“”The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, created in 1957 by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, works to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
We believe that those “vulnerable members” include people in Texas county jails. Especially in those counties where we hear from numerous familes begging for help for loved ones: sons abused by other prisoners and guards, pregnant daughters losing weight and needing care, veterans with mental illness locked in solitary, geriatric parents needing medical care. That’s when you call on the DOJ.
- Nueces County Jail: Facts vs. Lies
- 19th Century Harris County Jail: shouting to be heard
- When do you call on the feds to investigate?
- Robert Rowan: A Smith County tragedy
- Indigent defendants in Comal County first in U.S. to pick attorneys
- See you on the other side, Robert
- To my little brother
- One easy way to stop a destructive cycle in our jails
- A Texas Vet and His Demons
- Gaines County: Abel Vasquez dies after suicide attempt at jail
Who We Are and What We DoThe Texas Jail Project seeks to improve the conditions for approximately 65,000 people—mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, sisters, and daughters—who are incarcerated in Texas county jails. Our issue areas include:
When Sheriff Kaelin talks about his overcrowded jail, he likes to mention all the growth in Corpus and all the criminals in Corpus. A recent TV report dutifully quotes him without analyzing his “facts,” but lucky for us, Grits for Breakfast does. Blogger Scott Henson lays it out in plain Enlish: “Virtually all of the difference in the Nueces County jail population is accounted for by increased pretrial detention, which …. is a policy decision by judges and prosecutors, not a function of “growth.” And keep in mind this is a period when crime rates dramatically declined.” So this is a jail where 62% of the people are awaiting disposition of their cases—pretrial—and THAT is the big fact behind your overcrowding. You don’t need more room in the jail, Sheriff, you need more smarts in the courtrooms.
Finally! Houston Chronicle reporter James Pinkerton brings attention to an often overlooked subject that is so important to prisoners and their families: visitation at the Baker Street jail. Texas Jail Project has long wanted to shine a light on what one older father called 19th century conditions when he came to visit his son week after week, and couldn’t hear anything he said.
This excerpt is from our interview (see Inmate Stories) of an observant woman held 13 months there: “At Harris County Jail, the visitation rooms do not provide telephones; they have plexiglass windows with holes in them through which inmates and visitors have to shout at one another to be heard. It is extremely stressful to receive a visitor because it is so difficult to hear anything over all the shouting that is going on [around you]. I finally worked out a system with my uncles, who came to see me regularly, to bring paper and pen and we communicated by writing messages to one another, instead of trying to yell through the plexiglass…. Thus, even visitation was an unpleasant and stressful event ….” Despite her loneliness and despair during her long pretrial detention, when she saw how hard visitation was on family members, she told them to stop coming.
Each month Texas county jails tally the number of pregnant inmates and report that to the Jail Commission. Some are only held there a few days, but others may be incarcerated for weeks and months and a number will deliver their babies in local hospitals while in custody.
From Robert Rowan’s family: “Robert was born Aug 27, 1987, and he was a great man. He loved his family with all his heart. He loved to be out on the boat with his cousin William. He enjoyed working on cars, riding dirt bikes, riding back roads, having a cold beer and just enjoying life.
There is not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Robert.
His death was something that should not have happened.”
Do you know that everyday Texans are losing jobs and being disconnected from their families while waiting for their cases to be processed? They are the “innocent until proven guilty” and their numbers are astounding: 60% of the people in your average Texas county jail haven’t yet been convicted of anything, but are kept behind
A woman cries out for help, but the correctional officers ignore her and she is forced to go through labor and give birth with no help. The infant dies. Other women have described similar scenarios to Texas Jail Project co-founders Diane Wilson and Diana Claitor, and we have posted a video of a woman describing how she gave birth alone in a cell–with a happier ending, since her baby lived. Click through to see that video and read more about Nicole Guerrero’s lawsuit against the Wichita Falls Jail.
The American Friends Service Committee recommends that this country stop what it’s doing to incarcerated citizens and begin serious reform by taking the following steps. 1. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. 2. Removing a human being from their community, depriving them of human contact, denying them of stimuli and subjecting them
“The issue of trust has long been part of the larger discussion about the quality of indigent defense in the United States.” There’s an understatment. Texas Jail Project is certainly aware of the “issue of trust,” since hundreds of people have complained to us over the past seven years about the lack of quality work by court appointed attorneys.
“Now, Comal County in Central Texas will be the first in the country to let these individuals choose their attorneys at government expense.It’s part of a pilot program in Comal County that could determine whether the idea is adopted in other jurisdictions and provide a new way for how the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments are exercised.
Under the system, a defendant who is declared indigent will be given a list of 30 to 50 attorneys approved by the county. An individual will have a day to make a choice.”
It’s about time. Thanks to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.