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Home | Tag Archives: texas prisons

Tag Archives: texas prisons

Study: Texas Needs Alternatives to Sending Women to Prison

AUSTIN – Prison reform advocates say too many of the 12,000 women in Texas prisons don’t need to be behind bars.

A study by the nonpartisan Texas Criminal Justice Coalition finds that more than two-thirds of the state’s female inmates were convicted of nonviolent offenses and recommends that lawmakers develop alternative policies that emphasize more pretrial diversion and probation opportunities for women in the criminal justice system.

Lindsey Linder, an attorney with the Coalition, says the study finds that women in prison often have faced a different set of life experiences than men.

“You have a large percentage of the population being there for offenses that are largely the result of poverty, of substance abuse, of mental health, and are just not folks who need to be served in an incarceration setting,” she points out.

Linder says while the overall prison population in Texas is shrinking, the number of incarcerated women has grown rapidly in recent years.

She says the state and local communities need to address domestic violence and poverty among women, particularly those with custody of children.

The report was developed with statistics from the state prison system and a survey of 400 women in Texas prisons.

Linder says the report also recommends community-based treatment programs for trauma and substance abuse, and reforms to the state’s bail system, which often keeps women in poverty.

“The vast majority of women have significant trauma histories,” Linder stresses. “Over 80 percent of them have experienced domestic violence. Over half of them have experience sexual assault. Also, a much larger percentage of the women are mothers compared to men who are fathers in the system.”

Linder says recent Texas prison reforms have been aimed mostly at male inmates.

“What we found was simply that reforms that have been enacted in recent years have just not impacted women because they’re not targeted to serve the female population,” she states.

Linder says this is the first of two reports based on her research. The second, to be published in mid-April, will focus on specific programs and policies to reduce recidivism and help incarcerated women successfully return to their families and communities.

Author – Mark Richardson, Public News Service – TX

Report: Texas, Other States Should Close Youth Prisons

AUSTIN, Texas – Children should not be kept behind bars, according to a new report that examines the ineffectiveness of youth prisons in Texas and other states.

The research from The Annie E. Casey Foundation pulls together evidence of the failings of youth correctional facilities and recommends they all be closed.

Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy says youth prisons just don’t work, and states need to take a different approach.

“We’ve got to build a juvenile justice system that’s based on the very simple principle of developing young people’s capacity, giving them opportunity,” he states. “Holding them accountable, of course, is also very important, but doing it in a way that provides them a path to get back on track.”

McCarthy says young people are incarcerated for low-risk offenses and often don’t get the guidance and support they need to get back on track.

Texas, which still houses more than 800 youth behind bars, began reforming its juvenile justice system in 2009 after reports of physical and sexual abuse surfaced.

McCarthy says the state has made positive changes since then.

“Texas is another state that had very high numbers in their locked state facilities, and they’ve moved much more to a community based corrections system,” he points out.

McCarthy adds that there is an enormous financial toll for youth prisons. While costs vary, states pay on average about $90,000 a year for every youth in a juvenile facility.

“Alternatives to these youth prisons are much smaller, more home like, much more oriented to the appropriate developmental needs of young people, a heavy focus on education, on job training and in preparing them to be successful through the rest of their lives,” he states.

The report recommends a four R strategy: reduce the pipeline of youth into youth facilities; reform the corrections culture that wrongly assumes locking up young people improves safety; replace youth prisons with rehabilitative services; and reinvest in evidence-based solutions.

Texas Kids Often ‘Share Sentence’ with Incarcerated Parent

AUSTIN, Texas – More than 5 million children in the United States, including almost a half-million in Texas, have experienced separation from a parent who is incarcerated.

A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report makes a number of recommendations to state and local policymakers to help these children, who often struggle with emotional and financial instability.

Katharine Ligon, mental health policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, says the Lone Star State’s criminal justice system rarely considers the plight of a person’s family in the sentencing process.

“Texas has historically been a ‘tough-on-crime’ state, where we have a high rate of individuals who are incarcerated,” says Ligon. “But I think there is that cognitive dissonance when we disassociate that individual from their family.”

Ligon says Texas has the second largest group of children with incarcerated parents in the country. The report, called “A Shared Sentence,” recommends that policymakers provide more social services for children and families while a parent is incarcerated, and better job training in prison so parents can support their families when they are released.

Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence for the Casey Foundation, says judges need to consider how a prison sentence might affect a family, and that states and cities need to develop and fund more programs to reinforce the bonds between the parent and their children.

“They’re losing their parent in those critical years of child development and so there are some long-standing impacts,” says Spencer. “It can increase a child’s mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and it can hamper educational achievement in that child.”

For families, the report recommends improving access to financial, legal, child-care and housing assistance while a parent is in prison.

It also recommends minimizing some negative effects of a criminal record to help the parent successfully re-enter society, making it easier to find a job and affordable housing upon their release.

Author: Mark Richardson, Public News Service

Study Shows Record Number of Exonerations in 2015

HOUSTON – Across the nation, 149 people in prison were released last year because their convictions were overturned. That’s a record number of exonerations.

A report by The National Registry of Exonerations showed that those people served an average of 14.5 years. Texas led the country with 54 cases, mostly in Houston’s Harris County, while New York had 17 cases, eight of them in Brooklyn’s Kings County.

Samuel Gross, the Registry’s editor and a University of Michigan law professor, said officials in these counties are taking a stronger approach to seeking justice for wrongfully convicted inmates.

“We have something like 3,100 different counties in the country, and something like 2,500 separate, local prosecutorial agencies,” he said. “If more of them made the efforts that were made in those two locations, I’m sure they would find many more cases in which innocent defendants were convicted.”

In Texas, 42 guilty-plea exonerations in drug convictions were the result of work by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Across the country, defendants were exonerated in cases ranging from homicide to drug possession. The report said their convictions included false confessions, official misconduct and guilty pleas. A record 75 exonerations in 2015 were cases in which no crime actually occurred.

That may not seem like a lot, but Lonnie Soury, founder of the website said statistics show that they are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Even the federal Justice Department did a study once and said between 5 and 10 percent of the people in prison are wrongfully convicted,” he said. “So, if there’s 2.5 million people in prison, even 5 percent would be 125,000.”

According to the National Registry of Exonerations report, there were 24 Conviction Integrity Units in the United States in 2015. That’s double the number from 2013, and four times the number in 2011 – although some units have been accused of being ineffective and creating an illusion of progress.

The study is online at

Author: Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

Report shows Texas isolation policies dangerous for children

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is one of only 10 states that allows juvenile justice centers to use solitary confinement indefinitely to punish children, according to a new report.

The survey by the national law firm Lowenstein Sandler found 21 states now prohibit punitive isolation and 20 others impose time-limits.

Patrick Bresette, executive director with the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas, says time-outs to separate a juvenile from the rest of the population can be useful, but solitary confinement isn’t the answer.

“But the practice that has no real limits in law that allows administrative approval to just kind of snowball and add up to hours and hours and hours and days and days of solitary confinement, that’s clearly damaging,” he says. “And it would be good for us to have a policy that really restricted that use as much as possible.”

Bresette notes the report’s in-depth research can be an important tool for state legislators already committed to juvenile justice reform and says the Children’s Defense Fund will work with other Texas groups to advance the issue in the next session.

Half of all suicide victims in juvenile detention nationally were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, according to the report, noting concerns expressed by former Attorney General Eric Holder, and 62 percent had a history of solitary confinement.

Mark Soler, executive director with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, says isolation has an especially profound impact on young people.

“Solitary confinement causes a variety of harms to children,” he says. “Including psychological and emotional harm, increased anxiety, depression, psychosis on some children, increased risk of suicide and self-harm.”

Soler adds increasing staff at facilities is also important. He says after 14 hours on the job, staffers have no patience when children act up, and lock them up instead of taking time to de-escalate a situation.

The report found young people have been held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, often with no human interaction and, in some cases, children were held in small rooms with windows that were barely the width of their own hands.

Author: Eric Galatas, TNS

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