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Travis County bush

Reformer ponders challenging Shea

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Bob Libal, a consultant for criminal justice and immigration reform organizations, announced Monday that he is “considering a run” against Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea in next spring’s Democratic primary. The major issue for Libal is Shea’s support for a $4.2 million design contract to build a new women’s jail facility.

Last week, commissioners voted to postpone consideration of the contract, which will be on today’s Commissioners Court agenda. Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Precinct 3 Commissioner Ann Howard are pushing instead for further study of the issue.

Libal, the former executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said in a press statement, “Travis County needs progressive leadership willing to face head-on our community’s biggest challenges – rising inequality, housing affordability, homelessness, food insecurity, mental health and substance use disorders, mass incarceration, and the legacy of racism that underpins so many of these issues.”

At last week’s meeting, Shea rejected the idea that Travis County engages in “mass incarceration” – a position that Libal found particularly troubling.

As criminal justice reform advocates point out, the population of the women’s jail is less than half what it was in 2017. Four years ago, the number of jailed women was about 383. As of Monday, that number was 160, according to Travis County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kristen Dark. Supporters of a revamped jail argue that even though there are fewer detainees, Travis County still needs to replace aging infrastructure. Libal told the Austin Monitor that conditions at the women’s jail could be improved by giving the incarcerated women free phone calls and possibly adding a psychiatrist to the staff.

Last week, Shea said there had been considerable misinformation about the jail construction project. “People need to understand we are not rushing anything. We delayed action in 2018 so that we could have a thoughtful process about how best to design a facility where we are legally required to provide appropriate jail facilities.”

Libal said he expects more people than last week to show up at today’s Commissioners Court meeting to argue against passage of the jail design contract.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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