Twenty years ago TIFA was founded as a result of a conversation between two brothers- one in the free world and the other in prison. Stuart and Sheldon DeLuca concluded that the one substantial part of the “criminal justice system” that had no representation, either within the system itself or in the larger political system, was the families of offenders. They decided to see if they could remedy the lack of representation by establishing the Texas Inmate Families Association, better known as TIFA. Now, twenty years later in 2016, TIFA is celebrating our 20th anniversary.
In 1996, the director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) was approached about TIFA being a liaison between families and TDCJ. The first meeting with a TDCJ administrator, a few weeks after TIFA was formed, was with Gary Johnson and arranged by public information officer, Larry Todd, whom Stuart had known for years. He had no idea what kind of reception to expect, but was not at all prepared for Johnson’s response: after Stuart told him about TIFA, his first words were, “This is great! This is exactly what we need!” Hours were spent discussing ways that TIFA could be helpful to TDCJ and vice versa. As a result, TIFA was granted permission to send literature about TIFA to the units and Johnson sent a letter to all 105 wardens, instructing them to allow TIFA members to place literature in visitation centers. Since then, TIFA has been instrumental in improving the communication between families and TDCJ.
TIFA maintains a cooperative working relationship with the TDCJ, and is respected by the Board of Criminal Justice and by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. TIFA works with TDCJ staff and families to identify and solve problems concerning inmate health care, mistreatment, visitation, mail issues, grievance procedures, prison violence, mental health management, program placement, transfers, visitation, and parole.
But in a sense, TIFA’s very name is somewhat misleading; we are concerned not only with the families of prison inmates, but with families of all persons convicted of serious crimes in Texas, whether they are under community supervision or parole, or attempting to re-enter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. The problems in the prison system have dominated our efforts partly because they are, in many cases, literally life and death issues, and partly because from the very beginning we have had the advantage of working with TDCJ’s staff of dedicated professionals. We do not expect the problems of the prison system to disappear. Indeed, they may become more intractable if nonviolent offenders are diverted from the system and the prisons become filled with only the most incorrigible, violent offenders.
TIFA chapters provide a safe, secure environment for families to connect and share with those in similar circumstances. Connecting families during the incarceration of a loved one can provide critical information and support and mitigate feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Through our chapter meetings, website, newsletters, and Facebook page TIFA educates not only our family members but also others in the community about the issues around incarceration. Policies and practices are constantly changing in the Texas prison system and families struggle to navigate the TDCJ bureaucracy.
TIFA also works to train family members to become effective advocates, empowering them to participate in and lead the legislative process. Consistent input from families in criminal justice reform debates enhances support for alternatives to incarceration, improved conditions of confinement, parole reform, and removing barriers to reentry.
Today the political climate is changing and our country is becoming aware of the need for criminal justice reform and beginning to respond to it. Legislative leaders are talking openly about the need to be “smart on crime,” to rely on incarceration as a last resort for offenders who are too violent to be allowed back into the community. Evidence has accumulated that community-based treatment programs for offenders on probation or parole are more effective and vastly less expensive than long-term imprisonment. Another part of sentencing reform is the need for the criminal justice system to do a better job of determining how long inmates are incarcerated, and which inmates should be released when they are eligible for parole. This will be a major part of TIFA’s agenda during the next legislative session in 2017.
Whatever progress we can claim has been at most a prelude; we have a long way to go, and there will always be families and friends with loved ones in Texas’ criminal justice system who will need our support. TIFA must continue to work and grow and be a leader in order to bring attention to the affects that the criminal justice system has on our families and communities. Our work will never be done.
If you family is not a current TIFA member, please encourage them to join. They can find our information online at TIFA.org and through Facebook. Our mailing address is PO Box 300220, Austin, Tx 78703.
TIFA has scheduled our Parole Packet Workshops for 2016. For registration and more information visit our website at TIFA.org or you can call the TIFA phone line at 512-371-0900 and leave a message. The cost to attend is $50 for members and $85 for nonmembers (which includes a membership and scholarships are available).
Sat Feb 27th, 2016 1-4 Austin
Sat May 21st, 2016 1-4 Conroe
Sat July 16th, 2016 San Antonio
Sat Oct 2016 Dallas