Vol. 32 | June 2023
Harris County Holds Disparities in Criminal Justice Conference
In conjunction with Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proclamation of May 18, 2023, as Racial and Ethnic Equity Day in Houston, and Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s proclamation of May 19 as Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee Day, the Harris County Racial and Ethnic Equity (REE) Committee, a standing committee of the Harris County Criminal Coordinating Council (CJCC), presented the first-ever Centering [Racial] Disparity and Highlighting Fairness in the Harris County Criminal Justice System conference at the Anderson-Clarke Center on the Campus of Rice University.   
“The work to make our criminal justice system fair to everyone is ongoing,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I’m pleased that the City of Houston and Harris County are and will continue to work together to collaborate and move toward solutions to build fair and equitable criminal justice system. This conference offered stakeholders the opportunity to both discuss and listen to real-life experienced stories and gave attendees room to build relationships and ideas to create a fair and just system.”
“This important and timely conference served as a valuable reminder that every individual, regardless of their race or background, deserves equal protection under the law,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Precinct 2. "It was true back when I was Sheriff, and it’s still true today. I was honored to have a member of the Precinct 2 team present a proclamation to the Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee, who put together this special event. It’s clear that the gathering will serve as a catalyst for change - resulting in a future where racial equity plays a role in making the criminal justice system fair for all.”
Over 250 registrants and presenters, including community members, criminal justice system stakeholders, partners, organizations, and academics, were hosted by the Harris County Office of Justice and Safety (OJS), supported by the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge and the Rice University Police Department.  
We are very thankful to our Harris County Criminal Justice stakeholders and partners, Rice University Police Department, and the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge for being a part of the reason we were able to assemble and provide an opportunity to work beyond silos," said Perrye Turner, Deputy Administrator, Justice & Safety, Office of Harris County Administrator. “This conference provided a “safe” space for criminal justice stakeholders to grow and learn from one another as well as highlight what Harris County is doing to aid in equity-related issues.”
The conference sought to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities across the Harris County criminal justice system by highlighting best practices and solutions for reducing inequalities amongst the most vulnerable populations. 
“The purpose of the conference was to provide a safe, nonjudgmental space for Harris County criminal justice system stakeholders, community members, academics, and advocates to engage in the work and with each other,” stated Dr. Arelia Johnson, OJS Racial Disparity and Fairness Administrator, and conference organizer. “This conference was the start to intentional collaboration.”
The conference featured as its keynote speaker New York Times bestselling author, distinguished professor, and media personality Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. Authoring over 25 books, Dr. Dyson is widely acclaimed for his insights on race, social injustice, and contemporary culture.
Dr. Dyson’s presentation was universally lauded, and as one attendee commented, “Dr. Dyson was an excellent choice and set the tone for the conference.”
The two-day conference included over 20 breakout sessions with topics ranging from mass incarceration and indigent defense, community responses to hate crimes, the impacts of familial incarceration to conversations on addressing the disproportionate numbers of minority youth in the criminal justice system, LGBTQ + youth in juvenile justice, and community engagement and policing best practices. Participating law enforcement agents and attorneys earned Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits for attending certified sessions.   
“This entire conference was IMPACTFUL and so well organized and put together. As one who has attended hundreds of conferences, this was by far the most organized from start to finish. Lots of energy. Good vibes from everyone and I’ve learned that conferences are better when the people attending WANT TO AND CARE TO be present. Overall, amazing job!” said an attendee.
When attendees were asked about their most significant takeaway from the conference, the most common response centered on collaboration. Comments ranged from “The need for collaborative efforts to address disparities” to “The importance of relationships and networks in advancing equity” to “There are many organizations out there who our organization can collaborate with that I didn’t know about,” and “The new collaborating partner that I met.” 
The REE committee and OJS plan to make the conference a yearly event. Information about next year’s event will be available in the coming months. The REE is also seeking new members to fill upcoming vacancies. To learn more about the CJCC and the REE and to apply for a possible position on the committee, please visit https://ojs.harriscountytx.gov/Racial-and-Ethnic-Equity-Committee-Member-Application.  
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
On June 10, Harris County and the City of Houston hosted a gun buyback—the fourth buyback event in the past year! More than 1,400 guns were collected, bringing the total from all four buyback events to more than 4,200. With the primary objective of promoting community safety and reducing the number of firearms in circulation, the gun buyback events are part of ongoing efforts to foster a safe environment for all Harris County residents. By exchanging firearms for cash incentives, gun buybacks aim to provide a voluntary alternative to the possession of unwanted or potentially dangerous weapons.
Various countywide partners were on location during the event, including Harris County Public Health’s Community Health and Violence Prevention team. Attendees were given information on the County’s Community Violence Interruption Program and Holistic Assistance Response Teams, as well as information on firearm safety from the Houston Police Department.

OJS Policy Director Lindsey Linder attended the event in person and found it well organized and easy to navigate, and the personnel coordinating the event were friendly and helpful. The success of the event would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of various county and city officials, law enforcement agencies, and volunteers. OJS extends our sincere gratitude to all those who assisted in organizing and executing the event, ensuring its smooth operation and overall success.
There were several criminal justice and survivor-focused bills proposed as part of the 88th Legislative Session, which recently wrapped up. Many of these bills did not make it through, but some important bills have been signed by the Governor and will go into effect on September 1, 2023.
These are a few of the key bills impacting survivors that were passed this session and have been signed by Governor Abbott:
  • SB 1841. This bill will update the outdated Chapter 51 of the Human Resources Code. This outlines the services that family violence centers are required to provide and the first time that prevention is a required service, as well as peer support. It is also the only state statute that defines “trauma-informed services.” This is defined in the statute as “the service or service model is provided in a manner that recognizes and responds to the signs and symptoms of trauma in, and the risks of trauma to, a victim of family violence to better support the victim and promote the victim’s choice, trust, dignity, connection, and healing” (p. 2). Moreover, this bill requires four services that family violence centers must provide to more accurately represent survivors’ needs: 1) safety planning; 2) counseling services; 3) peer support services; and 4) prevention efforts.

  • SB 1401. This bill implements recommendations from the Governor’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force Report. For adult victims of sexual assault, the bill requires an examination provided by health care providers if the victim arrives within 120 hours of the assault or is referred by law enforcement or a medical professional and consent is given. For minor victims, it would require a forensic medical examination regardless of their arrival time, if there is consent given by the victim, an authorized person, or an employee of the Department of Family and Protective Services. In addition, with this bill, victims who undergo a forensic medical exam will be considered as “cooperating with law enforcement” for purposes of seeking Crime Victim’s Compensation, thus ensuring they would receive needed financial support.

  •  SB 49. This bill revises provisions governing the Crime Victim’s Compensation program. It removes language which had limited eligible family members to only those considered immediate family or those in the household who are related by consanguinity or affinity. The bill also expands the acts that qualify as family violence when determining eligibility for payments. This also expands eligibility for compensation for relocation and housing expenses and removes the $2000 cap on relocation expenses. The cap on the amount paid in lost wages is increased from $1000 to $3333 as a result of bereavement leave taken. However, this only applies to those affected by crimes on or after the bill’s effective date, September 1, 2023.

  •  SB 1402. This bill amends the Government Code and makes the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force (SASTF) permanent. Without this change, the SASTF was set to expire in September 2023. It also changes the composition of the SASTF by including additional members such as, a survivor of adult sexual assault. The bill also requires the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) to establish a basic education and training program on responding to reports of adult sexual assault and child sexual abuse, including best practices and trauma-informed response techniques. This is required to be developed in consultation with SASTF and be completed no later than January 1, 2024. This training program will consist of at least 8 instructional hours to more effectively recognize, investigate, and document cases of child sexual abuse and adult sexual assault.

  •  SB 855. This bill will mandate family violence training for judges. Within the five mandated hours of continuous training previously required, judges will need to complete an additional hour of training focused on family violence, its dynamics, and its effects on victims. Additionally, judges who primarily handle family law and family violence cases will need to complete an additional two hours of training every two years. Those in office on the effective date will need to complete this training by December 1, 2025.
Although there is still progress to be made to make the criminal justice system more responsive to victims and survivors of crime, the bills passed this legislative session are a step in the right direction. These bills will make a positive impact on survivors in Texas. 

The Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund (YJRF) has funded six grassroots organizations that provide direct support to juvenile justice-involved youth. The YJRF will also support the creation of a youth advisory board to further improve county and community-based programs. The YJRF is a multi-million dollar fund created by Commissioners Court to invest and enhance community-based support for justice-impacted families. The selected organizations are located throughout the county and have different programmatic approaches but with the same goal to bring community-based support to impacted families. The first organization, The Forgotten Third, recently started accepting referrals and other organizations should begin accepting referrals within the next month. The following is a brief description of funded organizations and their programs.
The Forgotten Third

In April of 2023, TFT launched “R.E.S.E.T.” (Relationships, Education, Skills Building, Employment/Entrepreneurship and Training) is a 40-week continuous community-based intervention program that serves 45 pre/post-adjudicated males ages 10 -18 and their families. R.E.S.E.T.’s goal is to reduce crime/violence and provide a second chance to impacted youth. The program aims to empower and equip young adults through a comprehensive public health approach of increased protective factors and supports to aid in positive youth development. The core components are screening and assessment, intensive wraparound case management, education and vocational certifications, job and entrepreneurship training, credible messenger mentorship and restorative justice. This program serves youth in the 77084, 77095, 77433 and 77449 zip codes.
Workshop Houston

Harris County supports the expansion of Workshop Houston’s (WH) “Near Peer Youth Leadership and Employment Project.” This project is a 49-week continuous hands-on daily educational program for 40 male and female youth ages 11-16. WH is a specialized artistic studio in the Third Ward. In this program, youth learn leadership, employment skills, and skills building. This approach empowers youth to participate in rewarding projects, such as the beat shop, style shop, media shop, or dance shop. Aside from daily restorative justice circles, other key areas are Creativity and Self Expression, Positive Relationships, Life Skills, Social Justice and Advocacy, Positive Reinforcement, Cultural Competence, and Community Engagement. This program serves youth in the 77004, 77021, 77033, 77051, and 77087 zip codes.
Talent Yield Coalition

Harris County will also help expand the “Youth Justice and Family Development-Newspaper Program." This program is a 40-week continuous hands-on daily life skills intervention program for 50 male and female youth ages 10-17 and their families. The youth in the program, hosted at 5 campuses (Cedar Bayou J.H., Highlands J.H., Lee H.S., Goose Creek Memorial H.S., and The Point), will publicize a quarterly newspaper. Young people will write the articles, document with photography, and complete all editing and layout. In addition to learning the critical analysis necessary to engage in reporting, this program will also provide comprehensive holistic support and expanded wraparound services for the youth and their families. The youth will participate in a life skills curriculum that focuses on communication, critical thinking, time management, decision-making, and negotiation skills. Talent Yield will also offer an “Expanded Program” to 25 male and female youth ages 10-17 and their families in Crosby, Channelview, and Galena Park/North Shore areas and will offer the same wraparound case management services that are offered in the “Newspaper Program.” This program serves youth in the 77532, 77562, 77044, 77530, 77339, 77015, 77049, 77520, 77521 zip codes.
My Chapel

“The Champion and Victory Mentoring Program” is a continuous mentoring and wrap-around case management support program for 30 young people ages 10-18 and their families. Key areas include intake assessment, coordination with HCJPD, exposure to arts and music, “Pro Dad” curriculum, and mentor matching. The program aims to support youth and their families to receive culturally appropriate services within their community to enhance access to basic needs and education. This program serves youth in the 77502, 77503, 77504, 77505, 77506, 77571 and 77536 zip codes.
Young People In Action

The “Level-up Mentoring Program” is a 10-week continuous intervention mentoring program for 40 male and female youth ages 10-18 and their families. The program focuses on the “Triple P Pillars” of Parent engagement, Pastors and churches for mentors, and Principals for school engagement. The program uses “The Council of Boys and Girls Circle Curriculum” and focuses on the following areas: leadership and character development, enrichment and recreational activities, field trips, and learning
retreats, various pro-social activities, and other wraparound services. This program is available on a case-by-case basis to youth with at-risk behaviors in the 77338,7396, 77373, and 77429 zip codes.
Legends and Legacies

“The Legends and Legacies Program” is a 40-week wrap-around case management support program for 30 male and female youth ages 10-18 and their families. Key areas include intensive wrap-around case management, weekly individual, and group sessions where youth can share through role-playing and art exercises, mentoring, community support activities, and monthly field trips and family events. The program aims to support youth and their families to receive culturally appropriate services within their community to enhance access to basic needs and education. This program serves youth in the 77099, 77016, and 77072 zip codes.
Youth Advisory Board
Houston Revision will also support the youth advisory board and administration of the Sunny Day Fund. This program empowers young people to share their thoughts on juvenile justice and develop valuable community engagement, advocacy, and leadership skills. The program also collaborates with HCJPD and Civic Heart Community Services leadership to provide feedback and recommendations. Members of this board will receive a $15/hr stipend.
OJS will continue to provide program management for this pilot project and is excited to see what the selected grassroots organizations will achieve in the coming year. 
A Look at Policy & Partnerships at Work

On May 17th, 2023, a Superior Court judge, Judge Lawrence Riff, ruled in a lawsuit stating that Los Angeles County’s secured bail schedule was unconstitutional and a blatant breach under the law of Due Process and Equal Protection clauses in the United States and California Constitutions. The putative class actionUrquidi vs. Los Angeles, was filed by two nonprofit public interest law firms in November 2022 on behalf of six individuals who had recently been jailed and couldn't afford to pay their pre-arraignment bail. The court ordered a preliminary injunction for an immediate reinstatement of the zero-dollar emergency bail schedule Los Angeles County put into place during the COVID era. Like the specialized bail schedule implemented during the pandemic, the policy only applies to nonviolent offenders and not to individuals accused of violent or serious felonies or misdemeanors, including domestic violence, child abuse, and vandalism, or those already on no-bail release and arrested a second time.

The court gave all parties 60 days to negotiate and establish a more safe and constitutionally acceptable set of pretrial detention alternatives. The injunction took effect on May 24th, and parties are expected to report their plan to the judge by July 5th. If approved, the new policies will take effect on July 17th. The preliminary injunction is just the beginning. All parties are preparing for a trial that could take place as early as the beginning of next year. The state of California may be added as a defendant, and Crime Survivors, Inc. may be allowed to intervene. There is a chance the pretrial alternatives set to begin in July could be more permanent if the county and city choose to settle the case and not go to trial.

Similar to Harris County’s pretrial detention system before the ODonnell injunction, L.A.’s system— like most around the nation — was based on the accused’s wealth or poverty. Thousands of persons were arrested and jailed under the extant bail schedules solely because they were too poor to pay the scheduled money bail. Harris County and ODonnell were cited as examples in the final decision.

Dr. Paul Heaton, Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and Academic Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, was appointed by the court, at the parties’ joint suggestion, to serve as an expert and testify at the hearing. The court’s opinion extensively discusses his research and findings in Harris County, particularly as it relates to ODonnell and bail reform. Also cited in the final decision is the work of Brandon Garrett, one of the Harris County ODonnell Consent Decree monitors and Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law.

Harris County is setting the example for implementing effective bail reform practices and exuding due process and equal protection of persons linked to the justice system.
By: Office of Harris County Judge

Celebrate Houston Pride and walk in the 2023 Houston Pride Parade with Judge Lina Hidalgo!

The Parade will take place on Saturday, June 24 at 7:00 p.m. near Houston City Hall, 901 Bagby St., Houston, TX 77002. Sign up here for information on how to join. Space is limited!
By: Office of Harris County Judge

Despite currently having a record employment rate of over 3.3 million, Harris County is seeing rising levels of poverty, something that simply shouldn’t happen in an economy as large and as robust as ours. Uplift Harris, Harris County’s new guaranteed income pilot program, will work to combat this. Guaranteed income programs provide direct cash payments in fixed amounts that recipients can spend as they see fit. Uplift Harris will provide $500 monthly cash payments to eligible families for 18 months, relying on federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan. Recipients will be selected randomly from the 10 most impoverished zip codes throughout the county. Decades of research shows that people spend cash benefits wisely, leading to more financial stability as well as improved physical, emotional, and social outcomes. More than 82 cities and counties across the nation and over 10 countries around the world have similar programs with positive results. We have a duty to employ all the tools that we can to reduce poverty. In Harris County, we won’t leave our neighbors behind. The program is expected to start in Fall of 2023.
By: Office of County Administration
May 19th was National Bike to Work Day. OCA's Lisa Lin, Director of Sustainability, worked closely with Precinct One to organize an employee bike ride around Downtown during lunch, with a great response to the event. ’Watch video of the bike ride below.
Want to join the next bike ride? Keep your eyes peeled for an employee invite when the weather in Houston is more friendly. Don't have a bike? No worries! Precinct One has a great bike borrowing program just for employees. All you need is your County employee badge to, visit the Administration building's basement (1001 Preston), and you'll be able to sign out a bike to use.

By: Office of Harris County Judge

In April, the Commissioner's Court approved $4.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide evidence-based services designed to rehabilitate, rather than punish, women throughout the reentry process. The Women’s Reentry Program will provide mental health support, trauma counseling, education and vocational training, substance abuse support, and other services for women housed in the Women’s Center Jail. These services not only proactively work to reduce recidivism, but also provide women with life-changing job training, care, and support systems that will ultimately help them, their families, and our communities.
The County is also working on an initiative to improve conditions in the Harris County Jail for both offenders and detention officers charged with their care. Currently, our jail population contains about 9,689 offenders, and there are approximately 150 vacant detention officer positions at the Harris County jail. Unfortunately, employee turnover remains very high, causing significant disruptions within jail operations and wasting months of training provided to these officers. These disruptions put defendants at risk and make everyone less safe. In April, we approved a new incentive program to curb turnover that will provide a $1,000 monetary incentive for detention officers to stay at their jobs for several years. 
We will continue to seek out and invest in data-driven and research-based programs to help us alleviate crime and the jail population, and make our streets safer. 
OJS Press
Houston Public Media: Michael Eric Dyson on seeking fairness in the Harris County criminal justice system

Houston Public Media: Author and professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson discusses ways to address racial and ethnic disparities in Harris County’s criminal justice system.
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