Vol. 11 | September 2021
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. JAD will continue to build coalitions with local stakeholders in the coming months and years, identify successful initiatives from other jurisdictions and forge innovative, evidence-based reforms from the ground up.
News & Information on Policy Work by JAD
A Memo on Violence Interruption
By: JAD Policy Team
At the August 10th Commissioners Court, a slate of programs to apply a public health approach to protect public safety in Harris County was approved. These programs will be implemented by Harris County Public Health, under the new Office of Community Health and Violence Prevention Services. These programs are:

  • A community violence prevention program, which will connect individuals at risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence to community and peer resources which will reduce their long-term risk,
  • A hospital-based violence prevention program, which will connect individuals who have just been hospitalized after a violent injury (and are at risk of re-offense or reinjury) to peer support, case management, and community resources to help break the cycle of violence, and,
  • A first responder program, which will dispatch trained, uniformed first-responders to low-risk 9-1-1 calls related to social welfare, substance abuse, or mental heal in Harris County. This program will ensure that our neighbors in Harris County receive the right support at the right time, and that law enforcement is able to prioritize responding to and solving violent crimes in Harris County.

The Justice Administration Department produced a memo outlining the best practices for the implementing of these programs, which have reduced homicides, in some jurisdictions, the evidence that undergirds these programs, and the theories upon which these initiatives are premised. That memo also introduced the findings of two Technical Assistance Providers, who provided additional best practices and insight on implementation and evaluation. The Hospital Alliance for Violence Intervention provided technical assistance for the implementation of hospital-based violence prevention programs, and Tillmon Training and Consulting provided insight on community violence prevention programs.

Together, these programs demonstrate Harris County’s commitment to developing a pioneering, data-driven public health approach to community violence prevention, which protects public safety in our community while reducing racial and ethnic inequality.

ODonnell Monitor Report
By: Bryonne "Bree" Cummings
The independent monitors overseeing Harris County’s historic bail reform agreement will filed their third report describing their work and Harris County’s implementation of the ODonnell Consent Decree on September 3rd, 2021. All independent monitor reports can be found at https://sites.law.duke.edu/odonnellmonitor/.
Their third report highlighted major Consent Decree accomplishments including a second public meeting, a second set of trainings by Vera Institute of Justice to Harris County internal stakeholders, revised pretrial hearing forms, translations of court forms, approval of new email and text notifications, an evaluation of Harris County’s misdemeanor indigent defense systems, and obtaining researchers, ideas42, to study the primary causes of court non-appearance. The major findings include but are not limited to that, “overall, the work suggests that repeat offending by misdemeanor arrestees has remained largely stable in recent years” and “the racial distribution of misdemeanor arrestees in Harris County has been remarkably stable over the past years.”

Lastly, per the ODonnell Consent Decree all parties recognize that the input and involvement of the residents of Harris County will be essential to meaningful and lasting reform and to encourage effective, ongoing monitoring, and evaluation of the system. The Harris County Justice Administration began hosting semiannual meetings, virtually until further notice, October 2020. At each meeting, a representative of each Defendant group and the Court Monitor must report on the implementation of the Consent Decree, including explicitly identifying areas of success and areas for improvement. The next meeting will be held the last week in October 2021
Duke Law professor Brandon Garrett was appointed independent monitor on March 3rd, 2020 and directs the seven-year monitoring project of the ODonnell Consent Decree that includes ongoing analysis of Harris County data and intensive engagement with stakeholders. He works closely with deputy monitor Sandra Guerra Thompson, professor of law and director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center, and with Dr. Dottie Carmichael of the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University. The Monitor Team serves a key role overseeing and supporting this work advancing a holistic, evidence-based approach to pretrial reform that has been missing in other jurisdictions in the past.
Interlocal Agreement between Harris County and the City of Houston
By: Lizzie Duemig, JAD

Many department representatives from Harris County and the City of Houston have been recently engaged in a collaborative effort. The work focused on finding a way to streamline some of the technology-based internal public safety processes across criminal justice agencies and between internal departments. An interlocal agreement was developed out of this effort. The agreement will enable the County and the city to work together on long-term approaches to using technology goods and services. This work could help the county and city work together on large purchases of public safety goods and services such as streamlining body camera systems and a uniform reporting system. The Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved the Interlocal Agreement during the August 10th session, quickly followed by approval of the same agreement by the City of Houston City Council on August 11th.   
The intent behind the agreement is a long-term approach to helping these groups work together with public safety-related technology. This shared services approach will assist both large and small criminal justice agencies. It will also help the district attorney’s office and the courts since all these agencies and departments work together in helping the criminal justice system function. Many agencies currently use different systems and have contracts with different vendors for technological equipment and services. Working together to use similar systems will create a more efficient way to have different agencies and internal departments work together and function more smoothly. 

Representatives from many departments in the County and the City worked to move this effort forward. The approval of this agreement is a great first step toward a huge effort to streamline these processes. While there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done moving these potential projects forward, this collaborative approach toward long-term planning has the potential to generate huge public safety benefits for the region.     
Data & Analytics News-Bytes
Court Appointments Dashboard Guide
By: Laura Hogan, JAD

On June 30, 2020, the Harris County Commissioners Court authorized JAD to develop a Court Appointments Dashboard to enhance transparency and build public trust with Harris County court appointment practices. 

The first launch date was in October 2020 and with further enhancements to the dashboard and the overall Justice Administration Department website, we have relaunched the Court Appointments Dashboard in August 2021.

This dashboard displays the total number of private defense attorney appointments by year versus the Public Defender’s Office in the Felony and Misdemeanor Courts Division, it can be used to view both felony and misdemeanor court appointment rates (private attorney vs. public defender) for years 2017 through the current year. Public access to the dashboard can be found here: https://jad.harriscountytx.gov/Data/The-Court-Appointments-Dashboard
Solving Problems with Technology – eLearning Platform Solution
By: Alex Oulapour, JAD

In April of 2021, the Harris County Justice Administration Department, JAD, was tasked to provide an eLearning solution to help facilitate the second installment of Local Rule 9 training provided by Vera Institute of Justice to Harris County Judges and other stakeholders.

Vera would be conducting a portion of the training live via Zoom but some of the instruction needed to be converted into an online training course, eLearning. The requirements were for the training materials to be online, verifiable materials had been viewed, and for training videos, in the course to be viewed in their entirety, disabling the skip function. With these requirements in mind, JAD set out to provide the technical support and software for accomplishing these goals.

The solution came in the form of a platform to host eLearning courses with tools to track, distribute, and report on eLearning courses known as a Learning Management System (LMS). In the process, JAD learned there is a standard format for creating eLearning courses called Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). Any course made to SCORM specifications can be hosted on an LMS. There are many authoring tools for creating SCORM compliant courses, and a choice of LMS vendors. JAD chose Adobe Captivate for our authoring tool and SCORM Cloud for our LMS. After developing the course with Adobe Captivate from materials provided by Vera, JAD was able to upload it to SCORM Cloud. That enabled JAD to send courses to the users, track each user’s progress, and report user’s answers from the course.

The solution was put into action on August 9th when the first invitations were sent out. The platform and solution developed met the training goals for Local Rule 9 for our stakeholders. The takeaway benefits are that JAD was able to be flexible and satisfy the ODonnell Consent Decree requirement. Many hands came together to make the project a success by providing support and feedback. The project led by Alex Oulapour - with special thanks to Bree Cummings, Stephanie Armand, Kristina Robertson, and AJ Roy for their hard work ensuring the success of this project.
What’s Happening Around Harris County
Keeping Harris County Safe with New Programs
By: Offices of Commissioner Ellis, Precinct 1 & Commissioner Garcia, Precinct 2

Everyone in Harris County deserves to be safe. In its ongoing efforts to reduce crime and increase community safety, Harris County Commissioners Court has approved two initiatives proposed by Commissioner Rodney Ellis and supported overwhelmingly by local law enforcement.
Keeping people safe is among the most fundamental responsibilities of local government,” Commissioner Ellis said. “That requires a relentless focus that adapts to changing times, incorporates lessons learned, and is grounded in common sense, experience and hard data. These are proven programs that will make our communities safer.”
The first, the Harris County Gun Violence Interruption Program, will reduce shootings and stop the spread of further violence. This innovative prevention program targets gun violence hot spots using credible, community-based messengers to intervene before situations escalate to a loss of life or violent injury – and then connect individuals to an array of services and supports they need to prevent the cycles of violence in our streets. 
The second program, Holistic Assistance Response Teams (HART), will allow social service, community health, and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls related to behavioral health, homelessness, substance use, and other social welfare issues and allow peace officers – sheriff deputies, police officers, and constables – to focus on solving crimes.
From my experience as the county sheriff and an HPD officer, I greatly appreciate the goal of allowing peace officers to focus on what we do best: solving crimes,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “These commonsense measures will prevent violence and target appropriate aid to people in crisis.”
These programs will be led by the new Division of Community Health and Violence Prevention Services within Harris County Public Health. 
Harris County Pretrial Services
Making Pretrial Justice the Norm in Harris County Courts
By: PreTrial Services
On August 10, 2021, Pretrial Services (PTS) presented to the Harris County District Court Judges as part of the Continuing Legal Education seminars. The presentation covered the mission and goals of PTS;
  • Build out a robust pretrial services program
  • Increase pretrial services provided at 15.17 hearings
  • Improve collection and reporting of data to assess the effect of any changes and program impact
  • Develop training for the judiciary, the bar, and the public on the new pretrial services protocol
  • Implement an electronic case management system and enhance virtual capabilities

PTS is actively filling the additional staff needed for judicial liaisons, electronic monitoring officers, and supervisors to accomplish these goals. Highlights of the training include the collaboration between VERA, GPL, JMI, CSCD, HCSO, JAD, THC, and PTS to create and implement new policies. These include in-office safety, device step downs, compliant reports, CSCD transfer of bond supervision, the General Order Bond pilot.

PTS presented a timeline for the new case management system (in collaboration with CSS) with the tentative go-live date of Nov/Dec 2021. The purpose of the presentation is to provide updates, promote transparency and accountability at PTS with the public, the judges, and our stakeholders.
Harris County Commissioners Court Appoints Judge to Preside Over Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1
By: JAD team
Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously appointed civil litigation attorney Audrie Lawton-Evans to preside over Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1. which has been recently left vacant.

Lawton-Evans is the former secretary of Harris County Democrats. She is one of four people who have already filed to run for Civil Court at Law No. 1 in 2022, and she will now serve in the office until she and or an opponent wins that year’s general election.
All 8 Harris County Constable Make History on New Unified Use of Force Policy
By: Office of Harris County Constable, Precinct 4
In the early morning hours on July 27, 2021, all eight Harris County Constables met at the South Texas College of Law in downtown Houston.

The Constables went into an all-day forum that included community stakeholders/ members from each of their eight precincts to review and present a newly created unified Use of Force policy that will soon be adhered to by over 1200 deputy Constables throughout Harris County. There were dozens of stakeholders at the forum that gave input and reviewed the new policy, overwhelmingly approving it!
The Constables of Harris County clearly made history today by agreeing independently to adopt one unified Use of Force policy to govern all deputy Constables in Harris County. (We cannot find where this has ever been done throughout the United States by Constables, and or, multiple law enforcement agencies within a county.)

The new Use of Force policy is now in the hands of Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee for review.
The Use of Force Panel that moderated the forum were:
Catherine Burnett – Dean at the South Texas College of Law
Vivian King – Harris County District Attorney’s Office
Eric Davis – Public Defender’s Office
Carmen Roe – Legal Defense Attorney
Constables present:
Constable Alan Rosen (D) Precinct 1
Constable Jerry Garcia (D) Precinct 2
Constable Sherman Eagleton (D) Precinct 3
Constable Mark Herman (R) Precinct 4
Constable Ted Heap (R) Precinct 5
Constable Silvia Trevino (D) Precinct 6
Constable May Walker (D) Precinct 7
Constable Phil Sandlin (R) Precinct 8
An Update on the 87th Texas Legislative Special Session 
Texas Legislature Special Session Update
By: Lindsey Linder, JAD

Texas’ second special session of the 87th Legislative Session began on August 7, and one of the primary issues considered was legislation related to bail. Identical bills were filed in the House (HB 12) and Senate (SB 6) relating to rules for setting the amount of bail, to the release of certain defendants on a monetary bond or personal bond, to related duties of certain officers taking bail bonds and of a magistrate in a criminal case, to charitable bail organizations, and to the reporting of information pertaining to bail bonds. HB 12 was never given a hearing in the House. SB 6, however, passed the Senate and was referred to the House Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies, where a public hearing was held on August 21. The bill was voted favorably out of committee, passed by the House, and sent to the Governor where it is currently awaiting signature. The second special session ended on September 2; however, Governor Abbott has announced a third special session will begin on September 20.
TJAD  recently received guidance from the County Attorney’s Office that after August 31st, all governmental bodies subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act must conduct in-person meetings with at least a quorum present. For the CJCC, that means we need 18 Council Members to commit to attend in person. In addition, there are comprehensive requirements to conduct a videoconference/hybrid meeting that we are working through with Universal Services' assistance. Therefore, we are postponing our meeting currently scheduled for September 9, 2021, and will announce a new meeting date soon.