Michael Barajas

Michael Barajas is a staff writer covering civil rights for the Observer. Before joining the Observer, he was editor of the San Antonio Current and managing editor of the Houston Press. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. You can reach him on Twitter or at [email protected].

By Michael Barajas:

Alec Karakatsanis with his book 'Usual Cruelty.'
Criminal Justice

Alec Karakatsanis on the ‘Usual Cruelty’ of the Criminal Justice System

In his book, Karakatsanis argues that lawyers and judges have become numb to the cruelties of the criminal justice system—and ultimately stand in the way of changing it.

These days, political candidates of all stripes say they support “criminal justice reform,” but what does that really mean?  Alec Karakatsanis, a public defender turned civil rights lawyer, argues that the majority of officials calling for change have done little … Read More

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, center, announces that a grand jury decided to indict Arkema and Michael Keough, vice president of logistics division of the company, for reckless assault during a press conference on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Houston. Ogg said the trial will begin in May. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Criminal Justice

Reform Candidates are Trying to Change the Definition of a ‘Progressive Prosecutor’ in Texas

Kim Ogg’s primary challenge for Harris County District Attorney is one of several prosecutor races in Texas that could redefine the bounds of criminal justice reform in the state.

When Kim Ogg first ran for Harris County district attorney, she had a simple pitch for criminal justice reform: stop jailing people for petty pot possession. The position, novel to Houston politics in 2014, proved so popular that even her … Read More

Bexar County jail.
Criminal Justice

Jail Deaths in Bexar County Highlight ‘Callous’ Care in Custody

A string of in-custody deaths over the past year point to inadequate treatment for inmates with serious medical conditions.

A string of in-custody deaths over the past year point to inadequate treatment for inmates with serious medical conditions. * by Michael Barajas January 23, 2020 Stephen Wayne Cole’s family expected him to visit them in Houston this Christmas, just … Read More

Horses graze in front of the Polunsky Unit, outside of Livingston in East Texas.
Criminal Justice

A Solitary Condition

Texas has banished hundreds of prisoners to more than a decade of solitary confinement. Many of these prisoners aren’t sure how—or, in some cases, if—they will ever get out.

The Prison Inside Prison Texas has banished hundreds of prisoners to more than a decade of solitary confinement, an extreme form of a controversial punishment likened to torture. Many of these prisoners aren’t sure how—or, in some cases, if—they will … Read More


Hemp Snafu Offers Texas Cities a Way to Decriminalize Marijuana

Austin leaders will consider a proposal to effectively end enforcement of misdemeanor pot possession.

Last year, police groups killed marijuana reform in Texas, which both political parties now support, with a Reefer Madness-style misinformation campaign. But a legislative accident paved the way for a mass experiment in marijuana decriminalization in the state.  A new … Read More

In this Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 photo, protesters demonstrating against the killing of Atatiana Jefferson by a white Fort Worth police officer, march down Main Street in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. (Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram via AP)
Criminal Justice

5 Texas Criminal Justice Stories to Watch in 2020

“Progressive” prosecutors, bail reforms, and increased calls for accountability will all likely be in the news next year.

At the state level, 2019 was largely a year of missed opportunities for reforming the criminal legal system in Texas. Despite a reputation for leading on criminal justice reform, Texas lawmakers accomplished very little in this year’s legislative session. Yes, … Read More

August 2016 feature tent city dallas homelessness
Criminal Justice

In Dallas, Churches Break the Law to Shelter Homeless People on Freezing Nights

A city ordinance prevents churches and virtually anyone else from acting as emergency shelters, but some are offering safe haven anyway.

The first night of a punishing cold front in January 2018, two people living on the streets of South Dallas died. Others camping underneath the same highway overpass as Jesse Johnson Jr., 69, remembered him as a nice guy who … Read More

Criminal Justice

Federal Report Flags High Rates of Sexual Abuse in Texas Juvenile Lockups

In three Texas youth prisons, at least one in seven juveniles says they’ve been sexually victimized, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

More than a decade ago, rampant sexual abuse inside Texas’ youth lockups forced the state to reform its scandal-plagued juvenile justice system. Children who committed misdemeanors were no longer sent to state lockups with a documented history of failing to … Read More

Austin Police Headquarters.
Criminal Justice

A Top Cop Accused of Racism Forces Austin to Confront Bias in Law Enforcement

Austin isn’t the only Texas city where trust between police and communities of color has frayed this year.

In late October, Assistant Chief Justin Newsom abruptly resigned from the Austin Police Department after 23 years on the force. Newsom, who oversaw the department’s downtown operations, quit the same day someone filed an anonymous complaint accusing him of using … Read More