At any one time, Texas houses an average of 200,000 adult men and women in its county and state correctional facilities.
While those men and women serve their sentences, their families also feel the impact of the criminal justice system.
“They may be in jail, but they’re not the only person affected,” said Robert Elzner.
Elzner is the membership committee chairman for the Texas Inmate Families Association. The nonprofit group operates throughout the state with a mission to break the cycle of crime by strengthening families of prison inmates through support, education and advocacy.
According to data from the association, an estimated 55 percent of individuals incarcerated in Texas prisons leave behind a spouse, and 85 percent or more leave behind a parent and/or a child.
“It can be very difficult for them,” Elzner said. “Our goal is to help support them, and point them to information and resources to help them.”
The association is rolling out a new chapter in Killeen.
Killeen TIFA chapter member Janice Harris has an incarcerated son. She said being able to talk with other families in a similar situation is helpful.
“Just the emotional support is a huge factor,” Harris said. “Nobody plans to have to know things about the prison system, so having that information and support is critical.”
On Saturday, TIFA held its first event in the Killeen area — a workshop to explain and assist families with navigating the often complicated process of helping inmates apply for parole.
While an offender does not need a “parole packet” to obtain a favorable board vote, Elzner said it can often make a difference.
“It’s not like on television, where you go before the board in person,” he said. “They get the paperwork, and the packet, and they usually only have a few minutes to read it and make a decision.”
The workshop allows family members to learn more about the process, and put together a packet that could make a difference in whether their loved ones are granted parole.
Harris said the association plans to hold additional workshops and will host meetings on the second Tuesday of each month, beginning in February.
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.