Vol. 1 | November 2020
Harris County, Texas is striving to lead in criminal justice innovation in the United States. The efforts described in this NEWSLETTER represent JAD's work for the Harris County Commissioners Court, and only a selection of JAD's pioneering policy work. In the coming months and years, JAD will build coalitions with local stakeholders, identify successful initiatives from other jurisdictions and forge innovative, evidence-based reforms from the ground up.
JAD congratulates the re-elected officials of Harris County who are part of the CJCC family.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis
Harris County Precinct 1
Ed Gonzalez
Harris County Sheriff
Kim Ogg
Harris County District Attorney
Judge Robert Schaffer
Harris County 152nd Civil Court
Judge Eric Carter
Harris County Justice of the Peace
for Precinct 1, Place 1
News & Information on Policy Work by JAD

ODonnell et al. v. Harris County et al. is a class action lawsuit that was filed in federal court in 2016 claiming that 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 the residents of Harris County will be essential to meaningful and lasting reform and to effective and ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the system.
On Wednesday October 28, 2020, the Justice Administration Department (JAD) hosted the first ODonnell Consent Decree Public Meeting virtually. The hour and half public conversation included a presentation of updates and goals regarding the ODonnell Consent Decree and bail reform in Harris County. The event also gave a platform for the virtual audience to interact through a Q&A with the Defendants, Plaintiffs Attorney and Monitor.

The Defendants and Monitor presented updates on:
  • Consent Decree milestones and operational changes completed to date. 
  • Partnerships with research and technical assistance organizations.  
  • Ongoing changes and some anticipated timelines for completion. 
  • Opportunities for community input and participation.

ODonnell Public Meetings will occur every six months, the next meeting will be April 2021.
ODonnell Public Event Picture 3
Independent Monitors
On March 3, 2020, Professor Brandon L. Garrett at Duke University School of Law was appointed as Monitor, and Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, at the University of Houston Law Center, will serve as Deputy Monitor. The Monitor Team also includes researchers from the Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Texas A&M University, as well as the Center for Science and Justice (CSJ) at Duke University. The principal task of this Monitorship, as set out in the Consent Decree, is to report to the Court as they oversee and support Harris County implementing our new pretrial justice system that restores the public’s trust, safeguards constitutional rights, and in fact accomplishes the twin aims of bail: to keep the community safe and promote the integrity of the judicial proceedings by preventing defendants from fleeing justice. 
Brandon L. Garrett, JD
L. Neil Williams Professor of Law Director, Center for Science and Justice Duke University School of Law.
Sandra Guerra Thompson, JD
Newell H. Blakely Chair and Criminal Justice Institute Director University of Houston Law Center.

On June 9th, County Judge Lina Hidalgo made the motion that the Justice Administration Department and representatives of Commissioners Court work with PFM to develop a process for meaningfully engaging the community in the current budgeting evaluations for all criminal justice departments funded by Harris County and come back within 45 days with a progress report.

The Justice Administration Department, Budget Management Department and the County Judge’s Office formulated a report defining community engagement and what makes it meaningful, benefits and challenges, examples of participatory budgeting processes in other jurisdictions, and current undertakings of county departments to ensure the creation of strong participatory budget processes. 

What is a participatory budgeting process and why does it matter?

Participatory budgeting is a public engagement model utilized by jurisdictions that integrate meaningful community engagement within the regular budgeting process, providing the public with opportunities to participate in direct decision-making authority over the budgeted amount of funds. Examples include the Black Brilliance Project in King County, WA, Your Voice Your Choice in Seattle, WA, and the Big Easy Budget in New Orleans, LA. Ultimately, the potential benefits of such a process include more opportunities for residents to be informed and engaged in how their tax dollars are being spent, creation of a better understanding of constituents’ needs that can be communicated to Commissioners Court effectively, increasing fiscal transparency so community members can build trust with leadership that have stewardship over tax dollars, and an overall stronger and mutual relationship between Harris County leadership and residents.

Essentially, JAD has set out three specific milestones for a first-year pilot program: 1) Refine community engagement strategies that allow for building trust with underrepresented groups,
2) Think through how to identify broad buckets for investment, and 3) Develop and provide tools to facilitate participation and feedback. Currently, efforts for a robust participatory budgeting, JAD and the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department are jointly seeking to pilot a Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund. A community reinvestment fund is a “teach a man to fish” model in which a backbone nonprofit organization actively partners with grantee direct service providers and leaders to strengthen their capacity, improve their services, and monitor whether their services are helping youth in the long term. 

Updates: On October 27th, County Judge Lina Hidalgo thanked the JAD, BMD, and all those involved for their work on the item and the development of a much clearer understanding of what best practices are for a participatory budgeting process in Harris County. On top of that, JAD would like to thank all those involved for their amazing work. We look forward to the implementation of a successful pilot program and your participation within the budget process!
Spotlight on Media & News Announcements
Kenneth Hardin Selected To Lead Harris County’s First
Managed Assigned Counsel Program.

The Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously in October to name, Kenneth Hardin as director for the county’s first-ever Managed Assigned Counsel (MAC) program. Isiah Carey welcomed Hardin on his FOX 26 HOUSTON program, "The Isiah Factor" to discuss his new role, MAC, and criminal justice reform. Take a look! WATCH FULL VIDEO

A Look at Policy & Partnerships at Work
Doing Good for Gooden
How the JOY Program Made a Positive Impact on Teen
Darrion Gooden is a 19-year-old young adult who has had many obstacles. Throughout his early teenage years, he and his older and younger brothers would move between his mother’s and grandmother’s houses; stability has mostly been a missing factor. Darrion’s father was absent for most of his childhood and his relationship with his mother has and continues to be strained. Although he and his mom live separately, he credits his mom with at least being present in his life. Darrion attended high school at Houston Can Academy but dropped out in February 2019 during his senior year. He plans on obtaining his GED once he is financially stable.
Thanks to Judge Hilary Unger’s leadership on this pilot project, Gooden was released from county jail on August 14, 2020 after agreeing with her condition for him to participate in the JOY Program. In the past, he has had multiple encounters with the Houston Police Department which resulted in several current pending charges which he and his attorney are working to get dropped. Gooden states that at the time of the offenses, he was living with his mother in a bad environment of which he had no control. He admits that he was not in a good place and had the wrong people around and influencing him. Gooden credits moving in with his ill grandmother as a major catalyst for improvement of his lifestyle. He and his brothers support each other and do all that they can to financially help their grandmother. He enjoys his role as an uncle to his niece that he adores and baby-sits occasionally.

Gooden started working as a stocker with Walgreens on September 7th, 2020 which was a direct result of his compliance with Judge Unger’s condition of release to participate in the JOY Program.  He is earning $10.00 per hour, working 30 hours per week for 10 weeks. The supervisors at the store are very impressed with Darrion’s work ethic, willingness to learn, and teamwork. Not only does Darrion speak with great excitement about his role at Walgreens, but he is equally excited about the checks that he has earned. As a result of Gooden’s great work at Walgreens, the store manager has expressed a desire to hire Gooden as a full-time employee once he completes the 300 hours of fully subsidized work experience. The JOY program partners will continue to provide support services to assist Gooden in successfully navigating the obstacles that would prevent Darrion from maintaining sustainable employment and ultimately increasing his odds of a favorable outcome for his pending court items.

This opportunity would not be possible without the collaborative work being done by Workforce Solutions, Houston Health Department, My Brother’s Keeper, Harris County’s Sheriff’s Department, Public Defender’s Office, Criminal District Courts, Pretrial Services, and Justice Administration Department.
Justice-Involved Opportunity Youth (JOY) Supported Workforce Release Project is designed to provide pretrial release opportunities to young adult defendants. Specifically, young adults, ages 18-24 which are over-represented in the criminal justice system and often lack adequate access to economic opportunities due to their disconnection from education and/or employment. Young adults facing multiple barriers (such as justice involvement and lack of access to career and education opportunities) are at risk of becoming adults suffering from a lifetime of low levels of education, chronic unemployment, recidivism, and unnecessary long-term incarceration. This collaborative pilot project seeks to address these major barriers to social and economic inclusion by redirecting defendants from incarceration to opportunities for paid work experience, career education, and job training by ensuring their pretrial release.

Data & Analytics News Bytes
Indigent Defense Dashboard Court Appointments - Update

On June 30th, the Harris County Commissioners Court authorized JAD to develop a dashboard to enhance transparency and build public trust with Harris County court appointment practices. JAD launched the court appointments dashboard in early October and, within a month of launching, felony public defender appointment rates increased significantly to 18 percent (up from an 8 percent average the month prior and more than twice the rate of any month so far this year).
The dashboard can be used to view both felony and misdemeanor court appointment rates (private attorney vs. public defender) for years 2017—2020 and can be accessed here:

A Spotlight on JAD Staff Talking Justice & Policy
JAD Director Speaks at State Conference
Abilene - Jim Bethke, Director of Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) presented at the 98th Annual County Judges and Commissioners Association Conference of Texas. Bethke presented a piece on The Justice System and Indigent Defense alongside, Lubbock County Commissioner, Hon. Bill McCay.
What’s Happening Around Harris County
Houston Police Department Partners with Community for Special Training
The Houston Police Department (HPD) is partnering with the community to deliver the “Building Trust From Trauma” in-service training course during the 2020 – 2021 HPD training cycle. The purpose of the course is to provide insight into the significant roles policing played in trust building and trust eroding events historically and in the Houston area. The Houston Police Department partnered with the Collective Experience Group, led by Professor Aabha Brown, to co-design and co-develop this course which will help officers identify skills and strategies needed to build and maintain trust. 

HPD hosted three training sessions for community partners to become facilitators for this training program for HPD officers. For more information about this effort, please contact Chief Sheryl Victorian at 713-308-1598 (office) or Sheryl.Victorian@HoustonPolice.Org

We’d like to applaud HPD for accepting the call to take a proactive approach to promote healing and build emotional capital with the communities we all serve.  
JAD held its first CJCC meeting of the year on Friday, September 18th.
The issues covered were as follows:

  • ODonnell Consent Decree - Six Month Report.
  • Racial and Ethnic Disparity & Criminal Justice.
  • JMI and SJC Grant.

Next CJCC Meeting
Friday, December 11
12:30pm - 2:00pm