POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Criminal Injustice illustration by Alex Eben Meyer MTN he behemoth criminal corrections industry in Texas requires constant vigilance. We execute more prisoners than any other state in the nation and release an appalling number of citizens who’ve been imprisoned for crimes it later turns out they didn’t commit. Nonprofit advocacy and reform groups go to battle for justice on a daily basis. The end-of-January closing of the JEHT Foundation, another victim of the $50 billion Bernard Madoff debacle, is dealing a body blow to several such criminal justice nonprofit groups in Texas. The New York-based JEHT Foundation \(the acronym the largest funder of criminal justice reform in the country. The foundation, supported primarily by donors Jeanne and Kenneth Levy-Church, has disbursed more than $100 million since 2002 and had scheduled a budget of $45 million for 2009, at least until Madoff was arrested for defrauding investors in his massive Ponzi scheme. The Levy-Churches drew all their foundation money from investments managed by Madoff’s firm. Ana Yafiez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, says her nonprofit lost $119,000 in JEHT support for its juvenile justice program. “I’ve got ,a short amount of time to fill that gap,” she says. “Or else we have to let our program staff go.” The JEHT closure came as a shock, she says, since foundation staff had visited Texas in early December. JEHT was poised to give millions to innovative pilot projects designed to reduce criminal behavior in Texas. Representatives from Travis County, Harris County and the cities of Dallas, San Antonio and Houston met with philanthropy staff to discuss funding, she says. “It meant a lot, because JEHT was supporting programs that were doing it right,” she says. “Then literally the next day we got an e-mail that they were closing.” Other state nonprofits taking a hit are the Innocence Project of Texas, which had a grant to review 400 cases for evidence of wrongful convictions, and the Texas Defender Service, which focuses on death penalty reform. The ACLU of Texas has also received JEHT funding. While advocates are still reeling from the news, they remain undeterred from their missions. Yafiez-Correa says the cities and counties brought together by JEHT are committed to finding new funds to keep their programs afloat, as is her own Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “We’re not going anywhere,” she says. Melissa del Bosque Too Young for Life HINOJOSA SEEKS SENTENCING EQUITY One of the Legislature’s leading voices on criminal justice issues has decided that teenage killers too young to face execution should also be exempt from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. “To me it’s a matter of fairness and consistency:’ said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. If the U.S. Supreme Court said to Texas and all the other states, ‘You cannot give these juvenile offenders the death penalty’ [which the Supreme Court did in 2005], then I believe the state of Texas should not be sending them to prison for life without parole.” Hinojosa, a long-serving lawmaker who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee \(and led the House Corrections Committee during his final years as an eight-term state repwould cap sentences for youthful offenders convicted of capital murder at life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years behind bars. Such a sentence would be in line with non-capital punishment death sentences handed down before the 2005 Legislature’s enactment of the life-without-parole law. Hinojosa says he decided to push for the new legislation after reading a recent article in the Observer examining the effects of the law \(“The 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 23, 2009
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