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Texas Jail Project winter updates and Celebrating Womens History Month

Mar 16th, 2022 | Category: TJP Newsletter

TEXAS JAIL PROJECT WINTER UPDATES AND CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

As the world celebrates Women’s History Month, we’re proud of the fact that Texas Jail Project is an all-woman team. As an organization helmed by a South Asian woman of color, and staffed by two Black women and two Latina women, we are the exceptions in a non-profit landscape that has historically advantaged white men and women. But our diversity is our strength, and we’re grateful to our network of donors and funders for recognizing and investing in our potential.

Our team has been hard at work organizing with communities affected by county jails in Texas. Learn more about what we’ve accomplished with your support since the Winter and consider donating to continue our urgent and essential work.

TEXAS FORENSIC WAITLIST AND
MENTAL HEALTH GAPS IN COUNTY JAILS

Thanks to our organizing, Texas Health and Human Services published new data showing the race demographics of Texas’ forensic hospital waitlist. Today, there are more than 2,300 people with disabilities waiting for a hospital bed from county jails. That waitlist represents a crisis of resources and imagination from state leaders, content to leave thousands of people with mental illness to decompensate in jails. The new data, published on January 26, revealed a horrific racial disparity: Black community members with disabilities are being forced to wait, on average, more than 100 days longer than their white counterparts for certain state hospital beds.

Given the growing waitlist crisis, we’re even more proud to announce our organizing successes in advocating for dismissals, overturned convictions, outpatient restorations, and diversions.

  • In Smith County, community organizer Dalila Reynoso has successfully advocated for dismissals for 3 community members found incompetent to stand trial making the total number of people we helped off the forensic waitlist and out of jail in under two years, to 9

  • In Dallas county, we successfully advocated for a young man with disabilities who has been confined for 4 years pretrial to be removed from the jail and transferred to a local hospital

  • Thanks to our intervention and aggressive advocacy, Bexar county overturned a previous conviction of a young transgender community member with an intellectual disability

  • In January, we facilitated public comment at the Joint Committee on Access and Forensic Services by a community member whose loved one has been awaiting competency restoration in a rural county jail for over 2 years

  • In February, we referred 7 cases to HHSC Ombudsman for investigation into gaps in continuity of care by Local Mental Health Authorities leading to criminalization

  • Last December, we completed 14 bailouts in one month via our community bail fund in Tyler, Texas and successfully advocated for charges to be dropped against 4 other community members whom we bailed out last year – reuniting people with their families, communities, and networks of care

FIGHTING ACCESSIBILITY BARRIERS
AND EMPOWERING COMMUNITY MEMBERS

At February’s rescheduled quarterly meeting of Texas Commission on Jail Standards, we facilitated two community members’ travel to Austin – a mother whose disabled son experienced assault and neglect in Taylor county, and a formerly incarcerated woman who brought testimonies from 20 other women still incarcerated in Taylor county jail.

We also organized against TCJS’ accessibility barriers to participation that excluded other folks from joining. While Sheriffs and commissioners were granted an exemption to speak virtually, the same courtesy was not extended to families and members of the public despite severe winter weather and an ongoing pandemic.

We successfully mounted a call-in campaign that forced TCJS to read testimony from a third member into the minutes of the meeting, and shut down the proceedings for several minutes to ensure it would be livestreamed for the public.

Our organizing yielded a joint complaint signed by eight organizations regarding the lack of accessibility and virtual participation. The commission has committed to finding a solution for the next meeting in May.

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COMMUNITY EVENTS
  • In February, we spoke at Jaquaree Simmons’ memorial and commemorative balloon release on the one year anniversary of his murder in Harris county jail
  • Last week we co-hosted Punishing Ourselves: When Incarceration and Health Collide with Doctors For Change – an educational panel for physicians and health providers to engage more critically on issues facing patients with histories of arrest; and last month, we spoke with Womxn in Medicine – a student group in Bexar county on medical issues in county jails

  • In February, we hosted a writing workshop for women in Taylor and Cooke counties to prepare comments for the quarterly meeting of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards

  • We continue to participate in innovative trainings for public defenders and defense attorneys: This year, we were invited to speak at the Wood County Bar Association, and collaborated with our partners at Zealous to train defense attorneys on best practices for engaging with community advocates and movement organizers

  • Last Saturday, we organized and hosted a solidarity march from Harris County Jail to call for urgent jail depopulation efforts and to raise awareness of the county’s $11 million contract with LaSalle Corrections, a for-profit prison company. With more than 60 attendees on a sunny, humid Saturday morning, we sent a clear message to elected officials that community members are organized, mobilized, and engaged with a new vision of safety in Harris county.

STAFF SHOUT-OUTS

Join us in welcoming Goldie VanZandt (pictured left), who joined Texas Jail Project this January as our newest full-time team member. Goldie joins TJP as a client advocate, bringing to the work her years of experience as a mental health coordinator and her personal history as a retired US Navy veteran and wife of a formerly incarcerated veteran.

Last month, our North Texas Community Organizer Tamera Hutcherson  (pictured right) ran the 2022 Cowtown Half Marathon in Fort Worth! Tamera was also recently featured in the documentary Migration to Liberation. 

Our Executive Director Krish Gundu was invited to join the Data Committee of the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health and the Texas Coordinating Council on Veterans Services to participate on the Criminal Justice, Pro Bono, and Mental Health committees.

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AROUND THE STATE:
OPERATION LONESTAR
In the wake of Governor Abbott’s reckless and unconstitutional Operation Lonestar policies that criminalize migrants and racially profile community members, Texas Jail Project has worked closely with attorneys and civil rights organizations to monitor the inhumane conditions in OLS facilities and to educate lawmakers of civil rights violations inherent to its implementation.
  • Developed a crisis hotline to field intakes, connecting with over 100 families to assist them in navigating the court appointed attorney system
  • Interviewed dozens of defendants confined in Segovia and Briscoe units in order to file complaints to TCJS and to craft a facility conditions affidavit for the Department of Justice
  • Facilitated a New York Times interview with one of our clients who was released and deported because of Operation Lonestar
  • Briefed Mexican American Legislative Caucus on OLS conditions
  • Supported & helped facilitate community meeting of targeted Hispanic fishermen in Victoria county with Texas Civil Rights Project
  • Created an informational and bilingual “Know Your Rights” video for families seeking information on their loved ones impacted by Operation Lonestar

DIRECT AID

In the last three months, we’ve distributed more than $12,000 in cash transfers for housing, utilities, and food to individuals and families impacted by Texas county jails. We also continue to assist incarcerated community members with commissary deposits, phone credits, and jail medical debt. We distribute pretrial resource packets with templates for court appointed attorney complaints, medical board complaints, medical release authorization forms, and other mailable, issue-specific guidebooks.

Please consider donating to Texas Jail Project so we can continue to scale up our direct aid and mutual aid offerings. 

HARRIS COUNTY COMMUNITY SAFETY AGENDA 

In Harris County, we’ve partnered with Civil Rights Corps and the Police Accountability Collaborative to advance a new, holistic vision of community safety. Across two convenings, we’ve collaborated with more than 30 local organizations across issues like housing, environmental justice and survivor safety to produce a collaborative, non-carceral vision statement of safety and wellbeing in Houston.

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