By Chris Edwards
AUSTIN – State Representative James White (R-Hillister) has dedicated much of his career as a public servant to the cause of criminal justice reform, and now he has been honored with a scholarship named “The James White Second Chance Scholarship”.
The scholarship, which was recently announced by the Texas Young Republican Federation, grants up to $500 to a first-time offender and recent mother in order to help with continuing education, starting a business or other training. The first winner of this scholarship will be announced next month at the TYRF convention in Houston.
“The scholarship is a celebration of second chances and is meant to shine a light on Rep. White’s efforts to drastically reform the justice system for women,” TYRF Policy Director Jason Vaughn said.
White, who serves Tyler, Polk, Hardin, Jasper and Newton counties in the District 19 House seat, currently serves as chairman for the House Committee on Corrections and is on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence and Redistricting committees.
During the last legislative session, he introduced and passed House Bill 650, which was written to ensure better nutrition and medical treatment for women who give birth in Texas prisons. The bill, which was signed into law in May, also severely limits the use of restraints and solitary confinement for pregnant women. Vaughn made note of the bill in a news release announcing the scholarship and said TYRF has partnered with other conservative groups to make criminal justice reforms a priority for the Texas GOP. When the scholarship was first announced by TYRF in Austin, Vaughn called the bill “one of the most amazing bills I’ve seen.”
The scholarship, Vaughn said, “is one way we wish to honor legislators who are championing reform.”
In the last legislative session, TYRF supported nearly 100 bills, according to the news release, with the majority of them focused on criminal justice reform, and 16 of them were filed by White.
The scholarship is funded by donations taken in by TYRF, and has gathered bi-partisan support, Vaughn said. He added that recently a donor stepped up to purchase a nursery and the first year’s supply of diapers for an expectant or recent mother who receives the scholarship.
White, who is a former member of TYRF, posted on his Facebook page that he is honored to work with the group in helping to maintain safe communities.
“Our criminal justice system ensures safe communities by deterring wrongdoing, holding wrongdoers responsible, restoring survivors of crime, rehabilitating and successfully reintegrating the justice-involved,” he said.
TYRF, according to its mission statement, is an auxiliary of the state GOP focused on Republicans aged 18-40. The group boasts more than 20 chapters across Texas and states a purpose to be a force in Texas politics.
White’s efforts toward criminal justice reform issues recently drew plaudits from Texas Monthly when it named him to its Top 10 Best Legislators list. The magazine highlighted White’s work in criminal justice reform, such as his effort to update the Sandra Bland Act; an effort to limit arrests for misdemeanors.
Although the effort failed to pass, the magazine’s writers praised him for his “willingness to tackle the issue,” and made note of his standing as “one of his party’s leading advocates for criminal justice reform”.