550 Inmates to be Released from Texas Juvenile Prisons

By Terry Keleher Apr 05, 2007

http://freeshaquandacotton.blogspot.com/ This week’s welcome release of Shaquanda Cotton, a 15-year-old Black girl sentenced to seven years in Texas juvenile prison for shoving a hall monitor at her high school, marks an important victory for grassroots and “net-roots” activism, the marriage of the internet and grassroots organizing. State officials have also announced the upcoming release of 550 additional inmates, who will be freed in the coming weeks as the state scrambles to line up needed community re-entry services. The system incarcerates 4,700 youth ages 10 to 21. The Texas Youth Commission is undergoing a full review of an onslaught of allegations that inmates were sexually and physically abused, complaints were ignored and sentences were extended for capricious reasons or in retaliation for filing grievances. Cotton’s case was emblematic of the systemic problems. The same judge who ordered a 7-year prison sentence for the Black girl’s shoving incident, only ordered probation for a white girl of the same age who burned down her family’s house. Once incarcerated, Cotton faced further injustice when her sentence was extended after prison guards found an extra pair of socks in her cell, which they considered to be contraband. Columnist Clarence Page highlights how more than 300 blogs and thousands of message boards picked up Cotton’s story, many directed toward Black audiences, which helped galvanize public outrage and a massive national letter-writing campaign. The buzz intensified the public spotlight, forcing the state officials to act. There’s still a long way to go before there’s real justice in the Texas juvenile justice system. Seems like high time for some judges and prison officials to be brought to justice. In the meantime, the emerging “virtual civil rights movement” just may be gaining enough legs for some unjustly imprisoned people of color to be able to walk free again.