"I’m supportive of trying everything we can regarding jail diversion efforts, especially for misdemeanor cases. But, jail diversion efforts will take time, and I expect activist groups (especially Grassroots Leadership) to help with this effort. It’ll be interesting to see how many of those who didn’t want the county to go ahead with the new women’s facility will be actively involved in meaningful ways to divert women from our jail. Effective jail diversion efforts will also take lots of money and community services, which means taxpayers would more than likely have to foot the bill. In the meantime, this office is working diligently in trying to find ways to lower our overall jail population by being an active participant in our Jail Population Monitoring Group." Read more about Travis County eyes new women’s jail facility
Travis County Commissioners Court
"Five months of protesting by criminal justice organizations culminated Tuesday with activists and former inmates packing the Travis County Commissioners Courtroom to speak against a new women's jailbuilding that is expected to cost nearly $100 million. Despite the groups' concerns, most commissioners had seemed ready to approve $6.6 million for the facility's design and preconstruction. But in a last-minute turn of events, they voted to delay the funding for a year in order to improve the county's efforts of reducing incarceration.
'The vote today is exactly the outcome we wanted,' said Holly Kirby, director of criminal justice programs for Grassroots Leadership. 'The commissioners heard community voices and listened. They made the right call today, and we are excited to get to work on driving down the jail population and investing in a healthier and safer Travis County."' Read more about County Delays Funding for New Women’s Jail
"Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, said after the meeting that she was pleasantly surprised by the vote.
'In the end, we got what we came for,' Kirby said. 'I think they heard us, I think they heard the very important stories from people who have been in the system … Del Valle is not the place for treatment, it’s not the place for care, and we are ready to get to work.'" Read more about Travis commissioners to hold off on women’s jail expansion
"Members of the community, however, felt that $6.2 million should be used for mental health services and diversion programs. Over 20 Travis County residents and local criminal justice leaders gave testimony Tuesday afternoon on the topic.
Criminal Justice Program Director with Grassroots Leadership Holly Kirby urged commissioners to halt the construction on the women’s facility asking that more research be done in creating and improving diversion programs and reducing the jail population.
'You have the power right now to show all of us and the rest of Travis County that you are committed to doing something about the mass incarceration crisis in our community before any dollars are spent on a new expanded jail,' Kirby said. 'Please vote no on a new women’s jail today and let us work with you for truly a healthier and safer Travis County.”' Read more about Travis County Commissioners delay women’s jail expansion in 3-1 vote
"The Travis County Commissioners Court has shelved for a full year what was supposed to be the first installment of a $97 million plan to build a new housing unit for female inmates at the county’s jail complex in Del Valle.
The 3-1 vote came on Tuesday afternoon following lengthy and occasionally tearful testimony from criminal justice reform activists who uniformly decried the proposal to replace the existing women’s unit with a larger facility.
'We have heard you all say you want the same things that we do, that you want to see fewer people locked up, that you want community voices at the table,' Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, told the court before its members voted. “We need to see that you mean what you say.”' Read more about Commissioners Court hits pause on new women’s unit at county jail
"Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, celebrated the move after she and other criminal justice reform advocates testified for an hour prior to the vote.
'The vote today is a huge victory for us,' Kirby said. 'The commissioners listened to the community and made the right choice. Ultimately, this is about what our community values: health, safety, and equity. The vote today opens the door for us to get to work on downsizing our jail and investing in community alternatives for a safer, healthier and more just Travis County."' Read more about Travis County Commissioners Vote To Delay Jail Expansion Funding
AUSTIN — Formerly incarcerated people and criminal justice reform advocates celebrated a victory Tuesday afternoon when county officials in Central Texas voted down the construction of a new $97 million women’s jail. On a 3-1 vote, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to remove funding for design and pre-construction of the new women’s jail from certificates of obligation approved today and urged stakeholders to present solutions for lowering the local jail population. Read more about Victory: Facing Community Opposition, Travis County Commissioners Delay Building New Women’s Jail
Lauren Johnson of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit dedicated to prison reform, was on hand Tuesday to urge the commissioners to adopt the first option. She noted that the second option also contained the built-in ability to keep the current rates in case the FCC order is challenged in court.
“I think that we need to be doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because our hand is being forced,” Johnson said.
Daugherty expressed sympathy for Johnson and her cause but had reservations about simply walking away from $860,000 in revenue. “I’m not trying to be punitive to the inmates,” Daugherty said. “But I do want to be careful about just assuming that this money is not something that our Sheriff’s Office needs, because we know what their needs are going to be. And if you don’t have some kind of revenue, then it just is all on the taxpayer, and I don’t think that’s completely fair.”
Johnson stood her ground and argued that the county relies too much on incarceration. “So if we really were concerned about our tax dollars, we could be spending them on more diversion programs. Travis County leads the way in a lot of areas, but there are other things we could be doing besides locking people up and being entirely punitive,” she said.
Indeed, the most significant public engagement during the budget process came last week at the first of two special hearings on the proposed tax rate. But instead of raising hackles about high taxes, the handful of speakers at the hearing urged the commissioners to restore in-person visits for inmates at county jails. Under the current policy enacted by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, most inmates can interact with friends and family only remotely through a video chat interface.
Last week’s effort, organized by the prison reform group Grassroots Leadership, turned out to be a testament to the power of democratic participation. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt responded to their activism by putting the issue on Tuesday’s agenda, and staff came prepared with two options for covering the cost of restoring in-person visits. ...
“At the end of the day, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Lauren Johnson of Grassroots Leadership told the Austin Monitor. But, she added, Travis isn’t the only county keeping its inmates from sharing face-to-face contact with loved ones. “We’ll spend the day celebrating and then get back to work tomorrow to figure out which county we go to next.”