UT Austin Launches Website Tracking Deaths in Texas State Custody


The University of Texas at Austin has launched a new portal that tracks the deaths of those in Texas state custody called the Texas Justice Initiative. The portal provides access to records on 6,913 deaths that have occurred in Texas state custody since 2005. The database, launched by The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA), is designed to provide transparency of the state’s justice system and inform public policy.

The 11-year data set includes information about deaths in police interactions, jails and prisons, along with the deceased’s name, demographic information, time and place of death, cause of death, length of time in custody and a narrative submitted by the local custodian, such as the local sheriff or prison director.

The Texas Justice Initiative was created by Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral fellow in IUPRA, an institution developed in 2010 through collaborative efforts with the Texas Legislative Black Caucus to conduct and promote the production of policy-relevant research aimed at enhancing the lives of African Americans and other communities of color.

“The goal of the initial launch is to make this data and some early findings available to researchers, policymakers, stakeholders and those directly impacted by Texas’ criminal justice system,” said Woog, who received her Juris Doctor from the UT School of Law. “Too many people are dying, and it’s going to require a collaborative effort to help identify problems and come up with solutions.”

California is the only other state to offer such a resource; last year its Attorney General’s Office debuted Open Justice, which included broad information about the state’s deaths in custody. The Texas Justice Initiative includes both identifying and narrative information for each death to encourage research into complexities in the criminal justice system, Woog said.

As a requirement under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 49.18, the person in charge of the custodial institution, such as the sheriff or facility director, must file the four-page custodial death report within 30 days of the incident. This information is considered public record and available upon request.

The website launched July 27 and is accessible at http://texasjusticeinitiative.org