Christopher Connelly | Texas Public Radio

Christopher Connelly

Christopher Connelly is a KERA reporter based in Fort Worth. Christopher joined KERA after a year and a half covering the Maryland legislature for WYPR, the NPR member station in Baltimore. Before that, he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow at NPR – one of three post-graduates who spend a year working as a reporter, show producer and digital producer at network HQ in Washington, D.C.

Christopher is a graduate of Antioch College in Ohio – he got his first taste of public radio there at WYSO – and he earned a master’s in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley. He also has deep Texas roots: He spent summers visiting his grandparents in Fort Worth, and he has multiple aunts, uncles and cousins living there now.

Texas incarcerates more women than any other state. The number of women in Texas prisons has ballooned since 1980, growing by nearly 1,000% – twice the rate of men. 

For the eight-and-a-half years she spent in prison, Kristan Kerr looked forward to one thing every month: a visit from her daughter, Chloe. Visit by visit, she watched Chloe grow from a toddler to nearly a teenager.

"I just watched her grow all the way up," Kerr says. "One visit, she couldn't read, and then the next visit she was reading something to me."

Convicted for aggravated robbery in 2011 – she was the driver — Kerr says she wasn't making good choices back then, and it meant missing out on a lot.

The 2020 census is still a year away but the nationwide head count is already on the minds of lawmakers in Austin. There are big political and policy implications for states in the once-a-decade headcount, so there's an incentive in Austin and other state capitols to help ensure that every Texan is counted.

When Ashley Franks got pregnant with her son, her grandfather kicked her out of the house. She didn’t know where to go. So she lived out of her car throughout the pregnancy.

“Daily life [when living in the car] is trying to find a place to take a shower, make sure that your hygiene is kept up, make sure that your vehicle is running properly, because that’s all you have,” Franks says.

Most people in Texas jails are legally innocent. They’ve been arrested but are awaiting trial. They haven’t been convicted of a crime.

Advocates across the political spectrum say that’s because whether a defendant is stuck in jail before trial depends way too much on how wealthy they happen to be, and lawmakers have introduced bills to overhaul the state’s bail laws.

When Mia Greer went to prison, she says she wasn’t the only one who was punished. Her kids suffered too.

“They started failing in school, my son started lashing out,” Greer, a registered nurse from Austin, told lawmakers on the House Corrections committee on Thursday.

With the legislature at work in Austin, constituencies of all kinds are working to make their wants and needs clear. The Texas Municipal Police Association’s executive editor, Kevin Lawrence, says his wish list focused less on what he wants from lawmakers, but what he hopes they won’t do.

Texas ranks second in the nation for human trafficking cases, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn was in Dallas Tuesday to highlight a new federal law he co-wrote to provide resources and funding to fight traffickers and support victims. It’s called the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, though Cornyn acknowledges there’s still a lot of work to be done to end what he calls “modern-day slavery.”

Brick-and-mortar debtors’ prisons were once common in the United States, locked institutions where people were sent to work off unpaid debts. 

In a nondescript West Dallas office complex, David Villalobos is on a roll, talking to about three dozen men and women – mostly black and Latino – all in matching teal shirts. They are canvassers for the Texas Organizing Project, preparing to hit the streets and knock on doors. Villalobos is answering a question about getting people to talk about the election when they’re not very interested in voting.

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