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Coalition Of Activists Demands Changes In Harris County’s Criminal Justice System

They want a reform of the bail system and more oversight of cases of police misconduct.

Tarsha Jackson, director of the Texas Organizing Project, TOP, in Harris County, led a press conference held at TOP's headquarters in Houston to launch the ‘Right 2 Justice' campaign.
Tarsha Jackson (second from the right) – director of the Texas Organizing Project, TOP, in Harris County — led a press conference held at TOP's headquarters in Houston to launch the ‘Right 2 Justice' campaign.

A coalition of activist groups is asking Houston and Harris County authorities to reform the criminal justice system, which they argue is unfair to certain segments of the population, such as low-income defendants.

Texas Organizing Project, TOP; the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, ACLU; and the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter are some of the groups that form the coalition.

They have launched a campaign called ‘Right 2 Justice' with goals such as reforming the bail system and offering treatment, instead of incarceration, to persons who are charged with low level drug offenses.

They also want the Harris County District Attorney's office to have an independent prosecutor for cases of police misconduct.

"Someone who will be able to view these cases in an impartial and objective fashion to ensure that, if wrongdoing occurs within the context of these shootings, of these killings, that people are held accountable, whether they wear the blue uniform or not," is how Biko Mandela Gray, with the group Truth 2 Power, defined what the coalition wants in an independent prosecutor.

Several of the goals set by the activists, such as lowering bails and offering more diversion programs, are already part of a comprehensive reform plan by the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, according to a spokesperson for the Harris County DA's office.

However, for Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the Houston College of Law, the coalition's campaign is not a redundancy.

"The fact that this coalition is seeking to raise awareness of aspects of our process that are worthy of inquiry and, maybe, modification is a good thing," says Corn.

The activists also want the Harris County Sheriff's Office to end its collaboration with immigration authorities through the 287(g) program, which notifies Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, when undocumented immigrants with a criminal history are booked in the county jail.

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