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Group Fears New Dallas Jail Could Stall Justice Reform

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Friday, August 26, 2022   

Members of a Texas group working to end mass incarceration thought they were making headway, but now they're not so sure.

Faith in Texas has ideas for how Dallas County could reduce the prison population by 25%, and received support from a county judge to draft a proposal.

Joe Swanson, lead community organizer for the group, said the reform talks have stalled, and the Dallas County commissioners have appointed a committee to determine if a new jail should be built. Swanson emphasized reform is an important conversation, especially because people of color are incarcerated at significantly higher rates than white people across the country.

"We can either put our heads in the sand, and close our ears and our eyes and pretend that's just a coincidence," Swanson pointed out. "Or we can do something about it, in a way that's not just the status quo of, 'Well, new jail.' And I think that's really important to name; this is systemic racism at work."

One commissioner argued a new jail might be appropriate, because the county has a dated criminal justice system, and needs new ways of doing things. Faith in Texas will rally supporters at Thanksgiving Square tomorrow beginning at 2 p.m., to make sure they know about the proposed new facility and what it could mean for incarceration reform.

It is estimated Black men make up 13% of the U.S. population, but 35% of those who are incarcerated. Swanson worries an emphasis on new jail construction could permanently stall discussions about alternatives the county could pursue.

"As far as we can tell from the outside looking in, it's been people pointing fingers at each other to the reason why our jail population is so high," Swanson observed. "Rather than trying to sit down at a table together to coordinate an effort to reduce the jail population."

The U.S. has 5% of the world's population, but holds almost 25% of the world's prisoners, about 2.2 million people, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Disclosure: Faith in Texas contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Civic Engagement, Human Rights/Racial Justice, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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