policy all along.” Read more about Travis County will go back to in-person jail visits
The sheriff’s office will hire 14 new employees to staff the visiting rooms, which are scheduled to open in April. The money will come primarily from savings in the sheriff’s office overtime budget, not new spending.
That funding arrangement solved a political problem that caused a similar measure to be defeated this month. Wanting to keep the county’s tax rate low enough for the average homeowner to see a cut in their tax bill next year, the commissioners on Sept. 9 voted 4-1 against a $1.1 million measure that would have increased the county’s budget for next year.
After that vote, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who was on the losing side, directed staff to look for budget-neutral solutions. At the same time, the nonprofit group Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the privatization of prison services, questioned the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on why it exempted Travis County from a new state law requiring jails to allow inmates to have up to two face-to-face visits per week.
Initially, the commission had ruled that the county was exempt because it had already spent a significant amount of money on the video system. Grassroots, however, pointed out that the funding came from the vendor, Securus Technologies, and not the taxpayers. The jail commission still has not made a ruling on whether it will remove the county’s exemption, but Eckhardt said she has been told that it would be satisfied with the new plan. Read more about Travis County OKs $951 million budget, in-person jail visits
(AUSTIN, Texas) — Grassroots Leadership today celebrated the announced return of in-person visitation to the Travis County Jail by April, 2016. Read more about VICTORY! In-person visits will return to Travis County Jail