Vol. 18| April 2022
Jury Operations Return to Downtown Houston
By: District Clerk's Office
In February, Harris County successfully resumed jury calls in the Jury Assembly Building located in the downtown courthouse complex. District Clerk Marilyn Burgess is proud to report that the District Clerk’s Office (DCO) is performing well regarding jury utilization thanks to the use of e-Juror, our pre-registration system. With e-Juror, we can predict how many jurors will show up on their day of service with an accuracy of 90%. This capability allows the DCO to reschedule or cancel service if we determine we have more jurors coming on a given day than will be needed.
From February 7 through April 1, a total of 204 jury panels were assigned in Harris County. The DCO now has the capacity to call a maximum of 522 jurors per day. We hope that will result in more jury trials and, consequently, help alleviate the county’s backlog.
I am so proud of the seamless transition back to the Jury Assembly Building. Increasing and diversifying Harris County’s juries is one of my administration’s primary goals and having this renovated facility in full operation again is helping to make the goal a reality,” said District Clerk Burgess. “I want to express my gratitude to the Jury Committee of the District Judges Board, the Sheriff’s Office, Constable’s Office Precinct 1, and all of the other stakeholders that have made this return to the downtown courthouse complex such a success."
Furthermore, the DCO is providing free parking and free coffee to jurors as part of our ongoing efforts to modernize jury service in Harris County and make the experience positive and memorable.

Judge Rabeea Collier, who chairs the Jury Committee, also praised the resumption of jury calls in the downtown courthouse complex.

Photo Courtesy of Harris County Clerk's Office
“Moving jury selection from NRG Arena to the courtrooms downtown proved to be the same as when COVID first impacted the judiciary – a seamless transition resulting in the judiciary leading the State of Texas in the number of in-person jury trials.”
“The Harris County judiciary empaneled more than 875 petit juries and 30 grand juries to date since COVID devastated our communities around the world,” added Judge Collier. “This would not have been possible without the countless hours of work in developing the post-COVID judicial process by the Jury Committee for the Board of District Judges and the COVID Response Judicial Task Force with support from the Sheriff’s Office, the Constable’s Office Precinct One, the county’s Facilities and Property Maintenance department, and the District Clerk’s Office, with funding from Commissioners Court.”
News & Information on Policy Work by JAD
The Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) was invited to attend the Parents of Murdered Children and Surviving Family Members of Homicide meeting on April 12 at CrimeStoppers. Dr. Veronyka James, Lindsey Linder, Zachary Lee, and Laura Lucas attended the meeting, and Dr. James presented on the landscape of victimization both in Harris County and across the United States, as well as shared information on the various work JAD has done and will continue to do to support survivors. At the end of the presentation, attendees were asked for their suggestions on how JAD can better support survivors.
The first suggestion offered was for Harris County to provide a 24-hour hotline for survivors. Currently, family members of homicide victims are frequently sent to suicide-risk or PTSD hotlines, but survivors have not always found those hotlines as helpful as, for example, a conversation with another survivor—someone with the lived experience to better support them during their grieving process. Survivors also expressed frustration and anger at professionals (e.g., therapists) who were unable to help them or were ineffectual in working with them due to their unique situation. Attendees shared that some hotlines and therapists have told them that no one knows “how to deal with them,” and, as a result, survivors feel lost and cannot heal from the trauma they have experienced.
Another suggestion centered on lethality assessments, which are a series of questions often asked at the scene of a domestic violence call to identify those cases that are more likely to result in homicide. Attendees suggested that lethality assessments should not necessarily be done by police officers because the officers, who may be securing a crime scene or conducting an investigation at the time they first meet a survivor, are not always able to communicate clearly regarding these lethality assessments. Instead, attendees suggested it may be more beneficial to have a social worker or counselor accompany police officers on certain calls to assist with this gap in communication. Additionally, following up with survivors, especially domestic-violence survivors, after the acute danger has passed and when they can think more clearly about the danger they may be in could be preferable to the practice of presenting a survivor with various life-changing decisions upon their first contact with law enforcement. JAD looks forward to following up with survivors and stakeholders to work on these suggestions to better support survivor communities within the County.  
JAD is incredibly grateful for the invitation extended by CrimeStoppers to attend the monthly Parents of Murdered Children and Surviving Family Members of Homicide meeting, allowing us to present and hear from survivors themselves. Attending the meeting and hearing from survivors made it even more evident how important it is to fight for survivors, listen to them, support them, and help them heal. We cannot bring their family members back, but we can do our best to help them recover from this trauma and ease what is already an arduous process. 
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council met on Thursday, April 7, 2022. This is the second meeting following the newly restructured Council. 

Highlights of this meeting included:

  • Commissioner Garcia introduced Justice and Safety Deputy County Administrator Perrye Turner.
  • The PFM Group presented the Criminal Justice System Overview Final Report.
  • Two new committees were announced: The Violence Prevention Committee and the Case Backlog and Court Resource Committee
  • Dr. Ana Yanez Correa updated the group that we are working on an agreement for a facilitator for the CJCC strategic planning and provided updates on the jail population comparison and trends. 
  • The CJCC meeting schedule was announced, and the next meetings will be held on Thursday, June 9th, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Harris County Attorney’s Conference Center in the basement at 1019 Congress. The meeting will tentatively be in person unless circumstances change in the pandemic.
  • You may view the meeting documents and presentation here.

The Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (hereinafter referred to as HCCJCC or Council) was created by Order of Harris County Commissioners Court dated July 14, 2009.

The Council works collectively to manage systemic challenges facing Harris County's criminal justice system and strengthen the overall well-being of our communities by developing and recommending policies and practices that improve public safety; promote fairness, equity, and accountability; and reduce unnecessary incarceration and criminal justice involvement in Harris County.  The Council collects and evaluates local criminal justice data to identify systemic issues and facilitates collaboration between agencies, experts, and community service providers to improve Harris County's criminal justice system in accordance with best practices. 

The Council works to implement the Safety and Justice vision statement adopted by the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Harris County will promote safe, thriving communities through restorative and evidence-based strategies that foster public trust, prevent violence and trauma, reduce racial and economic
disparities, and minimize criminal justice system exposure where at all possible.
Established in 1963, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) is an international association created to foster scholarly and professional activities within the field of criminal justice. ACJS promotes research, policy analysis, and education within this discipline for both practitioners and educators. There are over 1,800 members of ACJS representing all states in the United States, and many countries internationally as well. ACJS holds a meeting annually to discuss various topics in criminal justice, including teaching, policy analysis, and the latest research within the field.  
The 59th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) was back as an in-person conference in March and held in Las Vegas, NV. Although smaller than in years past, hundreds of criminologists, practitioners, and academicians from several states and countries met to discuss the latest criminal justice research and policies.  
This year’s theme was “Avenues of Change: Integrating Research, Advocacy, and Education”. JAD’s Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher & Specialist, had the opportunity to attend and present at this year’s conference.  
Dr. James presented the Harris County Model U visa Policy and took part in two roundtables, one on translating victimological research into policy and practice, and one discussing good research partnerships. The first roundtable focused on how to create research-backed policies, particularly research focused on survivors, and how to work with various stakeholders to create these policies based on research and best practices. The second roundtable discussed what makes for a good research partnership and how to foster these relationships. 
In addition to presenting, Dr. James also attended various sessions while at ACJS. These included sessions on victims and help-seeking, the intersection of faith and victimization, and funding of victim service providers. Dr. James also met and discussed criminal justice issues and policies with various practitioners and academics from the United States, and shared the U visa policy with police professionals who are interested in revamping their policies. She also took over as Chair of the Police Section for ACJS. 
Dr. James looks forward to bringing back the knowledge and connections she attained while at the conference and sharing them with academics and practitioners in Harris County. She will continue the conversations she has had on the various ways to best support all survivors of crime. 

In this hour and a half of public presentation, Independent Court Monitors and representatives of the Harris County Attorney’s Office, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and Presiding Judge of Criminal Courts at Law will discuss consent decree implementation updates and completed milestones.
Additionally, this event will allow interaction through a virtual Q&A.

This public meeting will be held:
Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 12:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Registration is highly encouraged:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the public meeting.
To enhance the information presented, please take this survey before the public meeting:

ABOUT: 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 effective and ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the system.

ODonnell Public Meetings occur every six months; the next meeting will be on April 27, 2022, at 12 pm.

For any questions, please email events@jad.hctx.net, or for further information, head over to https://jad.harriscountytx.gov/ODonnell-Consent-Decree.
Check out the JAD Blog for More Articles
By: Kelly Venci Gonzalez, JD, Youth Justice Policy Analyst, JAD 

On November 21, 2021, a 19-year-old man detained locally in Harris County, Texas, died from injuries sustained by another inmate. The teen was only half the size of his alleged attacker and was diagnosed with special needs. Unsurprisingly, young adults with special needs have higher interactions with the criminal justice system, and some of these individuals are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

When many think of autism, it conjures images of the movie Rain Man where Dustin Hoffman plays a man on the spectrum with an incredible gift in math. Individuals on the spectrum, however, possess talents and challenges as varied as the residents who live in Texas. Nationally, nearly one in 55 boys will be diagnosed with ASD. And as a result of what some say is outdated diagnostics, girls are also routinely underdiagnosed with ASD and therefore, may be underserved until later in life. Hence, it is incumbent upon professionals to familiarize themselves with autism to better serve and treat those who encounter the criminal justice system. Hence, it is incumbent upon professionals to familiarize themselves with autism to better serve and treat those who encounter the criminal justice system.

ASD is an umbrella term for a complex neurological condition where an individual has deficits in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Only about 40 percent of individuals with autism also have a cognitive impairment. A person need not have all the symptoms to qualify for a diagnosis, but some of the significant features of persons with ASD include:

  • Language deficits
  • Repetitive/self-stimulating behavior
  • Emotional deficits
  • Irresponsive behavior
  • Social deficits
  • Lack of boundaries
  •  Inflexible behavior
  •  Obsessive Interests
  • Sensory sensitivities
 By: Veronyka James, Ph.D., Survivor of Crime Specialist, JAD

This April will mark the 21st Anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of the month is two-fold: awareness of and prevention of sexual assault. The month is a time to focus attention on the prevalence of sexual violence and educate the community on how to prevent it and support survivors. During the month, advocates promote different events and campaigns to increase awareness of sexual violence, dispel myths surrounding it, promote prevention efforts, and support survivors. 
Advocates for equal rights started the movement by discussing the realities of sexual violence and championing change in the 1940s and 50s. Early efforts were advanced by women of color who worked at the intersections of race-based and gender-based violence (which wasn’t deemed “intersectionality” until 1989 by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw). 
Heightened awareness and social activism around the issue of sexual violence continued into the 1970s. In 1971, the first rape crisis center was founded in San Francisco, California. Seven years later, the first Take Back the Night event in the US was held in the same city. In the ensuing decades, advocates called for further support of survivors through legislation, awareness, and prevention of sexual violence.

When visiting the downtown courthouse complex, most people have difficulty finding assistance in answering some basic questions: Where is the courtroom located? What time does the docket start? When is my court date? How do I locate services provided by departments? Where was my car towed? Where can I pay my property taxes? Where can I register my car?

After Harvey, it became even more challenging to navigate the criminal justice system with the Criminal Justice Center shutting down and over 40 courts and justice departments relocating to locations in and around the courthouse complex. Adding to the confusion, criminal courts were sharing courtrooms and staggering docket times in the Family Law Center, Civil Courthouse, and the Juvenile Justice Center. The public, victims, witnesses, defendants, and parties often arrived at a courthouse after going through security only to find out that the court or service they were seeking was in another building, assuming they were lucky enough to find someone to ask for help. This was an understandably frustrating and stressful experience, especially when a person was redirected to another courthouse and required to go through another security line. 

Although signage was placed in and around the courthouse entrances to help guide visitors, most people were unsure about where they needed to go or to whom to go for information. It became clear to the system stakeholders that we needed to find a way to assist and guide people in the aftermath of the relocations of courts and services due to the Criminal Justice Center's closure. 

To address this identified need, two Justice Navigator positions were created in February 2018 and housed in Pretrial Services. Their primary duties involve connecting with members of the public (defendants, victims, witnesses) to provide information and to act as an effective liaison in helping the public navigate criminal justice processes, as well as helping them effectively connect to and address issues with the appropriate County departments.  
Since the creation of the program in early 2018, the Justice Navigators have become an integral part of the needed services provided to courthouse visitors. We are grateful for their feedback, their efforts to assist the public, and for the positive customer service experiences they provide to visitors.” Natalie Michailides, Pretrial Services Director 
The Justice Navigators moved into the Criminal Justice Center in June 2018 when it partially reopened courtrooms. Throughout the construction, they have been working in the CJC and have been an invaluable resource for the public and justice partners alike.  They always greet the public with a smile and a calm resolve to assist individuals in stressful situations, interacting with about 250 people each day. Due to the program’s success, the lobby’s design was configured for a permanent workstation for the Navigators and the program has grown to include two additional navigators in the Civil Courthouse. 

Domestic violence survivors often find themselves in the Criminal Justice System without really understanding it.
There are so many different entities that make up the System and it can be overwhelming. The Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) is conducting a series of “Deliberate Dialogues” on the Intersection of Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System which will wrap up in October.
This month's conversation will focus on those agencies that are involved after a case has been completed.

Registration is NOW open for our LIVE ZOOM on Thursday, April 28!
In The News
Community Impact: Independent monitors report Harris County bail reform not contributing to crime increase

Houston Public Media-NPR: Harris County’s misdemeanor bail reforms are working, a new report finds
JAD Blog
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Harris County Job Search
Criminal Law Hearing Officer
Pretrial Services - Manager, Enhanced Supervision Division

Pretrial Services Officer – Prescreening Division