Criminal Justice

Razor wire fence with sunlight

New national clearinghouse on prison oversight to be unveiled by the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at The University of Texas at Austin

Nov. 16, 2023

The Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas is proud to introduce a groundbreaking national clearinghouse designed to significantly change the dialogue on prison oversight.

Research from the LBJ School informs Raise the Age bill

April 27, 2017

LBJ School faculty, students and alumni are working to transform the juvenile justice system.

President Biden Taps Nationally Renowned Criminal Justice Researcher Nancy La Vigne to Lead National Institute of Justice

May 4, 2022
LBJ School alumna Nancy La Vigne ('91), was appointed by President Biden as the director of the National Institute of Justice, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"No Light. No Nothing." Inside Louisiana's Harshest Juvenile Lockup

March 10, 2022
"Story after story emerging from juvenile systems reveal that agencies around the country don't have a good handle on how to manage their most challenging youth," said Michele Deitch, a juvenile ju

Canary in the Coal Mine: A Profile of Staff COVID Deaths in the Texas Prison System

PJIL report on COVID in TX prison system

"Canary in the Coal Mine: A Profile of Staff COVID Deaths in the Texas Prison System" reveals the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic on prison workers in Texas. Produced by the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab, a policy resource center at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, the report finds that, as of January 31, 2022, Texas has had more staff deaths (78) from COVID than any other prison system in the country, at a rate more than three times the national average for prison employees. Most of those who died were custodial workers in direct contact with incarcerated people, and the agency lost over 1000 years of staff experience. COVID deaths and infections are also exacerbating an already severe understaffing crisis in the prison agency. Low vaccination rates among staff and rolled-back protective measures are making matters worse. Given the agency's lack of transparency about COVID deaths of incarcerated people in Texas, these staff deaths and infections provide a window into the impact that COVID is having in Texas prisons. They serve as a proverbial "canary in the coal mine," warning that the pandemic is still far from over for people who live and work in prisons. The report recommends strategies to mitigate the continued spread of COVID in custodial settings and to help save lives.

Research Topic
Criminal Justice

Report reveals the devastating impact of COVID-19 on staff in Texas prisons

Feb. 22, 2022
COVID has caused the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to experience extreme staff losses and infection rates, compounding its already severe understaffing problem.

Essay: Independent oversight is essential for a safe and healthy prison system

Nov. 3, 2021
Preventive monitoring of conditions in American prisons can help shine a light on what needs to change, writes the LBJ School's Michele Deitch fo

Independent Oversight Is Essential for a Safe and Healthy Prison System

Brennan Center for Justice
Chainlink fence. Credit: Thomas Knorr, Unsplash

"In 1991, when the Soviet Union still existed, I was invited to present a paper at a criminal justice conference in Leningrad. By the time of the conference a few months later, the Soviet Union had fallen, our gathering was in newly renamed St. Petersburg, and conference participants experienced an emerging openness about life in Russia. In this rapidly changing environment, I had the opportunity to visit a Russian prison with a British colleague as two of the first outsiders allowed inside to see conditions there. Through a translator, the prison administrator expressed deep embarrassment about the shockingly bad infrastructure — six people in a cell meant for one; the use of buckets for toilets in the cells; the deteriorating walls; the dark interior of the building. The administrator did not try to defend what he was showing us, but rather saw in our faces that the conditions we took in as we walked through the facility were inconsistent with international norms and with respect for human decency. He apologized for the conditions and asked what prisons were like in our home countries. He was shocked by some of the stories we told him about our own systems and stunned by the prevalence of brutality and violence and the routine use of force.

"This memory has stayed with me over the years because it seems an apt metaphor for what happens when we pull back the, well, 'iron curtain' of our prisons and allow outsiders to see what is happening inside. An independent set of eyes brings in the values of the outside world and brings those values to bear on the way institutions come to understand themselves and their place in that world. Correctional institutions rarely have occasion to have their norms or culture challenged and to imagine other approaches to serving their mission. But seeing yourself as others see you creates an opening for questioning why things are done a certain way and can light a fire for change.

"Some 30 years later, most of the Western world has recognized that the protection of human rights in prisons demands transparency and the routine monitoring of conditions. Almost every country in the European Union, for example, has a government entity designated as a 'National Preventive Mechanism,' responsible for inspecting all places of detention and reporting publicly on conditions. These entities shine a light on correctional institutions and help normalize discussions among policymakers and corrections officials about human rights in prison, and about the protection of the dignity of people who are incarcerated."

Research Topic
Criminal Justice

Mental competency consequences: The hidden and unreliable data Texas tracks ... or doesn't

Sept. 9, 2021
In October 2021, the number of people found mentally incompetent to stand trial and waiting in Texas jails for restoration treatment at a state hospital hit a new record: 1,838.
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