The top priorities of my campaign are being present and accessible, property tax relief, community economic development, and breaking the school-to-jail pipeline. I have chosen to write about the latter because it intricately connects mental health, jails, education, and economic development.
As county commissioner for Precinct 1, I will have an influence on mental health and jails. Jails are needed, but we must ensure they are equipping inmates to make better decisions and to have the tools they need to be contributing members of society and not add to the recidivism rate. In order to do this, we need to understand and address the root causes of why they join the system in the first place.
In Texas, jails are the number one provider of mental health services. It’s as if society waits for people to make mistakes, throws them behind bars, and then realizes that perhaps there’s a mental health issue that needs attention. As American society continues to spend more money on locking up people, we must look at the correlation of lack of funding for schools, including academic programs, social workers, arts and music programs, and other extracurricular activities. Research shows that students who are more engaged in extracurriculars are more likely to have better relationships with adults in their lives, have higher self-esteem, and receive more scholarships.
Sadly, there is a school-to-jail pipeline in our community. This means that students are often suspended due to lack of time, energy, or funding to have social service programs or social workers to be able to engage with them to improve behavior by identifying the root causes. What does one think a student is doing during suspension if they are not in school? Repeated suspensions often impact further misbehavior, leading to higher dropout rates, influencing crime, and reinforcing the school-to-jail pipeline in many zip codes that already suffer from economic, health, and educational disparities.
Supporting more social service organizations and social workers in schools will help deal with issues earlier, ensuring our young people are on a school-to-college pipeline, school-to-military pipeline, and/or embark on domestic or international community service programs, thus creating an educated workforce. Why not invest in education and nonprofit educational organizations that in turn decrease dropout rates and lessen crime in your neighborhood?
Jails are becoming more and more privatized; someone is becoming rich off of locking up people. We invest more money in jails than in education. Even though we are in Texas and there are more recent findings, I like to use the following example because my alma mater is one of the most elite and expensive colleges in the nation. In New Jersey, it costs more money to put an inmate through a year of the New Jersey State Prison than it costs for a year of tuition at Princeton University. This specific prison lies only 11 short miles away from Princeton – but a world apart.
From an economic standpoint, it is a better investment to put money into schools instead of prisons. If the current financial dynamic was reversed, it would directly impact dropout rates, lessening crime, and limit profiting from others’ poor choices (often due to lack of educational opportunity, access, and attainment).
It was access to educational opportunities that allowed me to learn to play the violin in fifth grade. It was educational access that allowed me to study German for five years through SAISD’s Multilingual Program. It was this access that earned me a scholarship to Oxford University in England during my junior summer at Brackenridge High School. It was access at Princeton that allowed me to spend my senior fall break doing community service in Ecuador. It was access that allowed me to study Biblical Greek in seminary, where I finally sought free counseling on campus to help me understand and begin healing from my traumatic childhood.
I wish I had access earlier, perhaps at Brack, which would have saved me much heartache and suffering through my teens and young adult life. According to data on children from similar backgrounds as mine, I should have been another sad statistic. I’m Black, Mexican, came from a single-mother home, grew up in poverty, and dealt with myriad adverse childhood experiences. I could have chosen differently and I’d be serving time in jail – or worse. Are you or I any better than someone who is sitting in Bexar County Jail as you read this? What will you choose to support, and where will you choose to financially invest?
I’d rather choose to give financial and community support to a student, as my oldest brother, Dr. Jose Clay-Flores, says, “so that he or she won’t break into my car,” instead of seeing that same young person going through the Bexar County Jail in a few years. I choose to support and advocate for social service organizations to partner with schools to work with that poor, Black and Mexican student from a single-parent home, because one day, she may be your next county commissioner.
Read opponent Gabriel Lara’s commentary here.