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2020: Resilience, Action & Possibilities!

Jan 11th, 2021 | Category: Lead Article, TJP Newsletter

From our team at Texas Jail Project — Thank you for an unforgettable year.

In 2020 we rose to the challenge – taking on the colliding pandemics of COVID-19 and inhumane jailing, while undergoing our own internal transformation.

We’re proud to have taken on big fights in our pursuit of depopulating county jails and demonstrating community based alternatives to incarceration. Texas county jails were the frontlines for this year’s crisis, foregrounding systemic inequities and corruption, from rural county jails with unreported outbreaks to metropolitan superspreader facilities. And we didn’t back down.

Community organizer Dalila Reynoso secured the release of over 30 people in Smith county jail, forging a new era of community partnership and systems transparency in a rural county.

Kevin Garrett , our Hogg Foundation Peer Policy Fellow and a formerly incarcerated person, passed the bar exam – as one of his peers said, “forging a path for others to see their possibility in [his] reality .” He looks forward to practicing law and continuing his peer support work.

We brought dozens of testimonies of currently incarcerated persons, allies , and their families to county commissioners courts in four counties, and nearly a dozen more to quarterly meetings of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Our Co-Founder and Communications Director Diana Claitor authored and published an in-depth investigation of unreported custody deaths in Texas county jails.

We centered the voices of incarcerated people and shone a light on living conditions in county jails during the pandemic on KOOP radio’s program Civil Rights and Wrongs.

Our Peer Community Organizer Castanita Fitzpatrick successfully had her record expunged this year.

We presented the first-ever Cobos Award, to be given annually to an individual in public service who demonstrates a commitment to the law and to the wellbeing of the community—and who does not hesitate to take action when witnessing something that is “just not right.”

We were interviewed by the Sunset Commission and presented some 15 pages of analysis of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards’ strengths and weaknesses – especially highlighting a need for more accountability, more communication with informed stakeholders, the lack of data collection and the agency’s lack of informative and proactive guidance to the jails when it comes to legislation. Our history with the agency gave us unique opportunities to see the areas where TCJS was inadequate, due to either lack of statutory authority, and/or the failure to fulfill legislative intent on bills regarding its mission. Our input has contributed to positive changes already occurring on the TCJS website, and we expect that bills soon to be filed in the new session will reflect some of the needs and and corrections our reports suggested.

We used social media to garner support of state lawmakers against jail phone call price gouging by Securus.

We grew our team and welcomed Co-Founder Krish Gundu to the role of Executive Director. Krish was chosen to join the Judicial Commission on Mental Health’s Collaborative Council.

Krish Gundu volunteered with Project Orange to register voters in Harris County jail in 2019 and also during the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the presidential elections.

We co-sponsored a campaign to improve indigent defense for those with court appointed attorneys in Harris county.

We cultivated deep partnerships and community collaboration with organizational allies, prioritizing coalition building and shared knowledge.

Parterning with ACLU TX, we co-wrote and sponsored 36 letters to county sherrifs with recommendations and a toolkit to reduce jail populations.

We made space for our community to openly grieve together.

But more than anything this year, we listened.

Witnessing the total failure of state agencies to protect people in jails during the pandemic, we took a leap of faith. By putting our phone number out into the jails, we became an unofficial hotline – a lifeline – for people inside to bravely report on-the-ground jail conditions. These correspondences included first person testimonies, personal essays, poetry and artwork – as well as copies of medical grievances, sick call requests, and whistleblower accounts.

The sum total of this work is a living record – documenting the lived experience of being caged in a pandemic. The value of this work is immeasurable – requiring deep emotional labor, active and empathetic listening, and countless hours of relationship building. The cost is easier to calculate. We have spent thousands from our small budget to cover the cost of collect calls alone, creating an invaluable lifeline to folks inside whose families are often unable to pay the exorbitant costs of jail phone calls. Can you donate today to help us keep our phone lines open through the holidays? 

Can you help us continue our advocacy in 2021? Here’s what your donations enable us to do: 

$25 pays for 3 collect calls from people in county jails asking for help re poor sanitation, inadequate quarantine, lack of medical care during COVID-19.

$50 pays for commissary funds for indigent folks needing to purchase additional food through the jail’s commissary “store” or to purchase phone cards to call home during pandemic when there is NO VISITATION.

$100 enables us to gather info and send complaints about lack of medical care to the Jail Commission for 4 families without internet access.

$150 pays for 6 hours of monitoring inspectors’ reports that reveal which jails are not correctly screening people for mental illness and suicidal tendencies.

Or Mail Checks To:
Texas Jail Project
13121 Louetta Road #1330
Cypress TX 77429

The Power of Storytelling: Starting the Healing Process

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