People 2015: Josh Gravens, Advocate for Outcasts

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In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. Click here to find all our People Issue profiles.

As a rule, convicted sex offenders don’t get much empathy, and usually for good reason. Often, cities don’t think twice about creating laws that restrict sex offenders’ lives to the point that they become unlivable.

Dallas, for all of its faults, doesn’t do that. Though Dallas’ sex offender registration system is imperfect, the city of Dallas doesn’t impose residency restrictions on sex offenders. In cities where restrictions have been imposed, they’ve often effectively ghettoized released offenders, forcing them to set up tent cities or live in close proximity to one another. Studies show that isn’t healthy for offenders or the community at large.

Still, when WFAA reported Dallas’ lack of residency restrictions, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings quickly moved to place discussion of implementing them on the agenda.

One of the strongest voices arguing against the restrictions was Josh Gravens’, chairman of Texas CURE, a prisoner advocacy group.

Gravens was speaking from experience. As an adolescent, he was placed on the sex offender registry for inappropriately touching his sister. Gravens has never denied the allegations, but says he was raped repeatedly as a child by neighbors. After Gravens and the near impossibility of his life on the registry were profiled by the Texas Observer in 2012, a judge agreed to take Gravens off the public registry. He still had to report his every move to the state of Texas, but private entities, like the Starbucks that refused to hire him in 2012, would no longer be able to look up his status.

The registration issue still dogs Gravens. Last year, he was arrested for not reporting a move quickly enough. The state requires offenders to register a move at least seven days before it happens. Gravens, who’d separated from his wife, didn’t have that choice.

As Gravens has fought his new registration case — the maximum sentence is 25 years in prison — he’s also continued to fight for the rights of prisoners around the state. Gravens was instrumental in the late 2014 push that stymied a Dallas County contract that could’ve ended in-person jail visits for county jail inmates, and he worked hard in Austin for the passage of HB 549, which mandates that each county jail in the state allow in-person visits. The only thing that might stop him, it seems, is the failing system he’s fought so hard to fix.

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