travis county jail

Jul 21, 2017
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The Austin Chronicle

Commissioners to Discuss Racial Disparities in County Jail

Grassroots Leadership report indicates detainees of color face inequalities

County Commissioners will hold a work session July 27 to discuss the county's pretrial programs and ways to better address racial disparities at the county jail, a direct response to a report issued July 13 by Grassroots Leadership. The local activist organization used the county's 2015 booking data to conclude that black people face disproportionately longer jail stays and are incarcerated at a higher rate than their white counterparts charged with the same crimes. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the Chronicle that while she's not surprised by the report's findings, she and County Commissioners are taking it "very seriously."

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Despite these diversions, minorities are still experiencing higher rates of incarceration. While accounting for only 8% of Travis County's population, black people in 2015 represented 22% of jail bookings. As for days spent in jail, on average, white detainees were locked up for 16.88 days, while black detainees were held an average of 22.53 days. Eckhardt called the report "helpful" and said the county will continue to analyze it. "Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet for institutionalized racism," she said. "We have to acknowledge that sentencing is different for brown and black people and start having really uncomfortable conversations." Eckhardt said the county must question whether or not the pretrial program is improving lives or further entangling people in the criminal justice system.

"We've been asking this from a race neutral standpoint because we thought race neutral would fix it, but it's not working. We need to ask if this is better or worse for defendants of color." Read more about Commissioners to Discuss Racial Disparities in County Jail

Jul 14, 2017
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Telemundo

Nuevo reporte refleja desigualdades en la cárcel del condado Travis

Un nuevo reporte indica que el tiempo de estadía en la Cárcel del Condado Travis no solo depende de la gravedad del delito, sino también de la raza.

Según el informe, presentado el jueves por Grassroots Leadership, una organización del activismo local, ciertos grupos raciales y étnicos permanecen más tiempo en la cárcel. En el caso de la comunidad inmigrante, esto podría significar un mayor riesgo de deportación.

"La gente inmigrante, la gente afroamericana dentro de esta comunidad, aunque estén arrestados por lo mismo que una persona angloamericana acaban en la cárcel más tiempo", dijo el concejal Gregorio Casar, quien también añadió no estar sorprendido por las conclusiones del análisis. “Este reporte enseña en números lo que ya sabemos en la comunidad", dijo Casar.

Al resaltar la disparidad, los activistas buscan generar un cambio en las políticas de la ciudad, el condado, la cárcel y el sistema judicial. “Ahorita tenemos que cambiar la manera como manejamos las cárceles y como manejamos la policía para tener un sistema que trata a la gente igual y que no importa de donde venga", afirmó Casar. Read more about Nuevo reporte refleja desigualdades en la cárcel del condado Travis

Jul 13, 2017
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Fox 7 News

Activists: Blacks spend more time in Travis County jail than whites

The organization Grassroots Leadership obtained Travis County Jail records for the year 2015. In a report, released Thursday, they say African-Americans spend longer times in jail compared to their white counterparts.

“It's not surprising because we all know African-Americans specifically are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and we are charged more harshly,” said Latresse Cook, with the M.E.L.J Justice Center.

For example,  according to the data, a black person charged with a DWI spends almost 15 days in jail, compared to a little over 5 for a white person on average. “Unfortunately the numbers aren't surprising but they're very important,” said Greg Casar, Austin City Council member. Read more about Activists: Blacks spend more time in Travis County jail than whites

Jul 13, 2017
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Downtown Austin Patch

Report Highlights Travis County Jail Racial Disparities

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. Read more about Report Highlights Travis County Jail Racial Disparities

Jul 14, 2017
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Austin Monitor

African-Americans spend more time in Travis County jail for same offenses as whites

Travis County has a long way to go before its criminal justice system matches its progressive reputation, according to a report released Thursday by a local advocacy group.

African-Americans booked into the county jail spend more time behind bars than whites charged with the same crime, said the analysis by Grassroots Leadership, a community organizing group that focuses largely on immigrant rights and reforming the criminal justice system.

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At a press conference held in front of the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center, speakers from a variety of organizations described the findings of the report as evidence of persistent racism in the local criminal justice system.

“While class inequality, and the inability to pay bail, undoubtedly feeds into these numbers, racial discrimination must also be an important factor, if not the primary (factor),” said Chris Harris, a data analyst for Grassroots Leadership who compiled the data in the report.

The report included eight demands of elected officials and law enforcement, including ending arrests for low-level traffic offenses, such as driving with an invalid license, ending arrests for possession of less than four ounces of marijuana and assigning inmates defense counsel within 48 hours of arrest.

The group also urged the county to develop a “more robust” pretrial diversion program in which people are offered the chance to avoid prosecution in exchange for meeting certain requirements, such as counseling.

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Finally, Grassroots demands that the county compile and report data on the jail population and that it establish a “criminal justice community oversight group with decision-making authority led by those most impacted by over-policing and incarceration.”

The speakers implored the public to put pressure on elected officials and hold those who fail to act accountable in elections.

“We’re going to show up to these ballot boxes like we show up to the club,” quipped Lewis Conway Jr., an organizer with Grassroots Leadership involved with the Texas Advocates for Justice program, which seeks to engage formerly incarcerated people in the political process.

Texas allows those convicted of felonies to vote once they have completed their sentence, including probation. However, many people with criminal records assume that they never regain the right to vote, Conway Jr. explained in an interview. Part of his job is getting people to understand when their voting rights are restored and, more importantly, convincing them that their vote matters.

“Voting is power; organizing is power,” he said. “You don’t win because you’re right; you win because you’re strong. And that’s our problem right now. We’re not strong politically.” Read more about African-Americans spend more time in Travis County jail for same offenses as whites

Jul 13, 2017
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Austin American-Statesmen

Study: Blacks stay in Travis County Jail twice as long as whites

According to the Grassroots Leadership’s analysis of 2015 jail booking data, African-Americans stayed in the Travis County Jail nearly twice as long as Caucasian inmates on average — and the disparities held when comparing white and black inmates with the same lead charge and total number of charges.

For instance, African-Americans booked on a charge of driving while intoxicated spent almost 15 days in jail on average; whites were generally released within five days. When it comes to felony drug possession charges, blacks spent an average of 50 days in jail, while whites only spent 31.

Overall, African-American inmates spent nearly 23 days on average in the Travis County Jail, almost double the roughly 14 days for Caucasians.

“Blacks are jailed longer on average when charged with crimes of each and every level and degree — even when the number of charges is the same,” said Chris Harris, the data analyst who authored the report for Grassroots Leadership. “Time spent in local jail often has little to do with guilt or innocence as the vast majority of people held in this building have not been convicted.”

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The Grassroots Leadership study was released on the second anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death, a high-profile case that shined a spotlight on police and jail practices in the state.

Bland was pulled over in Waller County by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper for failing to signal while switching lanes, but video of the incident showed the traffic stop quickly spun out of control, resulting in a violent arrest. Two days later, she was found dead in her cell at the Waller County Jail. Authorities ruled her death a suicide.

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The Grassroots Leadership study shows that some 6,000 bookings into the Travis County Jail in 2015 were for Class C misdemeanors, a class of offense for things like traffic tickets and possession of small amounts of marijuana that would typically include no jail time if convicted. Read more about Study: Blacks stay in Travis County Jail twice as long as whites

New report points to racism and longer confinement of African Americans in Travis County Jail

(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

Jun 1, 2017
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The Austin Monitor

Here's what we learned about requests from ICE to pick up Travis County inmates

Drunken driving. Property theft. Possession of a controlled substance.

These are some of the crimes for which the Travis County Sheriff’s Office did not honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain suspected undocumented immigrants past their sentences or dispositions.

Records obtained by KUT News show that while Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy regarding ICE detainers is largely being applied as laid out, in a couple of cases it was applied inconsistently, specifically when it concerned reoffenders.

On February 1, Hernandez’s policy went into effect: She would honor ICE detainer requests only if someone had been charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking, or had been convicted of these crimes in the past. She also maintained the ability to assess requests on a case-by-case basis. Later, the sheriff expanded her policy to include crimes committed against children and the elderly.

In a second case, an 18-year-old man was accused of organized criminal activity. Travis County declined the ICE detainer request placed on him, and he was released from jail on a personal recognizance bond, or no-cost bond.

A month later, in April, he was again booked into the Travis County Jail, this time on a home burglary charge. Travis County honored a second ICE detainer request placed on the man and he was released to federal immigration agents. Dark said the man’s escalating criminal activity might explain the decision to turn him over to ICE – but when she spoke with KUT she did not have the notes in front of her from the captain who made the decision.

Bob Libal, executive director of the immigrants’ rights group Grassroots Leadership, said he’s concerned by these inconsistencies.

“I do think that it raises concerns if the policy is not being followed,” he said.

“It’s really disappointing to hear,” said Amy Fischer, policy director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, when told about the few inconsistencies in the application of Hernandez’s policy. “She’s gained a lot of political brownie points as someone who’s claiming to stand up for the immigrant community, and it shows that when push comes to shove that she’s laying down to the federal government.”

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While Hernandez’s policy states that she maintains the right to assess ICE detainers on a case-by-case basis, most of the charges for which people were released to ICE fell below the threshold Hernandez set in her policy. They included charges of DUI, home burglary, domestic violence, manufacture and delivery of a drug, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and sexual abuse of a child.

An oft-overlooked portion of Hernandez’s policy is the consideration of criminal history. In the case that someone committed one of the three violent felonies she set – murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking – the ICE detainer placed on them would be honored.

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Libal with Grassroots Leadership and Fischer with RAICES said they were concerned from the beginning to learn that Hernandez’s policy included the intent to honor any ICE detainers.

“Obviously, it’s good news that we have a dramatic reduction in the number of immigration detainers in our community,” Libal said. “But it doesn’t solve many of the issues that were raised by (detainers), including constitutional issues. It doesn’t matter what the criminal charge is. The sheriff is agreeing to honor a detainer that does not come with any backing of a warrant.” Read more about Here's what we learned about requests from ICE to pick up Travis County inmates

Face-to-Face Visits Return to Travis County Jail

(AUSTIN, Texas) —  Today Grassroots Leadership celebrates the return of in-person visitation to the Travis County Jail.  The decision to restore face-to-face in-person visits follows years of advocacy by formerly incarcerated people, their families, and allies after it was removed in favor of video visits administered by a private, for-profit technology company called Securus in 2013. Read more about Face-to-Face Visits Return to Travis County Jail
Dec 9, 2015
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Austin Monitor

County nixes revenue to save inmates money

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.

  Read more about County nixes revenue to save inmates money

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