Statesman – October 19, 2019

“Austin’s justice activists defy headwinds of criticism to force policy changes”


The people responsible for Austin’s progressive shift in criminal justice reform include a 31-year-old man who was on probation for most of his adult life for a robbery he says he didn’t commit, an ex-software whiz who left a good job to craft policy proposals for an advocacy nonprofit, and a woman who spent 25 years in an Illinois prison for killing a man she says raped her.

They are social justice activists, a growing community of reform-minded people whose rise in power in the past five-plus years has pushed local elected officials to enact policies that benefit marginalized citizens at a time when Austin’s urban core is becoming increasingly white and wealthy.

Riding the momentum of national movements against racial inequality and the killings of unarmed black people by law enforcement, homegrown groups like Austin Justice Coalition, Just Liberty and Grassroots Leadership have nudged their way to the table with lawmakers and walked away with many victories, such as increasing oversight for both Austin police and criminal defense lawyers, and bolstering rights for people experiencing homelessness and ex-felons struggling to find jobs.

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