Fighting Back Against Jailing of Poor

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Today, the Texas Organizing Project, state Sen. Rodney Ellis and several allies held a press conference to continue shining a spotlight on Harris County’s illegal and immoral practice of keeping poor people accused of minor crimes in jail because they cannot afford to post bail.

Every night, approximately 80 percent of people behind bars at the Harris County Jail are there because they’re too poor to post bail. And about 10 people on average die every year awaiting trial.

Harris County uses a schedule to determine bail for everyone who is arrested. The schedule dictates the amount of bail based on the alleged offense, without any consideration of whether that person has the ability to pay that amount.

That means if a person is poor, there’s almost no chance of being released prior to trial, even if charged with a low level, nonviolent offense. But a rich person can walk the streets free before trial no matter what kind of danger they pose. That just is NOT right. That is NOT just.

Keeping poor people in jail also destroys lives. People kept in jail for minor offenses risk losing their jobs, which can lead to homelessness and economic insecurity.

It also doesn’t make financial sense for the county. It costs the county $75 per day to deprive someone of their freedom. In March 2016, Harris County taxpayers paid $513,075 every day to house people not convicted of a crime.

The Texas Organizing Project urges Harris County to take four steps to break this ugly practice of jailing the poor:

1. Stop detaining people accused of misdemeanor offenses who cannot afford to pay a cash bond;

2. Work with Mayor Turner and HPD to formulate a plan whereby HPD and the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and DA’s office agree to implement cite and release as allowed under Texas law;

3. Use non-monetary conditions of release, including stay-away orders, curfews, home detention or unsecured or “signature” bonds, which do not require payment up front for release but instead allow immediate release upon a promise to pay the monetary amount if the person does not appear as required; and

4. Adopt best practices from other jurisdictions including phone and text message reminders of court dates, rides to court for those without transportation or a stable address, counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, batterer intervention programs, anger management courses, alcohol monitors, or in extreme cases of particular risk, electronic monitoring.

We can have a system that keeps us safe and treats people humanely. Jailing people because they are poor does neither.

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Organizations that participated in the press conference included: Texas Organizing Project (TOP), Black Lives Matter HoustonTX, the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, Fb The People Hold the Purse, University of Houston Law Center, Texas Appleseed, American Civil Liberties Union-Texas (ACLU), American GI Forum Houston Chapter, Dr. Guerra, United we Dream, Houston Peace and Justice Center, St. Mary’s United Methodist Church, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Civil Rights Project-Houston, Deric Muhammad, and state Sen. Rodney Ellis

Residents of Greenspoint to Apartment Managers: “No Rent for Unlivable Apartments”

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Residents of Greenspoint-area apartments today organized with TOP to fight back against managers who are demanding full rent for severely damaged apartments and threatening to tow their cars.

“I have a pregnant wife and an eight-month-old daughter,” said Angel Lopez whose Woods of Greenbriar apartment flooded. “They can’t live here. The smell, the mold, the damage, this place is not livable. It doesn’t make sense to pay rent when repairs are not being done.”

The manager of The Woods of Geenbriar tried to downplay the damage to the apartments to the media, saying that the sheetrock and carpets damaged by the flood had been removed, and that as soon as the city inspects the apartments, he can start repairing the apartments.

But a look inside the first floor apartments revealed torn up apartments with exposed walls that reek of mold. One woman said the smell keeps her up at night. “The apartments are not livable.”

For many residents, losing their cars also meant losing income, either because they couldn’t get to work or because they used their cars to make a living.

TOP is now working with the city to move these residents out while the apartments are being repaired. And during that time, we are calling on managers to forgo rental payments until FEMA and insurance payments can be secured, said Tarsha Jackson, TOP’s Harris County director.

“First step in getting people back on their feet is finding them a suitable place to live,” Jackson said. “Then, the apartments’ repair should be expedited so they can return to their homes and lives. We are calling on the managers to waive rent for families in unsuitable conditions.”

After the press conference organized by TOP Saturday afternoon, several residents were moved to hotels. Relocation efforts will continue until every person who needs suitable housing has it.

The letter to apartment managers detailing demands. 

Pictures of the press conference and damaged apartments.

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Fighting for Better Neighborhoods

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Houston is a city of “have” and “have nots.” Our neighborhoods are either thriving, gentrifying and unaffordable, or crumbling from lack of investment. The Texas Organizing Project, with the help of our policy partners the Texas Low Income Housing and Information Services and Texas Appleseed, launched the Fair Housing and Neighborhood Rights campaign to develop knowledgeable community leaders who can organize their neighborhoods, and fight for affordable housing, quality schools, quality streets, infrastructure, access to healthcare, transportation and fresh food.

Join the fight for better neighborhoods in Houston. Contact Kim Huynh at 832-794-3912 or khuynh@organizetexas.org. Together, we can have neighborhoods that we’re all proud to call home!