Travis County

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."' [node:read-more:link]

Sep 25, 2017
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KUT 90.5

After Court Ruling, Travis County Will Comply With All ICE Detention Requests

In response to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' preliminary ruling on SB 4, Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced that she would change Travis County policy to honor all ICE detentions, countering her previous policy to limit ICE intervention in local jails. Grassroots Leadership executive director Bob Libal said, “Any policy changes that lead to deportations from Travis County have the potential to be deadly. We really need our elected officials to stand up now and fight legally and also through creative policies to reduce the number of deportations from our community.”

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.   [node:read-more:link]

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. [node:read-more:link]
Jan 20, 2016
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The Texas Tribune

Activists Sue 10 Federal Agencies Over Secrecy in Deporting Alleged Criminals

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.” [node:read-more:link]

Commissioners Court lowers phone rates at Travis County Jail

(AUSTIN, Texas) —  Grassroots Leadership applauds Travis County Commissioners Court for voting to reduce phone call rates for those incarcerated at the county jail.  Utilizing its annual contract renewal with Securus Technologies, the Dallas-based company that provides phone and video visitation technology at Travis County Jail, Commissioners chose to cap rates at $1.65 per 20-minute call, a significant decrease from the current rate of $4.65.  The new rate will become effective in January 2016.  
Sep 29, 2015
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Austin American-Statesman

Travis County OKs $951 million budget, 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. [node:read-more:link]

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