Top Criminal Injustice Issues To Look out for this Legislative Session
Texans of every race, class and political ideology want to be safe in their communities. But for years, the Texas criminal legal system — from police to prosecutors and prisons— has been weaponized against people. These systems have the potential to affect every one of us, but poor, Black, brown, disabled, noncitizen, and LGBTQIA+ communities are among the most impacted. Our team believes all Texans, regardless of how they identify or what zip code they call home, deserve the ability to thrive in their communities, free from harm.
Based on feedback from our grassroots partners, TCRP’s top legislative priorities to move us forward in the 88th Texas Legislative Session include:
Reform cash based bail to save money, improve safety and protect vulnerable communities.
Nationwide, Black and Brown people receive bail amounts that are twice as high as the bail amounts White people receive for the same charges. Black and Brown people are twice as likely to receive bond amounts they cannot pay.
Hundreds of people sit in the jail charged only with non-violent state jail felonies that are often enhanced misdemeanors. Hundreds more are jailed because they can’t afford $1,000 or $2,000. Most of these people end up being released as soon as they plead guilty. We are calling for an end to the cash bail system and support the reform recommendations of the Texas Pretrial Justice Coalition including:
Fund the court reminder program created by HB 4293 (87R). Text message reminders decrease failures to appear in court by more than 20%.
Establish a presumption of release on non-monetary conditions for people accused of low-level offenses, unless there is reason to believe they pose a flight risk or threat to public safety.
Strengthen government transparency and accountability by protecting open court proceedings and collecting better pretrial data.
Reduce reliance on large statewide TJJD (Texas Juvenile Justice Department) facilities.
Incarcerating children in large statewide facilities far from their families and communities is outdated, ineffectual and cruel – even if they were properly staffed. Because of chronic understaffing TJJD facilities remain on the brink of collapse. Texas took a step in the right direction by closing many facilities over the years, leaving only five remaining. Even some of those five house very limited populations, as TJJD shuffles youth between facilities because of staffing shortages. Texas must continue consolidation and closure. We must enhance investment in family and community based solutions and mental health diversion at the county level, keeping as many youth as possible near their families and communities.
Reduce the criminalization of young children for minor offenses.
Texas prosecutes children as young as age ten in the juvenile justice system. Children aged 10-12 have very undeveloped brains and only rarely pose serious dangers to others. Juvenile justice departments face overcrowding and aren’t designed to provide meaningful services or safe housing to young children. Young children in facilities are more likely to be abused by older youth and to pick up more serious behaviors from those they encounter in the system. Raising the age of prosecution to age thirteen, with carve outs for serious offenses, is a sensible solution.
Protect the rights of local communities to improve policing and direct their law enforcement priorities.
Communities throughout Texas of varied size and political makeup have elected leaders and voted in referendums to express how they want their community to address public safety. For example, numerous referendums support de-prioritization of low level marijuana enforcement– something near 85% of Texans agree on. Unfortunately some government leaders keep trying to subvert local decisions of voters and their elected local leaders. Texas should keep state government power in check and support local communities in making local public safety decisions.
Reduce reliance on solitary confinement and restrictive housing in TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice).
Texas continues to hold thousands of people in isolation for years on end, sometimes decades, at rates unmatched in any other state or nation. The practice leads to self injury, paranoia and suicide. Steps are needed to end the housing review process, end prolonged isolation, and end automatic solitary for alleged security threat group members.
Improve access to air conditioning, medical care and compassionate release in TDCJ.
TCRP amplifies the calls of Texas Prisons Community Advocates (TPCA) on the need to improve access to air conditioning, medical care and compassionate release for people in TDCJ. Legislation improving access to air conditioning passed the Texas House last session and is just as needed now to prevent death and injury from severe heat exposure.
Stop making Texans ineligible to vote because of nonpayment of fines.
Otherwise eligible Texans should be allowed to have their voting rights restored even if they can’t afford to pay all their fines and fees, including fines and fees that are a condition of probation or parole.
Our legislative team is closely monitoring these issues as we progress through the 2023 Legislative Session and fighting for substantive reforms to Texas's broken criminal injustice system.