Reimagining Public Safety

Today, the very systems that drive mass incarceration are facing a worldwide reckoning. Global protests against egregious policing and racial injustice have narrowed the spotlight on historic abuses levied on particular communities and have brought TCJC’s mission sharply into focus. We fight to end mass incarceration and build safe, thriving Texas communities where every person has the opportunity to succeed.

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Today, the very systems that drive mass incarceration are facing a worldwide reckoning. Global protests against egregious policing and racial injustice have narrowed the spotlight on historic abuses levied on particular communities and have brought TCJC’s mission sharply into focus. We fight to end mass incarceration and build safe, thriving Texas communities where every person has the opportunity to succeed.

Through work at state and local levels, TCJC supports shrinking the justice system, deflecting and diverting people from the cycle of system involvement as early as possible, and investing in our communities. We are not focused on policing alone, just as we do not focus on any individual element of the justice system. Our work looks at the bigger picture: how our bloated justice system is permanently harming people while wasting money at every level, and how that money would be better invested in equity-based resources and alternatives that give people pathways to wellness.

As part of our state legislative work, as well as our ongoing work on the ground, we have conducted extensive research on how our justice system can be transformed to save money and lives at every point of contact. This includes innovative, restorative alternatives to policing that will keep kids and adults from entering the justice system. It means sentencing and parole strategies that will reduce incarcerated populations without jeopardizing public safety, while saving the state significant money. It includes a reentry infrastructure that can improve outcomes and reduce re-offending after release from prison or jail.

This moment is an opportunity for a cultural reset, and that’s what we think it deserves: a top-down reevaluation of how our money is spent and how many of our dollars could be stretched further on the road to a future where every Texan has access to real public safety. It means radically rethinking our response to crime, as well as substance use, mental health crises, and trauma.

Although this moment represents a collective social acknowledgment of the harms perpetuated by policing and corrections systems, it is also the result of generations’ worth of frustration and fear. Repairing the historic and persistent harm done to communities of color—in particular, the Black community—by a justice system rooted in inequality will not happen overnight, nor soon enough. Past and ongoing systems of entrenched disenfranchisement and criminalization affect communities of color today in the form of disadvantages in housing, education, health care, and more. For many Texans, the feeling of being unprotected or outright endangered by our system of “public safety” is not the product of a single encounter; it is the culmination of countless damages, disadvantages, and destructions inflicted upon entire communities.

At TCJC, we hear stories every day of how our justice system is failing. Some of these tragedies make headlines, but many are confined to quiet phone calls or handwritten letters. One thing is clear: particularly for people of color, our system is not serving its stated goal of public safety.

Given this reality, changing practices or rewriting rules is no longer sufficient. It is time to re-envision our understanding of public safety. It is time to divert funding from the flawed institutions that have repeatedly failed significant swaths of the population. At the systems level, accountability means acknowledging these failures and actively working towards transformative change.

Reimagining public safety will require us to consider cycles of violence and trauma from start to finish. It means taking a holistic view of the toll that policing and incarceration take on families, and focusing on solutions that will prioritize healing and family unity—sparing damage, loss, and future justice system involvement for the next generation. It means rethinking the role of police as catch-all first responders to help reverse the pipeline of undervalued people into the justice system. It means deflecting people into well-resourced, community-based programs for prevention, treatment, or restorative programming. It means evaluating reentry as a process rather than a disparate set of challenges, and working to improve outcomes in housing, licensing, job placement, trauma recovery, and more on the path to success for individuals, families, and entire communities. It means listening to the needs of communities most harmed—working with crime survivors, formerly incarcerated people, and other directly impacted people towards accountability and rehabilitation, rather than punishment and perpetuation.

Reimagining public safety requires us to recognize that the institutions that make some people feel safe put others in danger. It forces us to acknowledge the direct link between inequitable systems and justice involvement. It demands that we approach complex social problems, and each other, with empathy. 

Reimagining public safety may be difficult for some, especially at these emotionally charged crossroads and during a global health crisis. But, if anything, this landscape proves how badly change is needed. If we invest in our public health and education infrastructures and prioritize the needs of communities, we can move forward together into a vision of public safety that is fiscally responsible and morally sound.

Texans deserve better, and we at TCJC are committed to fostering racial equity, insisting on accountable leadership, and building safe, healthy Texas communities.

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The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition is now the Texas Center for Justice and Equity! Learn More