Thursday, April 3, 2014

Structural Discrimination in TDCJ

Although I have introduced myself in this blog in the past, I would like to take some time now to share with you where I work and implore your help in addressing something that I have found to be quite upsetting. For those of you who do not know I work for a non-profit called the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC). Their mission is as follows:

“The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) identifies and advances real solutions to the problems facing Texas’ juvenile and criminal justice systems. We conduct policy research and analysis, form effective partnerships, and educate key stakeholders to promote effective management, accountability, and best practices that increase public safety, save taxpayer dollars, and preserve human and civil rights”

You can visit TCJC’s website here:

I intern there as a research associate, which basically means that I do grunt work for a MSW (Masters of Social Work) Policy Analyst. I absolutely love my job because it allows me do the type of work that I want to engage in post-graduation. I’m here at the University of Texas to get my Bachelors of Social Work so that I can work with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. I believe that the American criminal justice system fails to rehabilitate and reintegrate those involved and that we are taking retribution too far and spending way too much money incapacitating harmless individuals who are in desperate need of social services which I wish to provide in the future.   

Currently, I am working on a project related to BR 61 which requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to conduct or commission a survey on how to make their visitation policies more family-friendly, affording the families of those incarcerated more opportunities to be involved in the rehabilitation of their loved ones. Above, I have included the link to an implementation guide created by TCJC which provides more information about BR 61. In the course of my work I have encountered a lot of comments such as the following one which I discovered in a Prison Talk forum:

“My [fiancĂ©] is in a Texas state prison. He has put in the required request form for me to be able to have contact visits with him, but because we are not related by blood, and because Texas does not recognize the rights of same-sex couples we do not get these visitations. Not only did he put in the form but he also had his mother write a request, stating that they consider me part of the family and that they would appreciate me getting the same rights as them where visitation is concerned. I have not been able to hold my man's hand in over a year-and-a-half going on two very shortly. I am going out of my mind. On top of all of this we (the family and I) are just under the 400 mile range to where we would get a 4 hour visitation with him (contact and glass). Does anyone know of a cause, petition or Government leader who would be willing to fight for us (Gay/Lesbian couples) to receive what we need in this matter? I can't bear [the] thought of going for another 3 to 7 years [without] holding my man's hand while we talk on the occasions that I can afford the trip to see him.” 

TDCJ policy only allows immediate relatives (mothers, fathers, siblings, and children) and those who are legally married to have contact visits, the visits in which the parties are allowed to hug and/or kiss at the beginning and the end of the visit and in which they get to sit across the table from each other without a barrier being placed between them. All other visitors must have regular visits, which are those that occur behind a barrier (either mesh or Plexiglas) and through which the visitors speak to each other through tiny holes in the barrier or through a telephone. This policy not only adversely affects LGBTQ individuals, but anyone who is part of a non-traditional family structure and I believe that it should be abolished. The majority of states allow any visitor who has already been approved for a visit (i.e. on the visitation list) to have a contact visit with the incarcerated individual and I believe that Texas should do the same. All Texas units already subject all visitors to the same security screening no matter what type of visit they are taking part in, so it only makes sense that all visits be contact visits unless the incarcerated individual’s offense or behavior deems otherwise. All families, not just "traditional families", should be afforded the opportunities to build and maintain the bonds that will prove vital post-release and that decrease the likelihood of recidivism.

So if you feel that TDCJ should abolish this discriminatory policy please let your representative know!

Thank You,
<3 Mylo


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