Vol. 19| May 2022
The Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) Announces Intermediary for the Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund
Change Happens, a local long-standing and well-respected non-profit organization, has been selected to act as administrator for the Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund. The Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund is a four-million-dollar reserve aimed at reducing reliance on the juvenile justice system by growing a cadre of local community-based non-profits, working directly in areas disproportionately impacted by juvenile justice. After a competitive county-based bidding process, Change Happens stands ready to grow Harris County’s continuum of services for families and young persons in need and at risk.
Poverty, trauma, or family struggles provide an accurate description of many justice-involved young persons, nationally and in Harris County. Many of these young persons present to the system with complex trauma, whether it be witnessing domestic violence, parental incarceration or absence, or childhood maltreatment. This untreated trauma often leads to poor decision-making and impulsivity. Coupled with the normal trials and tribulations of growing up, this can lead to unlawful behavior with dire consequences for the individual and community.
To thwart unlawful behavior already involved in the juvenile justice system, it provides a community solution and remedy aimed at changing a youth’s trajectory to become healthy pro-social adults.

Change Happens and Harris County are interested in funding organizations entrenched in communities disproportionately impacted by juvenile crime. Programs should focus on enhancing public safety by addressing unlawful behavior at its roots. Such programming will have the effect of keeping youth out of detention, creating diversion programs for some juvenile justice offenses, and reducing recidivism.
Programs could focus on a wide array of services from promoting family stability, supporting youth in school and community through mentoring, to robust transitional programs for emerging adults. Harris County and Change Happens are also keenly interested in local-driven solutions and further partnership with the community. Specific attention will be given to grassroots organizations that are doing the tough work in the community and need additional support to become sustainable non-profits that provide services to families in need, while also providing employment opportunities in such communities.

If you are or know of an organization or community-minded individual that would be interesting in growing this movement to community-based solutions, please contact Helen Stagg with Change Happens at 713-402-8752.
Spotlight on Media & News Announcements

How do you reduce the incarceration and detention of youth and in particular, young people of color in Harris County? Engaging in a pilot program the Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund, aims to shift the focus from locking up young people who may be at risk of getting into trouble with the law to investing in community solutions to prevent crime. The groundbreaking four-million-dollar, Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund was created by the Harris County Commissioners Court to reduce crime while addressing racial disparities in juvenile detention and is part of a bold new approach to justice that prioritizes investment in communities most impacted by juvenile justice referrals and detention.

The Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) sought organizations with youth justice expertise to apply to be the intermediary or “backbone organization” for the Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund. The intermediary will partner and contract with Harris County area grassroots organizations to work with the county to invest in community programs meant to prevent youth involvement in crime and youth incarceration. 
Recently the Harris County Commissioners Court approved the non-profit organization, Change Happens, Inc., to serve as the intermediary—or the “backbone organization”—for the Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund.
Change Happens looks forward to working with local community partners who are committed to increasing their capacity, building evidence-based practices, and strengthening and expanding community resources in order to redirect young people away from the criminal justice system. This project expands opportunities to offer children at risk and justice-involved youth a better future,” said Helen Stagg, Chief Executive Officer, Change Happens.
A community reinvestment fund is a “teach a man to fish” model in which a backbone/intermediary nonprofit organization— with extensive experience in best practices—will award grants to grassroots direct service providers, and actively partner with them to strengthen their organizational capacity, improve the delivery of their services, and monitor whether their services are effectively assisting youth in the long term.
We are looking forward to having Change Happens, Inc. as the intermediary for the Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund. They are committed to evidence-based practices that help redirect young people away from the juvenile justice system. Addressing the root causes associated with juvenile justice involvement is necessary to ensure that the young people in our communities grow into productive young adults, free from system involvement,” said Henry Gonzales, Executive Director of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (JPD)
“When possible, young people should remain in their community, maintain a connection with their family, and be supported by local, community-based services. To achieve this goal, those services need to be available to all community members regardless of geography. For that to happen, true community-based providers must have the necessary resources to accomplish that goal.  Change Happens, Inc. and the Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund can help make this happen."
This project has been a partnership between the community and Harris County since its inception last year. The intermediary will commence work to identify services needed in communities most impacted by juvenile justice. JAD and JPD will create an advisory board to work with the intermediary and Harris County to provide input on matters important to young people involved in the juvenile justice system. The intermediary will begin to solicit proposals from local grassroots service providers to provide direct services in the upcoming months.
The Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund exemplifies the kind of public safety investment we need in Harris County—and across the country. For too long we’ve unjustly criminalized and incarcerated our young people, especially children of color, and we’re no safer for it. Instead of connecting at-risk kids to the prison pipeline, this Fund will connect them to the community-based resources and services they need to overcome obstacles and succeed. Investing in our youth makes our communities stronger— the Justice Administration Department, Juvenile Probation, Change Happens!, and all the community members involved in creating this Fund are helping to chart a new path that leads to safety, justice, and opportunity, “ said Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
Commissioner Adrian Garcia added, “Dealing with violent crime by deploying additional law enforcement as this Commissioners Court has repeatedly done is part of what needs to be done, but we should remain committed to finding ways to do what can be done to prevent crimes from ever happening. The Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund will work to deter kids from a life of crime before it starts. I am proud to support this important investment in our young people."
About the Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund: The Reinvestment Fund comprises funds initially earmarked for juvenile probation and money from the county's General Fund. The Fund will invest in grassroots service providers based in neighborhoods most impacted by the juvenile justice system and employ staff who reflect the youth and families they serve. The Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, which has been a partner in this effort, is fully committed to this innovative approach.

View the press conference here.
News & Information on Policy Work by JAD
ODonnell Monitors Find More Cost Savings for the County Than Previously Believed
Misdemeanor bail reforms implemented through the ODonnell Consent Decree are saving nearly $100 million per year for Harris County departments and misdemeanor arrestees. Updated data released by the independent monitors led by Brandon Garrett at Duke University show savings exceed initial estimates in their March 3 regular report. 
The ODonnell Consent Decree has provided an important opportunity to explore how policymakers can protect constitutional rights for the accused while also being financially accountable to taxpayers, stated Brandon Garrett, ODonnell Consent Decree MonitorWe are pleased to feature Harris County’s leadership in this regard – they are providing a model for the entire country."
Harris County misdemeanor processing costs were an average of $15.6 million lower in 2021 compared to prior years. Reductions were driven by greater use of unsecured misdemeanor general order bonds under the Consent Decree, COVID-related policies to reduce arrests and bookings, and increased use of diversion programs to clear case backlogs tracing back to court shut-downs following Hurricane Harvey.

Even the modest declines in arrests and bookings under COVID protocols were a significant money-saver. Costs for these front-end processes fell by $5 million in 2021 compared to the prior six-year average. And with more low-risk defendants immediately released from custody, the county found additional savings of more than $1 million due to fewer pretrial screenings, bond hearings, and defense costs. The number of court settings and pretrial jail days per case first increased, then declined in recent years, ending with a $9 million cost reduction in 2021.

While saving money, these changes had no apparent effect on public safety. The rate of arrestees with a new offense has remained constant at around 24% year-to-year. Still, the nature of these new offenses may be different and potentially more costly to crime victims and county criminal justice departments, an issue being developed for the next monitor report.

People facing low-level misdemeanor charges have also gained from system reforms, seeing nearly $80 million of benefits in 2021 versus earlier years. General order bonds brought the average cost of pretrial release down by 75 percent, and the share of people jailed before trial has fallen by about 20 percentage points since 2015. More unsecured release and less incarceration reduced the financial burden on families by nearly $16 million over prior years by lowering the costs of bond and averting family separation. Most significantly, arrestees avoided an estimated $63 million per year in current and future employment and benefit discounts as a result of detention or conviction. Additional savings of $800,000 per year resulted from avoiding assaults that can occur in jail.

To make these estimations, the monitor team calculated the difference in 2021 costs compared to annual averages back to 2015. Harris County fiscal year 2020 budget data was used to standardize case processing costs, and disposed cases were used to ensure complete information was considered. To eliminate the effect of variation in the number of case filings, case counts were held constant at 54,264 cases, the seven-year average.

These findings suggest that the restructuring of local criminal justice policies and systems may be more affordable than was previously believed. Moreover, the cost savings and other benefits accrue not only to public systems but also to the private lives of the defendants affected. Important questions remain, however, about whether these efficiencies come at a cost to public safety. Future analyses will aim to illuminate this issue.

Read the updated Fourth Monitor Report here.

About the ODonnell Consent Decree Monitors
Duke Law professor Brandon Garrett was appointed independent monitor and directs the seven-year monitoring project 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 Dr. Dottie Carmichael of the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University. Dr. Songman Kang of Duke University and Hanyang University (Korea) also plays a crucial role in data analysis for the monitorship.

From April 20-22, two of JAD’s team members—Lindsey Linder and Stephanie Armand—joined others from Harris County, including Ed Wells and Sylvia Cherry from the Office of Court Management and Natalie Michailides from Pretrial Services—in attending the Executive Forum for the Criminal Justice Planning and Justice Administration hosted by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) at Sam Houston State University.  Also in attendance were representatives from the Office of Court Administration, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, and the following counties: Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston, Lubbock, and Tarrant.

CMIT exists to create and deliver a broad range of professional development programs for personnel in adult and juvenile community and institutional corrections agencies. The mission of CMIT is to improve the effectiveness of juvenile justice and criminal justice practitioners by providing high quality and relevant professional training to institutional community corrections personnel, providing technical assistance and direction to juvenile justice and criminal justice agencies and organizations, and facilitate research and program evaluation of interest to juvenile justice and criminal justice practitioners and policymakers.

The forum included discussions related to parole, reentry, bail reform, and more. Various counties presented on dashboards developed to inform internal decision-making and provide the public with information regarding system performance, and attendees reviewed the implementation status and impact of recently passed bail legislation.

JAD would like to extend our sincere gratitude to CMIT for hosting the forum. Stephanie and Lindsey found the discussions enlightening and are excited to use the knowledge they gained at the forum to improve criminal justice system outcomes in Harris County. 

On April 19, the JAD policy team met with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Community Problem-Oriented Policing Unit (CPOP) to discuss our shared goals of promoting equitable outcomes and developing solutions to address the root causes of crime.

CPOP recognizes that police alone cannot ensure a safe and thriving Harris County. CPOP strives to work collaboratively with relevant stakeholders to develop solutions that will address the root causes of crime and increase public trust in police. Currently, CPOP partners with government entities including agencies like the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Harris County Public Health, the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Harris County Public Library, Harris County Public Transit, Harris County Justice of the Peace Courts, and each of Harris County’s Commissioner precincts. CPOP also partners with school districts, nonprofits, service providers, and more.

JAD is grateful to CPOP for taking the time to meet with our policy team to discuss their efforts to support Harris County residents. 

As part of its efforts to better understand the day-to-day operations of the criminal-justice stakeholders in Harris County, JAD toured the Harris County Joint Processing Center (JPC) on Monday, April 18.

As part of the tour, members of JAD’s policy team met with sheriff’s deputies, a public defender, and a magistrate as they followed the path that defendants take from arrest to either (1) release on bail or (2) transfer to housing at the Harris County Jail.

Those present observed as law-enforcement officers began the intake process with defendant searches and entry of basic information into the JPC’s intake computers, and representatives from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office explained the process for initial medical and mental-health screening of defendants. On its way through receiving, the tour was able to see part of the pre-trial screening process, and it later passed through the holding cells where defendants are brought at various points in the booking and release processes.

Throughout the tour, members of the policy team were able to ask questions to the various stakeholders about current difficulties and potential solutions regarding the processing of large numbers of defendants in the statutorily mandated time period. Going forward, JAD has planned several similar tours with the hope that additional tours and conversations will lead to creative solutions and cooperation among stakeholders.

Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) was established in 2013 to lift up the voices and experiences of survivors who are left out of the debates on crime policies. CSSJ has chapters in several states, including Houston, TX which started in July 2021. 

On April 30 the CSSJ held their annual Survivors Speak National Healing Vigil Day of Action. This was held in observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Individuals came together at MacGregor Park to promote a more effective vision of share safety, including more crime prevention, greater support for survivors and their families, and less reliance on incarceration. For this Healing Vigil, attendees shared their stories or showed their support for survivors and promoted the shared safety of the community. There was also a healing drum circle. In attendance were representatives from Precincts One, Two, and Three. Dr. Veronyka James, JAD’s Survivor of Crime Policy Analyst, attended the Healing Vigil to learn more about how to support survivors in Harris County and collaborate with partners to work on a vision of shared safety for County residents. 
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice organizes and advocates for healing communities and public safety policies that better support survivors and communities. Through their various chapters, CSSJ hosts trainings on how to advocate for change, address the needs of survivors and engage in actions for criminal justice policy reform.  To learn more about Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) and its mission, visit https://cssj.org/.  
By: Office of HIDTA & JAD

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of National Drug Policy, attended a working luncheon with the Houston/Harris County Office of Drug Policy (HHCODP), and prevention and treatment partners of Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA). Several individuals provided briefings on their collaborative efforts undertaken in the area of treatment, prevention, and public safety. Various representatives of Harris County and Houston had the opportunity to meet Dr. Gupta and discuss with him collaborative efforts undertaken in the area of treatment, prevention, and public safety.

Some of the speakers included Perrye Turner, Deputy Director of Safety and Justice, Harris County Administrators Office, who presented on the collaborative efforts Harris County including Harris County Sherriff’s Department and Harris County Public Health among others is working on to help decrease and educate people on the opioid epidemic. In addition, Kim Ogg, District Attorney for Harris County discussed how her office helps people find and receive treatment, rather than prosecute non-violent offenders. Members of the Fort Bend Community Prevention Coalition (FBCPC) spoke about their role in the community which includes protecting the health and welfare of youth, families, and community members within the Fort Bend Independent School District service area. They also discussed their two major goals, community collaboration and reducing substance use. Ray Andrews, Director of Houston Crackdown spoke about the project that has served the residents of Houston and Harris County since 1988 and coordinates and supports community volunteer projects to reduce alcohol and other drug abuse through prevention, education, treatment, and rehabilitation efforts. Other speakers discussed the positive impact of having drug courts and pretrial interventions within the community. Closing the luncheon, Dr. Raul Gupta discussed the recent rollout of the President’s National Drug Control Strategy and how it addresses addiction and the overdose epidemic.  

For more information on the Houston Harris County Office of Drug Policy, click to visit their website here. And for more on the Houston High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), click here. To learn more about the Office of the National Drug Policy, click here.
Photo Courtesy of HIDTA
By: Office of Court Management

One bad decision can steer you off course — but it doesn’t have to. That’s the message from Harris County misdemeanor court judges who’ve launched a second-chance program to help non-violent, low-level offenders change course and get back on track after experiences with the criminal justice system.
Fresh Start is the inaugural program offered by BAYOU City Community Court, an initiative developed by the misdemeanor court judges to encompass their efforts related to restorative justice and community education, outreach, and service. The two-part Fresh Start program is held regularly in rotating locations throughout Harris County.

At each event, community court proceedings allow judges to grant orders of non-disclosure to individuals who are eligible under state law. The order seals the charge, meaning it doesn’t have to be disclosed publicly — on job or rental applications, for example — but can still be viewed by criminal justice agencies.
The accompanying resource fair provides a one-stop-shop for community members. Attendees can get connected with a variety of free services, including adult education, workforce training, vaccines, food scholarships, transportation assistance, and navigating benefits applications. They also can sign up for pre-screening to determine if they’re eligible to have their criminal records sealed.
One bad decision can have long-lasting ripple effects — on the offender and the community,” Harris County Criminal Courts at Law Presiding Judge Toria Finch said, noting the connection between rehabilitation and community safety. “If we can get people connected with the tools and resources they need to get back on track, that’s a win-win.”
To learn more about the Harris County Bayou City Community Court visit their website here.
Photos Courtesy of Office of Court Management
In The News
Community Impact: Harris County launches Youth Reinvestment Fund to prevent crime

KTRK-CH13: Harris County announces $4 million Youth Reinvestment Fund to combat youth gun violence

KPRC-Ch2: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announces $4M initiative aimed at helping area’s youth
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