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We Answered the Calls for Help

Mar 16th, 2021 | Category: TJP Newsletter

We are forging alliances with county stakeholders and courts to promote diversion – at the same time that we’re forming innovative partnerships with grassroots volunteers to provide direct aid to people in county jails!

Our East Texas advocate Dalila Reynoso (second from left)  facilitated the release of KM, BF and JB from the Smith County Jail to the RecovHery program at Santa Maria Hostel in Houston last week.

 WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER?

“Texas has a problem and the COVID pandemic has only made it worse,” said Tyler defense counsel Donna Broom earlier this month. She saw the problem playing out once more when a client of hers—we’ll call him J.D.—was charged with a minor felony and after examination, found incompetent to stand trial because of serious mental illness. The court ordered him hospitalized, but since the state’s mental hospitals are full, the next step would be no step—with him locked up, untreated, to deteriorate in a cell, for months, if not years.

Shouldn’t there be an alternative? Well, yes, says Broom and many advocates. Counties should have comprehensive outpatient restoration programs where that person can be properly treated —not held in their jails, which is expensive and wasteful for the county in addition to the detrimental to their psychiatric state. But there wasn’t any such program  in Cherokee County.

The Texas Jail Project team began thinking outside the box and proposed a solution. “We had heard that there was an outpatient restoration program at the Andrews Center. The problem was it was only for the 5 counties within their region,” said Krish Gundu, executive director. It was such a good idea, the upper echelon over the Andrews Center granted permission, and at the same time, the court and DA in Cherokee County agreed: J.D. could now be treated as an outpatient in Tyler.

“This is the first time such a plan has been approved in Cherokee County and would not have occurred without the assistance of the court, the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office, Andrews Center and Texas Jail Project,” said attorney Broom. “When we all work together to come up with a solution that better serves the legal process and safeguards the rights of the defendant, we are all winners and that is an incredible feeling.”

Even better, when it was discovered that the defendant was indigent with no means of transportation, Texas Jail Project had the funds to help him travel to Tyler for his competency restoration meetings.

Donna Broom sees how this collaborative effort could be a model for other Texas counties. “If more courts follow what Cherokee County has done and are willing to create alternative solutions, waitlists in jails that delay both treatment and timely resolution of legal charges for Texas inmates will be minimalized,” she said, “providing better clinical and legal outcomes at a substantially reduced cost.”

The winner? J.D. and all of us.

DIRECT AID DURING THE WINTER STORM!

Texas Jail Project had started giving direct aid to people in jail at the start of the pandemic, never anticipating that in less than a year, a terrible storm would explode that initiative into a all-out emergency program.

At the start of the shut-down, our funder, the Simmons Foundation of Houston, realized along with us that people confined in jails would be uniquely in need of support as their visitation and communication with families were cut off and classes and chaplains disappeared. Access to food that was already limited and sometimes barely edible deteriorated, and drinks and fresh water was increasingly scarce. Medical and mental health care dwindled.

The only way to help folks immediately was by depositing money directly into their commissary accounts— so that a pregnant woman could buy extra water, food or shampoo, and a man with health problems could augment his diet or buy allergy meds. So all could reach out to loved ones via collect phone calls.

The Simmons Foundation gave us the funds to start receiving collect calls and funneling direct aid to people in Ft. Bend, Galveston, Montgomery and Harris County County jails and to their dependents on the outside. As court cases ground to a halt and courts backed up and pretrial detention dragged on and on, more and more incarcerated people wrote and called TJP for help.

Then came the storm. With no electricity and little to no water and a desperate need to find out what their families were enduring, the number of people reaching out from an ever-increasing number of jails mushroomed. Texas Jail Project staff, functioning without electricity power themselves operated from their cars, creating a spreadsheet and a new system to get money into those commissary accounts. The challenge: each of the jails we interacted with had its own rules and all limited the number of dollars allowed from each credit card, sometimes only allowing us to use our card one time a day! As word spread through informal networking, TJP volunteers paired up with people from grassroots organizations across Texas and from around the US, from Seattle to New York, and from Chicago to New Orleans to people in need. These volunteers used their cards to get money into those accounts! And many informed us not to even reimburse them.

Shortly thereafter, Time Magazine heard of this effort and included our group’s name and the campaign to get people direct aid in “How to Help Texas Residents During Power Outages.” More funds for people in Texas jails poured in from ordinary citizens across the US.

TIME    February 18, 2021
Where to donate money

Since February 15th, Texas Jail Project has distributed $68,792 in direct aid to incarcerated people and their families in 15 counties.

We were able to create this innovative campaign because of the support of the Simmons Foundation, who were the first to recognize the need for direct payment to a population that has never received direct aid – people who are stigmatized and dehumanized because of being confined in a jail, whether or not convicted. Last September, Texas Jail Project was awarded $70,000 by the Simmons Foundation to distribute as direct aid in Harris and surrounding counties. With that program alone, Texas Jail Project was already able to help 143 incarcerated people and families, and has completed the grant’s distribution.

There is no more clearer demonstration of Simmons Foundation’s stated values – Empathy | Inclusion | Respect | Equity – than how they made aid and empowerment possible through Texas Jail Project’s grassroots campaign.

Texas Jail Project needs your support.  If you are able, please help us help your fellow Texans by making an online donation or by mailing a check to 
Texas Jail Project
13121 Louetta Road #1330
Cypress TX 77429

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