Dear Friend of RJMN:
A sunrise every morning is a confirmation that the Creator still loves us and the dawning of a new year presents an opportunity to contemplate and pray about how we may serve Him and our fellow citizens in the days to come.
RJMN set its goals for 2018 to rebuild its website, re-establish our presence in the field of restorative justice, enlarge the board of directors, and build financial strength, as well as maintain our Front Door, First Contact, and Welcome Back programs.
Briefly, our Front Door initiative is designed to assist and encourage families experiencing the removal of a loved one to the criminal justice system. Participating chaplains in the prisons that process new inmates send us the names and addresses of inmate family members and we respond with a letter containing resources available to them, of which we are one. In 2018 1,141 letters were sent. First Contact volunteers go into the Huntsville “Walls” unit the night before release to encourage those destined to be released the following day and provide about institutions committed to assist previously incarcerated persons transition back into society. We addressed 6,333 inmates in 2018. The following morning our Welcome Back volunteers meet and greet and supply information to family and friends who arrive at the Welcome Center to pick up “their release.” (In 2018, 14,405 people were served by our volunteers while they waited for the release of their “special person!” Roughly 30,000 inmates are released in Huntsville annually!
For 2019 we aim to strengthen relationships with those who work in the field and build partnerships to increase the effectiveness and scope of operations and increase staff hours. There is more to do than our administrator, board, and volunteers have been able to do. Thus, recruiting more volunteers and increasing our administrator’s hours of service are key objectives and they are within reach. Yes, I know that means our contributor base must be expanded, but I am not pessimistic! Emmett Solomon, our founder, I believe, would be pleased with the progress made in to 2018.
Please go to our website at rjmntexas.com and take a look. Also check out our facebook page by “clicking’ on the icon on the top right just above our menu on the home page, or log onto your facebook account and type in RJMNofTEXAS to access it. It’s nice to have friends! Thank You!
Building a Better Texas Together in 2019
Since the Texas Legislature is in session from January through May, everyone concerned with improving our justice and penal systems must be prepared to approach your legislator-state representative and state senator- about reform. I pray that each of you reading this message will express yourself in support of legislation to improve justice in Texas. Below are four legislative proposals that we at Restorative Justice Ministries Network think need your attention. Over the course of the five month legislative session we will post other measures for your attention and urge you to write or email your views to your state elected officials.
There is good reason to redefine the definition of adulthood in Texas as one who is 18 years of age rather than 17. Brain research actually reveals to us that the female brain does not reach maturity until 22; for males it’s 25. This modest proposal passed in 2017, but vetoed by the governor, has been reintroduced in 2019.
Another proposed bill reduces the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana. (It does not change penalties for manufacturing and sale of the substance). The cost of prison incarceration in Texas is $31,000 a year to the state. County jail incarceration is more costly. Economic issues are certainly not the total cost of course. Many professions and occupations are barred to those with a conviction and even those with “class B” misdemeanor charges never brought to trial find many doors closed to them for decades.
A huge issue out in the open this session is inequality in the dispensation of “justice” based upon income. Wealth determines who, following arrest, languishes in jail while awaiting trial. One cannot report to work from jail. One cannot feed the family, pay the rent or care for children while in jail. Who is released prior to indictment or trial should be based upon their danger to society not social class or ability to pay bail. There should be no debtor’s prisons in the 21st century.
The Driver Responsibility Surcharge is an administrative penalty added to local fines assessed on drivers convicted of class “C” misdemeanor traffic violations such as speeding, failure to produce proof of insurance and improper turn. Failure to pay or inability to pay results in suspension of the driver’s license. Approximately half the assessed penalties are uncollected. As a result, this law has taken away tens of thousands of people’s mobility and means to get to work. Both political parties have called for its repeal. Two of the proposals above, raise the age and reduction of the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana, would modestly reduce the prison population, ruin fewer lives with the stigma of a conviction and save the taxpayer money.
Much can be done to increase public safety through revision of public policies. Again, I urge you to join us in approaching your members of the Texas House and Senate about positive change in sentencing policies, bail policies in our counties, excessive penalties for minor infractions of the law, and the age of adulthood. Our website has a direct link to the Texas Legislature. Go to www.rjmntexas.com and click on “resources and information” and then “online information sources.” You may also go directly to the state legislature website through https://capitol.texas.gov.Edwin Davis – President RJMN Texas