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With an incarcerated population of approximately 150,000, Texas locks up more people than any other state. Mass incarceration in Texas is fueled and perpetuated by the over-incarceration of minority and impoverished populations at early stages of the criminal justice system and inhumane conditions of confinement that deprive inmates of meaningful mental healthcare and rehabilitative opportunities during their term of imprisonment.
Over the last 25 years, TCRP has established itself as a leader in litigating to achieve criminal justice reform in Texas.
Going forward, TCRP will spearhead criminal justice reform in Texas via a program focused on dismantling the underlying causes and effects of mass incarceration through strategic litigation targeted at reforming identifiable institutional practices and conditions that perpetuate mass incarceration at both the front and back end of the criminal justice system.
Debtors’ prisons — locking up people for being too poor to pay criminal fines — are constitutionally impermissible yet still widely present in Texas. Debtors’ prisons trap low-income Texans in a spiral of debt and incarceration that prevent people from escaping poverty.
In 2016, TCRP sued the City of El Paso, challenging its practice of incarcerating individuals for their inability to pay fines on Class C misdemeanors — usually parking tickets. The cycle of fines keeps El Pasoans trapped in a cycle of ending incarceration that throws a wrench into their lives.
In Texas, it is estimated that well over 30 percent of jail inmates have one or more serious mental illnesses. County officials fail to respond adequately to the needs of this population, both by over-incarcerating individuals with mental illness during the pretrial process and by ignoring best practices in mental health policy, including those set forth by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
One tragic result is jail suicide, which overwhelmingly occurs prior to conviction. Every year, an average of 23 county jail inmates take their own lives — many of these tragedies could have been prevented with adequate screening and care by jail officials.
In 2014, TCRP and our co-counsel, Edwards Law, sued on behalf of inmates to end the sweltering heat conditions they faced in the Wallace Pack Unit — where temperatures regularly exceeded 104 degrees. The case has drawn enormous attention as an example of cruel and unusual punishment.
Sandra Bland’s death is just one story of a traffic stop turning tragic. In 2017, TCRP joined forces with grassroots and policy groups to advise and recommend changes intended to reduce arrests by law enforcement for traffic violations. TCRP also supported groups aiming to reform police union contracts that have negative impacts on citizens and their right to be protected from police misconduct.