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:

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, 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 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

Criminal Justice

Texas’ Method for Funding Courts is a Colossal Waste of Time and Money

Criminal fines and fees, in addition to trapping poor people in a cycle of debt and incarceration, are an incredibly costly source of revenue for local governments, according to a new report.

Texas spends a fortune every year squeezing fines and fees out of criminal defendants. In 2017 alone, the state dumped at least $150 million into court and jail costs associated with absolving court debt. While local governments managed to recoup … Read More

A crowd gathers at the governor's mansion in downtown Austin on Saturday, November 9, 2019, at a rally for Rodney Reed.
Criminal Justice

The Movement to Free Rodney Reed Illustrates the Growing Unease Over Texas’ Use of the Death Penalty

Deafening calls to spare Rodney Reed’s life point to a larger distrust in Texas’ use of the death penalty and an erosion of confidence in the justice system that convicted him.

After an hourslong rally outside the governor’s mansion in downtown Austin on Saturday, hundreds of people chanting “Free Rodney Reed” briefly blocked streets around the Texas Capitol in an impromptu march led by the brother of the man the state … Read More

Alpha Thomas holds a sign outside the Frank Crowley Courthouse before the start of the murder trial of former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger in downtown Dallas, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Guyger is on trial for shooting and killing her unarmed neighbor Botham Jean in the Dallas apartment building they both lived in. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Criminal Justice

Dallas Is What Happens When People Can’t Trust Police

Botham Jean’s death led to greater community oversight of the Dallas Police Department. Amber Guyger’s murder trial last month shows why that’s necessary.

On Tuesday night, when activists tried to speak at the first gathering of Dallas’ newly revamped Community Police Oversight Board, police broke up the crowd, grabbing and shoving people who demanded to be heard. According to the Dallas Morning News, … Read More