Criminal justice reform
Ann has spent much of her career working in the criminal justice system, both as Harris County’s former chief human trafficking prosecutor and in her work now representing the indigent and human trafficking victims. She has seen firsthand how it fails to deliver on the promise of equality under the law and making our communities stronger and safer. The time has come for meaningful criminal justice reform. As your State Representative, Ann will:
Build holistic solutions that address our communities’ problems at the source. For too long, imprisonment has served as the catch-all solution for societal problems such as homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness. We must dedicate funding for programs that address these problems and provide necessary care to those in need. We must also enhance the role of problem-solving courts in our justice system to promote close collaboration between judges and community service teams. Ann is a founding member of the Harris County CARE Court, which assists those at risk of human trafficking in their recovery, and strongly believes in problem-solving courts’ power to help those struggling with underlying issues and to reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
Combat inequitable outcomes and over-incarceration in our justice system. Over 200,000 Texans are behind bars, many of them awaiting trial or serving out sentences for nonviolent crimes. Black Texans are incarcerated at more than twice the rate of white Texans. This system is unjust and it is also expensive, costing taxpayers in Texas over $3 billion overall and roughly $20,000 per inmate each year.
We can keep our communities safe while reducing incarceration and the disruption it causes in our communities. We must make sure we are using effective alternatives to incarceration whenever possible. That starts with strong diversion programs that provide nonviolent offenders the mental health treatment they need rather than jail time, or give minor offenders alternative dispositions that will not lead to jail time. We now know we must get smart on crime.
We must also continue to reform our bail practices for non-violent offenders, only holding Texans awaiting trial based on the risk they pose rather than their ability to pay bail. Even a short period spent in jail can result in long-term consequences such as job loss, so we must use pretrial incarceration only as a tool to keep us safe.
Raise the age of criminal responsibility. Texas is one of only a handful of states that considers 17-year-olds “adults” for purposes of criminal law in Texas. 17-year-olds are treated as children in almost every other aspect of our society, from voting to joining the military, Texas has continued this damaging and unfair practice.
Being tried as an adult has numerous negative impacts on our youth. Adult prisons are dangerous for 17-year-olds, who face a higher risk of sexual assault in the adult system and are 36 times more likely to commit suicide while imprisoned. Kids are often held in solitary confinement for extended periods in order to separate and protect them from adult prisoners. An adult criminal record creates barriers to future employment, education, housing, and military service, setting our kids up for a difficult path upon re-entry. And kids held in adult facilities are 34% more likely to be re-arrested for future criminal offenses. The case is clear — it is time to “raise the age” of criminal responsibility to 18.
Strengthen accountability and standards for police. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others at the hands of police officers make undeniable what we have known for a long time: that we must reform our policing practices to ensure good officers have the training and support they need to fulfill their duty to protect and serve, and that bad officers are held accountable for their actions. This will require fundamental, systemic reform that addresses the racism and injustice inherent in our criminal justice system.
Ann knows that defunding police is not the solution; better policing is the solution. City and county officials will play a major role in reforms, but the state government can and should lead on this issue as well. We must set reasonable limitations on the use of force by banning dangerous practices such as chokeholds. We must provide training to our police forces on de-escalation and handling mental illness & addiction issues. And we must increase transparency and accountability by mandating universal body camera usage, creating state-wide systems to track police misconduct, and increasing penalties for excessive use of force and other abuses.