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Fighting for Justice During the Pandemic

Dec 18th, 2020 | Category: TJP Newsletter

Why did Smith County incarcerate Robert Paquin for most of 2020?

Texas Jail Project uncovered a multitude of reasons that didn’t make sense, and we took action. 

Robert Joshua Paquin turned 19 in the Smith County Jail this year.

Despite his medical history, Robert would be on his way to prison now, if it wasn’t for the energetic advocacy of Texas Jail Project’s community advocate Dalila Reynoso and the leadership of executive director Krish Gundu.

Robert began receiving treatment for mental illness at age 5 and was helped by special ed programs at school. Raised in foster care, he had recently moved to his aunt’s in Smith County, and was under the care of the Andrews Center. Earlier this year, his medications were interrupted due to the pandemic.

When an elderly white man was frightened by Robert in a parking lot, 911 was called, and this young man with obvious disabilities was taken to jail instead of being assessed by people trained in mental conditions and crisis intervention. Languishing in the Smith County jail since April, isolated in a single cell and untreated, he was beaten up—not uncommon for people experiencing mental illness in a local jail. His aunt asked Dalila for help, reporting that Robert had stopped eating, and worst of all, was being pressured to plead to a felony that would put him in prison for three years.

Dalila spoke out, asking Smith County officials to address his mental illness, but there was no response. We reached out to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission and raised funds from supporters to hire a “low bono” attorney (who charges fees that low- and middle-income clients can afford). Hired attorney Brett Harrison filed requests, and Robert was further evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist who declared him to be insane during the incident—and charges were dismissed. Robert will be moved to a long-term medical facility. His aunt told  Dalila, “Y’all saved his life! You really did!”

TJP’s outreach and passionate on-the-ground advocacy stopped the steamroller and called attention to what was really going on with this vulnerable young person. However, many more young—and older—people with mental disabilities or illness are being held, bewildered and deteriorating, in 239 county jails across Texas during this pandemic. Numerous court-appointed counsels and many Local Mental Health Authorities are failing to investigate medical histories and advocate to protect them.  Our team at Texas Jail Project needs more local folks to join with us in this participatory defense of people from our communities. And we need your donations to keep up this work.

oin us for “Bearing Witness: a COVID-19 Listening Circle,” a live stream event this Saturday the 19th on Facebook. In this tribute to those impacted by incarceration during the pandemic, listeners will hear readings of letters and recordings of calls from jails all over Texas, as well as intimate conversations with those recently released. This moving and powerful collection of experiences during the pandemic will conclude with a tribute to the impacted, and an invitation to participants to take action in their own communities.  Register to attend here.

YOUR DONATION IS NEEDED IN 2020! 

Your dollars will
—allow us to accept collect calls from thousands experiencing the terrible isolation of quarantine

—enable us do the time-consuming work of advocating for those who shouldn’t be in jail
—support our investigation into the lack of data about the public health crisis in our county jails 

 If you are able, please help us help your fellow Texans by making an online donation below or by mailing a check to 

Texas Jail Project
13121 Louetta Road #1330
Cypress TX 77429
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