County commissioners and law enforcement across Texas often talk a good game about reducing recidivism and diverting people with mental illness. However, at the same time, many officials—and the jailhouse culture—erect barriers to programming that could help inmates while they are incarcerated. Romy Zarate says such programs can turn a life around. “I was probably in the county jail about four times. Without the programming, I was in and out,” says Zarate. “When I was in, I was planning where I would score when I got out; after the programming, I stayed out.”
The Travis County jail is one of four nationwide — and the only in Texas — to allow new moms to breastfeed in custody.
“It’s in the interest of everybody to really assist a woman in that situation to rebuild her life and create a healthy home for her child,” said Diana Claitor, director of the nonprofit Texas Jail Project.
How did Athena Covarrubias manage to hang herself in a shower stall?
On Tuesday, Aug. 18, a few minutes after 10am, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office sent notice of what will likely be recognized as Texas’ 30th suicide in a county jail this year. The news came just as Lt. Gov.Dan Patrick and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, were decrying the fact that the state had already recorded 29. Since 2012, 100 have suffered self-inflicted deaths in Texas jails
The numbers of people dying in county jails are adding up in 2014—and most recently, one of them was especially tragic. Only 18, Victoria Gray died in September in the Brazoria County Jail after that jail failed in so many ways, it will take a full investigation to sort that out and hold officers and officials accountable. Some, like Victoria, die of suicide while others die of what is called “natural causes,” and their deaths are not always investigated. (More have died in police custody or other facilities; we are only listing those in county jails.) Earlier this year, the list included Courtney Ruth Elmore, was 33 years old. She died February 11, 2014, around 7:00 a.m.. in the Brown County Jail. Was the staff trained to watch for respiratory failure? David Grimaldo, 18, a Perryton High School student died just hours after being booked into the Ochiltree County Jail. The Ochiltree County Sheriff Joe Hataway read from an autopsy report saying that the teen died of a medical condtion complicated by intoxication. Could it have been prevented?
People + too much alcohol = public intoxication charges. The right formula? Not really.
Consider the results of those arrests: a. Pretrial detention in a jail, where anything can and does happen to a person sobering up.
b. a criminal record for people who are often otherwise law-abiding.
c. officers waste hours booking drunks instead of pursuing serious criminals.
Of all the arrests in a year, about 10% of them are for this Class C misdemeanor, crowding the jail cells. Houston and San Antonio already have sobering centers. This healthier alternative to the Travis County Jail is explored in an editorial from the Austin American-Statesman, March 12, 2014.
These links to information and people to help citizens, activists and anyone else are provided by the Austin Lawyers Guild Legal Resources Civil Law A Primer on Poverty Law in Texas: An introduction for attorneys to the most common legal issues faced by low-income clients in Texas. Securing Your Rights in Small Claims Court Criminal Defense:
Travis County Jail has developed model programs to help inmates turn their lives around. One reason for that is that Sheriff Hamilton makes this a priority, and another reason is that the people of Travis county fund, through their taxes, several important positions at the jail–employees who create and coordinate classes and training for inmates. This is a smart use of tax dollars that will save all of us money in the long run, while helping preserve families and lower recidivism rates. The PRIDE program* for non-violent women prisoners has to be one of the best. Here is a brief description and below that is a link to a page about all their programs.
Via KXAN by Jim Swift, Friday, 17 Jun 2011, 6:46 PM CDT AUSTIN (KXAN) – Five days a week, a handful of Travis County Jail inmates rise at the crack of dawn and head out to a 3 1/2 acre garden in their own back yard. Racing to beat 100-plus temperatures, they don sunglasses and
by Jorge Antonio Renaud “Why should we let you in?” I’m at a Sonic Drive-In, speaking with a woman charged with educational/recreational programming for the Del Valle Correctional Complex, a fancy name for a county jail in Austin, Texas. A guy who recently began venturing into the jail to teach creative writing has asked me
When you turn off of Highway 71 onto Farm Road 973 it feels, for a moment, like you have finally reached the edge of Austin. The fields on your left open up into a dark green sea scattered with white and blue flowers that fade off into the hazy distance. On the right sits the Travis County Correctional Complex, an enormous, ominous-looking compound.