Transforming Texas Criminal Justice

Photo by Jay Bonovoloir via flickr

A Symposium for Texas Journalists on the Outlook & Challenges of Criminal Justice Reform

A John Jay Media Fellowship Program


Scroll Down for Audio Files of the Conference

Texas has long been considered a model of criminal justice reform. Does that continue to be true?  Politicians and advocates around the country have praised the state’s efforts at closing prisons and reducing prison populations. But some researchers suggest the compliments need a reality check. They point out, for example, continuing stark racial disparities in incarcerated populations, and serious flaws in the state’s probation and parole system. A report last year by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition noted that the state still had far to go in addressing the high rates of substance abuse and mental illness among jail inmates.

On October 21-22, 2019, the Center on Media, Crime and Justice is organizing a two-day workshop and symposium aimed at assessing how far the state has come—and the challenges ahead. The symposium will bring Texas journalists together with leading policymakers, advocates and researchers at the University of Texas at Austin for an intensive look at the prospects for “transforming” Texas justice.

The conference, organized in partnership with the Moody College of Communications at UT Austin, will look at the politics of reform in Texas in 2019, efforts to reduce incarceration, the emerging role of activist prosecutors in efforts to change bail practices and reverse wrongful convictions, and innovative approaches around the state in the areas of prison-based rehabilitation and education, and reentry, among other issues.

Confirmed speakers include Joe Moody, Speaker Pro Tem of the Texas House of Representatives; Katherine Teleki, director of policy and planning for Texas 2036; Marc Levin, vice president for criminal justice policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation; Prof. William Kelly of UT-Austin’s Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice; Kim Ogg, Harris County District Attorney; John Creuzot, Dallas County DA; Prof. Carrie Pettus-Davies, of Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Research; Darwin Hamilton of Grassroots Leadership; and Doug Smith, senior policy analyst of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

The final agenda is available here.

The Texas conference, the first in a series of on-the-record regional justice conferences, scheduled in 2019-2020, aimed at taking a deep dive into emerging reforms around the country, is sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation. The Foundation plays no role in choosing the participants or developing the program agenda.

Please continue to watch this space for research, material and stories emerging from the sessions.



Joe Moody

Joe Moody

Keynote Remarks by Texas Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody (40:19) 

“We share a vision for criminal justice in Texas that’s evidence-based.”

Session 1 The Politics of CJ Reform in Texas, 2019 (1:06:46) 


Lauren Johnson, ACLU of Texas; Marc Levin, VP, Criminal Justice Policy, Texas Public Policy Foundation; Sandra Guerra Thompson, University of Houston Law Center; MODERATOR: Jolie McCullough, Texas Tribune

Session 2A Reducing Incarceration (1:11:52)

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg


Shawn Dick, DA Williamson County; Nick Hudson, ACLU Texas;Kim Ogg, DA Harris County; MODERATOR: John Moritz, USA TODAY Network

Session 2B Reducing Incarceration (1:11:32) 


Geoffrey Burkhart, Texas Indigent Defense Commission;The Hon. Lina Hidalgo, Harris County;Amanda Woog, Texas Fair Defense Project;MODERATOR: Cary Aspinwall, The Marshall Project


Bill Kelly

William R. Kelly


William R. Kelly, Director, Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice Research, University of Texas at Austin (18:36)


Katharine Teleki

Katharine Teleki, Director of Policy and Planning, Texas 2036 (26:27)

Session 3 Rethinking the Mission and Priorities of Texas Prosecutors (1:14:01)

Mark Gonzalez


John Creuzot, Dallas County DA;Mark Gonzalez, Nueces County DA; The Hon. Stacey Matthews, 277th District Court; MODERATOR: Jessica Brand, The Justice Collaborative

Session 4 Successful Prison Reentry and Reducing Recidivism (1:03)


Photo by Elentir via Flickr


Kevin Garrett, Texas Jail Project;John Koufos, Safe Streets & Second Chances;Carrie PettusDavis, Florida State University; MODERATOR: Andrea Ball, Austin American Statesman



Session 5 Improving Conditions of Inmates in Texas Jails & Prisons (1:20:32)

Michele Dietch


Diana Claitor, Texas Jail Project;Michele Dietch, LBJ School of Public Affairs, UT Austin;MODERATOR: Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle

Session 6 From the Inside Looking Out (1:14:26)

Annette Price


Darwin Hamilton, Grassroots Leadership;Annette Price, Texas Advocates for Justice; Doug Smith, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition; DISCUSSION LEADER: Mark Wilson, Austin American-Statesman