travis county jail

Mar 15, 2018
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Texas Observer

Texas Prison System Sheds Men, Swallows Even More Women

"Travis County officials say they’ve implemented a laundry list of reforms to divert people from jail in recent years, such as drug courts and cite-and-release policies for certain low-level offenses. But the coalition of community activists, drug treatment providers and formerly incarcerated women who attended last week’s commission meeting questioned how well those programs are working, particularly for women. For instance, the number of women with mental health issues booked into the jail has doubled since 2013.

'What are our mental health diversion programs doing?' Cate Graziani, a researcher with Grassroots Leadership, told commissioners. 'That is an indicator that they’re not working.'

[...] Brandi French, who first entered prison at age 19, asked Travis County commissioners last week to put the money they would have spent building a new women’s jail into community recovery programs.

French, who calls herself a recovering drug addict, says she spent most of her 20s behind bars. She tried both college and church to stay sober, but neither worked. When she was 34, she went with her child to a place called Austin Recovery, one of only three treatment centers in Texas that allow women to bring their children with them. 'It was the first time I was ever diagnosed with bipolar disorder,' French told commissioners. 'First time, after seven years in prison. Nobody ever looked at my mental health issues.'

'Building a new prison is not the answer,' she said. 'Putting sick people behind bars is not the answer.'" Read more about Texas Prison System Sheds Men, Swallows Even More Women

Victory: Facing Community Opposition, Travis County Commissioners Delay Building New Women’s Jail

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

Jan 25, 2018
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Austin Chronicle

Travis County Plans New Women's Jail

"One evening last September, an employee at the local organization Grassroots Lead­er­ship was scanning through Travis Coun­ty's proposed budget when she stumbled upon plans for a new $91 million women's jail on the county's Del Valle correctional campus. She spread the word to her co-workers, who were blindsided by the news. 'It immediately caught our eye and caused a lot of concern,' said Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director for Grassroots.

Kirby notified several partner organizations of Grassroots' Decarcerate ATX campaign, which aims to reduce incarceration and its inordinate impact on communities of color. These included Lone Star Justice Alliance, Texas Advocates for Justice, Texas Appleseed, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Texas Fair Defense Project – 'all the folks in the community that should be a part of the conversation,' Kirby said. 'And it was a total surprise to all of us.'

Further alarming the coalition, the new women's facility is just part of the first phase of an extensive jail renovation and expansion expected to take 24 years and cost more than half a billion dollars. After testifying against the jail at the county commissioners' budget hearing in September, the coalition sent a letter to county staff and elected officials on Jan. 19, asking them to halt any further action on the jail. 'Our organizations strongly believe that before we invest millions in new infrastructure that potentially adds bed capacity to the Travis County jail system, serious analysis of the drivers of the jail population and formal consultation with stakeholders are urgently needed."' Read more about Travis County Plans New Women's Jail

Jan 19, 2018
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Advocates Urge Halt To Travis County Plans For New Women's Jail

Advocates Urge Halt To Travis County Plans For New Women's Jail

"AUSTIN, TX — Community leaders on Friday urged top Travis County officials to halt plans on building a new women's jail and instead focus on implementing recommendations to reduce incarceration rates.

The letter delivered Friday by representatives of nine community groups suggested county officials implement three policy changes aimed at reducing the county jail population:

  • Decriminalize all offenses that are eligible for cite-and-release measures.
  • Reevaluate prosecution of state jail felonies.
  • Invest in community alternatives to arrest for offenders with mental health issues and substance use disorders."
Read more about Advocates Urge Halt To Travis County Plans For New Women's 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

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