On the eve of the November election, Judge Maria Jackson carved some time out of her busy re-election campaign to stop by our office. Judge Jackson has been presiding Judge of the 339th District Court in Houston since 2008. In that time she has established herself as a compassionate and progressive leader, dispensing justice in high-profile national felony cases.
In an interview with Samir Becic, Judge Jackson talked about her background as a bodybuilder, her solution to prison overcrowding, and the power of faith.
Building On A Strong Foundation
Judge Jackson has never been one to shy away from hard work. Before she picked up the gavel she lifted weights as a competitive bodybuilder. So Samir began the interview by asking the judge to elaborate on her fitness feats of yesteryear.
As it turns out, Judge Jackson had some very HFR-approved habits. A bodybuilder until the age of 30, Judge Jackson was inspired by Puerto Rican bodybuilder Gladys Portugues. The young Maria Jackson combined strength training with cardio and racquetball (which, by the way, is one of the healthiest sports).
But her sights were set on a profession in law from a young age. Judge Jackson told Samir that she dreamed of being an attorney since the age of 9, and in her twenties, she made the plunge and entered Texas Wesleyan School of Law.
We’re sure that her rigorous exercise routine helped her deal manage the stresses of law school!
Innovation and Professionalism In Harris County Courts
From 2003-2008 Judge Jackson served Houston as an appointed Full-time Municipal Court Judge for the City of Houston. Then in 2008 she ran and won the 339th District Court. After winning re-election in 2012, Judge Jackson is once again on the campaign trail. This time she has a number of high-profile endorsements, including the Houston Police Officers Union and the Houston Black American Democrats.
Her position is a very difficult but important one, a fact recognized by the community. She presides over felony cases that ran the gamut from capital murder to drug possession charges under a gram.
When Samir noted that there is quite a disparity between those crimes, Judge Jackson agreed. As it turns out, she wants to see minor drug possession to be treated in the same way as DUIs. Under the current law, the first two DUI charges result in misdemeanors. Not until the third charge do you receive a felony.
Meanwhile, possession of less than a gram of certain drugs, about the size of 1 sugar packet, can result in a felony on the first arrest. A felony charge is crippling, disqualifying you from many economic opportunities. With access to society closed off, many felons find no alternative but returning to a life of crime.
Judge Jackson notes that the current policy also leads to prison overcrowding, a huge drain on taxpayer resources. The Houston Chronicle reports that the 9,434 beds are often at max capacity, forcing the city to pay expensive transfers to house inmates elsewhere in the state.
“Invisible in Plain Sight”
Judge Jackson wants to change it so that possession of less than 1 gram is treated like a DUI. Her rehabilitative approach has produced a number of inspiring success stories, and might even help combat human trafficking, a major problem in Texas.
According to Judge Jackson, “Human trafficking is here in Houston. Houston is the second largest hub of human trafficking. It is one of those crimes that is invisible in plain sight. People don’t recognize it.”
She delved into one success story from her probation initiative. One young woman ended up in her court after being arrested with less than a gram of narcotics. In court-ordered counseling this young lady revealed that she was a victim of human trafficking. Like many victims of human trafficking, she was forced to take drugs by her captors to be more compliant. She ended up addicted and facing felony charges in court.
But the rehab program got her the help she needed. Not only did she break free of her addiction, but she now helps the FBI catch the predators that enslave vulnerable people.
Samir thanked Judge Jackson for the compassionate work she has done for our city: “We need judges who have a heart and believe that petty criminals can be reborn again.”
Faith, Another Source of Strength
Judge Jackson’s strong faith influences her capacity for mercy. Samir and Judge Jackson bonded over their shared membership at Lakewood Church.
As an accomplished woman, she stresses that you need to believe in God and believe in yourself, even if no-one else does. And through faith and hard work, she even made her childhood dreams come true.
Samir and Judge Jackson ended the interview by sharing those childhood dreams. Samir wanted to be an athlete, doctor, or a pilot/astronaut “like in Star Trek.”
Judge Jackson envisioned herself a lawyer, doctor, or singer. She attained her JD and worked hard in the legal field.
As for the singing? She says she still sings every now and then.
Early voting has started! Remember to vote now or on November 8th. Watch the full interview below:
Judge Maria T. Jackson has been the presiding Judge of the 339th State District Court in Houston, Harris County, Texas since winning the election in 2008. Judge Jackson presides over serious felony offenses, which run the gamut from low-level drug offenses to capital murder. Judge Jackson implemented sweeping changes in her court, especially dealing with DWI cases, and Harris County Probation Office followed her lead. These changes show how she is able to improve a system in place by using her knowledge, wisdom, and skill. She has presided over one hundred jury trials and several have been featured on The First 48 national television show. Judge Jackson was recognized in the Mayor’s Spotlight, making her the first judge to be acknowledged in the City of Houston’s employee newspaper. She was also named the “Best Criminal Court Judge of 2011” by the Houston Press, making her the first African-American in Harris County to be so honored. She is a frequent speaker in the community, including appearances on several local television and radio shows (such as the Red, White and Blue Political Show, Magic 102, KCOH, The Prison Show on FM 90.1, and many other media outlets.
Samir Becic is an internationally acclaimed health and fitness professional and received four “#1 Fitness Trainer in the World/US” honors for Bally Total Fitness, where he was fitness director of the largest fitness facility in the entire United States. In 2011, Samir Becic used his extensive knowledge of health and fitness to found Health Fitness Revolution, a movement that aims to spread the message of health and fitness throughout the world in order to prevent disease and improve quality of life. To better accomplish his goal, Becic founded Health Fitness Revolution magazine, the fastest growing health and fitness magazine in the US and the first magazine to rank US politicians on fitness. The lists, such as Fittest Heads of State, attract national and international media attention.