Deason Center Receives Grant from Communities Foundation of Texas

SMU Law Quad

Grant will fund research into Texas’s rural criminal justice systems and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

DALLAS (SMU) – The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law was recently awarded a $150,000 grant from the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas to fund research into Texas’s rural criminal justice systems and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Established in 1974, the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas supports data-driven, innovative solutions to address complex social issues related to health, education, and public safety.

“We are very grateful for the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas’s generous support of the Deason Center’s work,” said Dean Jennifer Collins, SMU Dedman School of Law. “This grant will help the Center research rural criminal justice systems in Texas and promote effective and innovative reforms in smaller jurisdictions.”

“The W.W. Caruth, Jr. Fund is proud to partner with SMU’s Deason Center in learning more about how rural and indigenous communities access the legal system,” said Sarah Cotton Nelson, Chief Philanthropy Officer, Communities Foundation of Texas. “We look forward to applying what we learn from the Deason Center’s research and recommendations.”

Rural criminal justice systems have unique needs and challenges in providing access to counsel. Rural counties often have limited resources and must provide criminal justice services over long distances. In addition, research shows that rural counties in Texas often have few lawyers – 90% of Texas attorneys are located in the state’s ten largest metropolitan areas, while 45 counties have fewer than four lawyers. Six rural counties have no registered attorneys there at all. As a result, Texas’s rural counties must devise innovative solutions to honor the United States and Texas constitutions.

“Rural counties in Texas are legal deserts,” said Pamela R. Metzger, Director of the Deason Center. “With so few lawyers, it can be challenging to provide eligible criminal defendants with their constitutional right to counsel. Long distances, limited resources, and potential conflicts of interest make even basic legal processes more difficult. This funding will significantly expand the Deason Center’s ability to advocate for criminal justice reform in rural Texas and to develop innovative recommendations and best practice models for rural systems across the nation.”


About Communities Foundation of Texas
With the goal of building thriving communities for all, Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) works locally and across the state with many individuals, families, companies, and nonprofits through a variety of charitable funds and strategic grantmaking initiatives. In 1974, W.W. Caruth, Jr. established his fund as part of Communities Foundation of Texas with philanthropic goals to support frontier-advancing projects in education, scientific research, medical advancement, and public safety. In addition to managing the W. W. Caruth, Jr. Fund at CFT, CFT professionally manages more than 1,000 charitable funds and has awarded more than $2 billion in grants since its founding in 1953. CFT is committed to serving and understanding donor needs, expertly handling complex gifts, wisely managing charitable funds, and leveraging its community knowledge to increase charitable impact, in addition to powering several key initiatives including Educate Texas at CFT, Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy at CFT, and CFT’s North Texas Giving Day. Learn more at

About the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center
The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law brings a stats and stories approach to criminal justice reform. By collecting, analyzing, and assessing data, the Deason Center identifies criminal justice policy and reform needs. Combining these statistics with the stories of those who live, work and struggle in our criminal justice system, the Deason Center makes a compelling case for smart, compassionate, and sustainable criminal justice reform. The Deason Center helps criminal justice stakeholders develop and implement best practices and supports data-driven criminal justice research that have utility across multiple jurisdictions. Through conferences, symposia, colloquia, roundtables, and working groups, the Deason Center fosters collaborations between scholars, criminal justice researchers and criminal justice stakeholders. The Deason Center also educates SMU students about criminal justice issues and provides students with academic and experiential opportunities to work in criminal justice policy and reform.