Vol. 34 | August 2023
Join us in welcoming some fresh faces to the Office of Justice & Safety team! We're excited to introduce you to our talented new members who are ready to help out Harris County. These individuals bring unique skills that will undoubtedly enhance our collaborations with partners, stakeholders, our community, and will help us reach new heights.

Joining us in welcoming the new team members!
Ishana Batta joined the Harris County Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) in July 2023 as a Senior Datawarehouse/BI Developer. She brings 10+ years of experience in developing and optimizing end-to-end data warehousing solutions using various tools to help businesses make informed decisions. At OJS, Ishana develops new business intelligence and analytics solutions to meet Harris County's criminal justice data needs.

Prior to joining OJS, Ishana held various roles as Sr. BI Developer, Sr. Database Analyst, and Reports Developer in the Banking, Healthcare, Insurance, and Oil and Gas industry. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science & Engineering from India and Masters in MIS (Management Information Systems) from the University of South Florida Tampa, FL. Ishana is an active volunteer with her local homeless shelter and apart from that she likes hiking with her dog, painting, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.
Deana Hernandez joined the Office of Justice and Safety in July of 2023 as the Project Coordinator. Dr. Hernandez has over 15 years of experience working within the justice system. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University. She continued her education and received a Master of Human Resources Management degree, concentrating on best business practices for public service organizations. Finally, she concluded her academic career by getting a Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change from Baylor University, concentrating on organizational culture evaluation to develop effective and sustainable initiatives and reforms.

She gained a wealth of knowledge from working with justice-involved individuals. She began working within the justice system at a juvenile educational residential center. She continued her career at Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (HCCSCD), where she began as a receptionist, served as a staff trainer, and became a community supervision officer for individuals with various risk levels, needs, strengths, and barriers. She then concluded her time as a supervisor, providing guidance, coaching, and leadership to personnel working with specialty courts and individuals with mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders. As a leader in public service, she adopts a collaborative learning lens to bridge the gap between justice-involved individuals, public service workers, and community members to reduce systematic disparities. She combines human capital and best business practices to create a community culture of effectiveness, accountability, responsibility, integrity, and equity. She believes that as a community, we are better together!
Letitia Monreal joined the Harris County Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) in August 2023 as a Justice Policy Research Analyst. Before joining OJS, Leti obtained her Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and Criminology (CJC) from Loyola University of Chicago. Leti was a research assistant for the CJC department where she worked on research for various counties throughout Illinois related to racial and ethnic disparities in jail systems. Soon after graduating Leti started working for the Lake County Illinois Probation/Pretrial Department as their Data and Research Analyst.

Leti enjoys working with data and she feels fortunate to be able to do what she believes to be her hobby as her job. When she is not working with data Leti spends most of her time with her three chihuahuas named Dolce, Saint, and Prada. Leti enjoys antiquing (with at least one of her dogs in hand), watching horror movies, and trying new wines.
Denise Upshaw is a committed criminal justice reform advocate, travel enthusiast, and devoted mentor. Born and raised in Oakland, Ca, Denise developed a passion for justice reform after witnessing at an early age the devastating effect of Get Tough Era (1980s–90s) policies on her community. Denise’s desire to improve outcomes for the justice-involved led her to obtain a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from California State University, Sacramento, and a Master of Public Administration from Texas State University, San Marcos. Subsequently, she sought and served in pivotal roles across the nation that aligned with her vision to create a more just and humane system. Her fifteen years of experience in juvenile justice, courts, and corrections has given Denise unique insight into the challenges faced by the American criminal justice system and the elements required to effect lasting change.

Now serving as a Justice Policy Research Analyst for Harris County’s Office of Justice & Safety, Denise leads meaningful justice initiatives that cultivate safe, thriving communities for Harris County residents. In addition, Denise enjoys volunteering and playing sports in her spare time. She mirrors her life after a notable Maya Angelou quote: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Anika Woods joined the Harris County Office of Justice and Safety in July of 2023 and serves as a Project Manager but has over 20 years of experience in Court Administration and Caseload Management. She completed her undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from the Louisiana State University at Shreveport. She rounded out her education with a master’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Public Administration from the University of Phoenix. After graduating from LSU-S, she moved to Atlanta, GA, and started her legal career as a Probation Officer. She has since served the City of Atlanta Municipal Court, Fulton County Superior Court, and DeKalb County Juvenile Court in various capacities. She served in the State of Arizona as a Compliance Specialist at the Arizona Supreme Court - Administrative Office of the Courts and went on the be a Court Supervisor at the Mesa Municipal Court before leaving to move to Texas.

Anika has been certified by the National Center for State Courts as a Court Manager and has 2 classes left before achieving her Certified Court Executive program. Upon moving to Texas, she joined the City of Houston’s Municipal Courts as an Administrative Assistant to the Public Information Officer. Anika is originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, and lives in the Houston area with her husband Richard, and daughter Aria. She loves volunteering with her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc., and her favorite hobbies are singing karaoke and cooking anything Cajun or Creole.
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
OJS Policy Director Lindsey Linder was honored to speak at the Harris County Criminal District Court Judges Annual Conference on August 9th. The Conference was hosted at Houston's Hotel Zsa Zsa and brought together District Court judges from across the County. Lindsey presented a legislative update that detailed recent changes in Texas' criminal laws following the 88th Texas Legislative Session.

Some of these changes include expanded access to criminal history record information for research institutions (HB 1184), requiring hearing and trial preference for murder cases (SB 402), as well as various criminal penalty enhancements and new criminal offenses. Additionally, Lindsey detailed legislation that failed to pass during the legislative session, such as lower penalties for possession of marijuana (HB 218) and ten-year minimum sentencing for certain offenses involving the use of a firearm (SB 23). OJS is grateful to have been invited to share this update with the Criminal District Court judges, and Lindsey looks forward to continued collaboration with the judges and court staff. 
By: OJS and Terrance Cheung, Program Director,
The Justice Management Institute
More than a dozen CJCC members and their representatives attended the Harris County CJCC Strategic Planning Retreat held on Wednesday, August 16. The 5.5-hour planning session, hosted at the Harris County Department of Education, was intended to update the CJCC’s strategic plan and guide the Council’s collaborative work over the next several years.
Meeting participants included Harris County Commissioners Rodney Ellis (Co-Chair) and Adrian Garcia, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (Co-Chair), Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner, County Criminal Courts Presiding Judge Hon. Judge Shannon B. Baldwin, Chief Public Defender Alex Bunin, District Clerk Marilyn Burgess, Victims’ Rights Advocate Kathryn Griffin Townsend, County Attorney Christian Menefee, Pretrial Services Director Natalie Michailides, and Public Health Director Dr. Barbie Robinson. Representatives from the offices of District Attorney Kim Ogg, the District Courts, Community Supervision and Corrections, the Office of the County Administrator, and the ACLU were also in attendance.
Facilitated by The Justice Management Institute, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, VA, (which also helped to create the original 2015 strategic plan) attendees identified three priority issue areas, which were 1) Reducing racial and ethnic disparities across the justice system, 2) Improving and enhancing technology and data/information sharing across the justice system to increase efficiency, and 3) creating a stronger and more collaborative justice system.
Participants committed to continue to work together, refine the document, expand participation to include all CJCC members and their representatives, and agreed to meet again in late September or early October. 
The Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) coordinates, collaborates, facilitates information exchange, engages the community, conducts research, performs data analysis, and offers evidence-based solutions meant to increase public safety, fairness, equity, efficiency, and accountability throughout the Harris County justice system. OJS will continue to act as the administrative liaison for the CJCC strategic planning effort. For more information about OJS visit https://ojs.harriscountytx.gov.

Save the Date! The next ODonnell Public Meeting is scheduled for Friday, October 13, at 12 pm. The meeting will be held in person and provide opportunities for public interaction through a question-and-answer forum. Registration access for the event will be available soon.

ODonnell et al. v. Harris County et al. is a class action lawsuit filed in federal court in 2016, alleging the bail practices for misdemeanor arrestees in Harris County were unconstitutional. The parties involved in this lawsuit reached a settlement agreement in November 2019. All parties recognize that the input and involvement of Harris County residents will be essential to meaningful and lasting reform and to the system's effective and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

By: Office of Precinct 2,
Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia

Harris County is in the national spotlight for its innovative and holistic approach to workforce development programs. On July 28, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia had the honor of welcoming U.S. Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su to Houston. Together with Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, they co-hosted a tour of the Women's Empowerment Center for Su and her team.
The center, located within the Harris County Jail, provides programs to help incarcerated women transition to the workforce upon release. Equipped with classrooms for training and mental health and substance abuse support, the center opened in February and has the capacity to serve 512 women. The program participants spoke with Su about its programs including computer lab instruction and the community garden.
The Women’s Empowerment Center is another example of Harris County leveraging federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to make the county safer, more resilient, and more prosperous.
Commissioner Garcia led the vote to pass the funding for the center. As a lifelong law enforcement officer, he understands the interconnectedness of issues surrounding public safety, public health, and workforce development and the need to address them with holistic solutions.

Read more here.
By: Harris County Office of Administration

The 2023 Harris County ARPA Recovery Plan is now live at harriscountyarpa.org! This annual report showcases Harris County’s investment progress to date and upcoming plans. Reports from across jurisdictions help the US Treasury, researchers, and the public understand the impact of American Rescue Plan funds.
In 2021, following the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the U.S. Treasury allocated $915 million in Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to Harris County, with a goal of accelerating recovery from the economic and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioners Court adopted a governance approach, established an equity framework to guide project selection and delivery, and identified major investment priorities to ensure a holistic recovery. Since then, Commissioners Court has committed $643 million in Local Fiscal Recovery Funds across our priorities of Health, Housing, Jobs & Education, Justice & Safety, and County Operations.
To address disparities in health outcomes that worsened during the pandemic, Commissioners Court approved programs addressing mental health, substance use disorders, lead screening and lead abatement, chronic disease prevention, maternal and child health, and reproductive healthcare programs under the HEALTH portfolio. Under HOUSING, Commissioners Court focused funds to address homelessness, create affordable housing, support youth aging out of foster care, and provide wastewater infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods. Key workforce development projects such as supporting expanded vocational training and apprenticeships under JOBS & EDUCATION will help more than 1,500 participants access critical training and increased earnings, with additional support offered to small businesses and child care providers. Addressing JUSTICE & SAFETY is a priority for Commissioners Court and constituents. Harris County’s largest investments in this area are successfully addressing the court backlog, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. Other highlights include the Domestic Violence Assistance Fund and new Teledeputy program. COUNTY OPERATIONS investments include a new data fellows program designed to recruit analytics talent to help the County develop new insights, operate more efficiently, and accelerate the delivery of priority outcomes. This category also includes compliance and program management support for the overall ARPA portfolio, ensuring proper oversight of these federal funds.

As Harris County moves forward into year three of ARPA programming, we’re highlighting American Rescue Plan benefits across the County:
“Before I took office, Harris County had never before adequately invested in early childhood education. Harris County’s childcare investment portfolio, which includes our Early REACH program, is one of the largest known investments of ARPA dollars by any county or city in the nation for early childhood. Because of Early REACH, 1,000 more kids are going to receive high quality child care in Harris County, which we know leads to lifelong outcomes like higher income, higher likelihood of graduation, and lower risk of justice involvement. Thank you to our federal partners who helped make this game-changing program possible,” stated Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
“Decades of neglect, inequity, and discrimination have financially destabilized generations of Harris County families, perpetuated poverty, and created unfair barriers to prosperity. Thanks to American Rescue Plan funding, Harris County is working to turn the tide by being the first Texas county to pilot a guaranteed income program. Uplift Harris will provide an income floor to up to 1,500 families living below 200% of the federal poverty line, giving them stable ground to rise above poverty and build a better life. We’re proud to work to ensure that all people have the economic stability and freedom they need to live, thrive, and prosper,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
“American Rescue Plan Funds have provided an opportunity to make smart, strategic investments in projects that address long-standing challenges in our communities. In Precinct 2, we’ve made neighborhoods safer by putting in sidewalks and streetlights. We’ve also been able to invest in new wastewater infrastructure to protect our environment and the health of our families,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “In neighborhoods with limited healthcare access, we’re investing in chronic disease prevention, tackling diabetes, smoking, and obesity so people can live healthier lives. Public safety is an integral part of everything we do in Precinct 2, and ARPA funds have empowered us to make strides in making our communities safer. I’m proud to have sponsored the Violent Persons Warrants Task Force, helping to address the spike in violent crime experienced during the pandemic. ARPA also allowed us the opportunity to expand Employ2Empower countywide. Pioneered in Precinct 2, Employ2Empower gives people experiencing homelessness a chance to earn income, learn job skills, and connect to housing and other services.”
“In the aftermath of the pandemic, ARPA funding has been crucial to provide much-needed support for our residents, especially vulnerable and historically underserved communities. In Precinct 4, we have already invested $2 million in the Alief Street Forest initiative to plant 1,200 trees, reducing the urban heat island effect and reducing crime. We also allocated $6 million to create a Reproductive Healthcare Access Fund to make preventive treatment affordable for low-income women. And using $9 million in federal funding for the Harris County Youth Diversion Center, we will divert youth ages 13-17 with low-level offenses away from the justice system and provide them with mental health and social services to prevent future justice involvement. I look forward to continuing to leverage federal dollars to positively impact our communities,” said Commissioner Lesley Briones
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted ways in which not all communities have access to equal outcomes and opportunity. Yet even in the darkest days of the pandemic, Harris County was looking ahead to a strong and equitable recovery,“ said Leah Barton, Managing Director, Strategic Initiatives, OCA. “The American Rescue Plan Local Fiscal Recovery Funds have presented a tremendous chance to invest in our community. While year one focused on immediate relief projects and year two focused on the launch of strategic programs, in year three we now turn to scaling strategic programs and committing remaining funds. We are investing for the long-term, making transformational investments with sustainable impacts to Harris County.”  
For more information on ARPA click here and to read the 2023 Annual Recovery Plan click here.
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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