Vol. 2 | December 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 continue to build coalitions with local stakeholders, identify successful initiatives from other jurisdictions and forge innovative, evidence-based reforms from the ground up.
Founded in October of 2019, the Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) was created by the Commissioners Court to act as a resource for all County Criminal, Juvenile Justice Agencies, and justice - involved agencies in Harris County. The Department 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. 
Click on the image, A Piece of the Puzzle, to take a look inside the vision and goals of JAD.

Naomi Walker started her career with Harris County in August 2000 at the District Attorney's Office. She has worked as an administrative assistant for the 232nd District Court, Property Destruction Coordinator, and Executive Assistant for the Trial Bureau Chief during her 18 years at the DAO. In October 2018, she joined the Justice Team at Budget Management and began assisting with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and other justice-related projects throughout the Courthouse Complex. She joined the Justice Administration Department in October 2019 upon its inception and works closely with the Director and other staff on personnel and staffing matters, and other criminal justice-related special projects.  

“Congratulations on twenty years with Harris County! We are so fortunate that you are achieving this anniversary with JAD! You have been such a significant part of our team and we couldn’t imagine a workplace without you. We all appreciate your hard-work and dedication. Happy Anniversary!” 

- Jim Bethke, Director - JAD

Thank you for being the glue that holds the JAD team together, Naomi!

Cheers to you! 

Established in October of 2019 under the leadership of Director, Jim Bethke, The Harris County Justice Administration (JAD) was officially created.

Bethke took the reins and created three positions to begin working as a policy research team for Harris County. One year later, Bethke has built a vibrant and robust department comprised of over twenty experts in their fields. This includes 18 full-time staff members, 2 interns, and 3 Government Performance Lab Fellows (GPL).

Over the last few months the JAD team has prepared and submitted a multitude of memos and work on programs such as, tracking Racial and Ethnic disparities in the Harris County criminal justice system, Model Use of Force Policy, Victim Services Assessment, and County Level Emergency Responder Study to name a few. In addition, JAD hosted its first public meeting on the ODonnell Consent Decree, made public data dashboards on court appointments and indigent defense, and called for its first microgrants as part of the Safety + Justice Challenge / MacArthur Grant to be awarded in January. These are only a few of the numerous projects and programs that JAD is working to enhance public safety, fairness, and accountability. Cheers to many more years.
News & Information on Policy Work by JAD

On November 13, 2020, staff with the Justice Administration Department (JAD) learned of the work being conducted in Harris County to reduce intimate partner violence (IPV) homicides. According to the Texas Council on Family Violence’s (TCFV) annual 2019 Honoring Texas Victims report, 150 women and 31 men were killed by their intimate partners in Texas. Harris County leads the state as one of the top five counties with the most homicides. In 2019, 35 people were killed in our area. Past annual TCFV Honoring Texas Victim reports show this trend has been consistent for the last several years.

To help reduce IPV and the fatalities that can come from these high-risk cases, JAD is partnering with the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) to aid in further research and work with the newly created Harris County Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT).

The Harris County DVHRT is a homicide prevention model that was first organized in 2018 through a TCFV grant awarded to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. In 2020, the project moved to HCDVCC for continued support and oversight. DVHRT was formed to reduce lethal and near-lethal IPV assaults and to audit the entire domestic violence response system by identifying and closing gaps in service and protection.

DVHRT functions through four basic principles – 1) early identification of high-risk cases through a validated risk assessment tool, 2) engagement of a multi-disciplinary team to cross share important information regarding the case or situation, 3) ongoing monitoring and management of identified cases, and 4) individualized services to victims that provide enhanced safety and protection.

Since August 2018, the Harris County DVHRT has been working together with several county and city agencies to provide high-risk assessment and support.  Current partners of the Harris County DVHRT include the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections, AVDA- Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, Texas Attorney General’s Office – Crime Victim Services Division, local domestic violence service providers and shelters, the U.S. Attorney’s Office – Southern District of Texas, and the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.
Thanks to the preliminary work that was conducted to develop a team, in 2019, the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center (JGCC), a national training and technical assistance provider, who developed the DVHRT concept and receives federal funding to work with jurisdictions, accepted Harris County as a technical assistance site to help refine the team and explore ways to expand the model to handle the considerable number of high risk cases being identified within our large, populous county. 
This partnership led to the development of a DVHRT pilot project that incorporated a risk assessment tool for law enforcement officers. This expansion pilot project, DVHRT – Pasadena, launched in February of 2020. This team consists of Pasadena Police Department (PPD), the Bridge Over Troubled Waters, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. 

For this pilot project DVHRT, patrol officers within the Pasadena Police Department were trained on an 11-question validated risk assessment tool called the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement (DA-LE). This tool is used on the scene for intimate partner violence calls. If a survivor of intimate partner violence answers affirmatively to 7 out of the 11 questions that are asked, the situation automatically screens in as a high-risk case. Connection is immediately made to the local domestic violence service provider – The Bridge Over Troubled Waters - and if charges are accepted, the case is monitored and advocated for by advocates in the District Attorney’s Office as it travels through the court system. 

Law enforcement, advocates and survivors have all shared encouraging feedback about this initiative:

“Thank you for being my foundation to the beginning of my healing and safety.”
– a survivor

“The implementation of the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement (DA-LE) has proven to be an effective tool for our officers to affect positive change for survivors through this collaborative effort”
– Josh Bruegger, Chief of Police, Pasadena Police Department
Both DVHRTs show great promise to tackling a very difficult and devastating issue in our community. The concept’s ability to examine the entire domestic violence response system will provide significant opportunities to analyze, improve upon, and change, what is currently being done in Harris County for both survivors of violence and those who use violence in relationships.  

The JAD looks forward to partnering with the HCDVCC to use this information to better our county’s response to protective and rehabilitative services. For more information about the DVHRT initiative, please visit the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council’s website at www.hcdvcc.org, or contact Alicia Nuzzie at anuzzie@hcdvcc.org.
Click on the image to watch a recording of DVHRT project to JAD.
Presentation can also be viewed here. [LINK]
Presentation slides can be downloaded here. [LINK]

This October, the Justice Administration Department (JAD) hosted the first ODonnell Consent Decree Public Meeting virtually. The hour and a 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.
Click the thumbnail above to view the complete ODonnell Consent Decree Public Meeting.
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.

In March 2021, the one year report will be released from the Federal Court Monitors.
ODonnell Public Meetings will occur every six months. The next meeting will take place April 2021.
Spotlight on Media & News Announcements
A Conversation on Policy and Justice

Dr. Ana Yáñez Correa, Deputy Director for JAD spoke to Kelly Schafler, Editor with Community Impact Newspaper, to discuss policies for law enforcement and countywide criminal justice research.
Click picture to read full article on:
A Look at Policy & Partnerships at Work
Helping Those in Crisis
How a Team of Harris County Agencies and
Community Non-Profits
Work Together to Help High-Risk Survivors of Domestic Violence
By Alicia Nuzzie, Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC)
“He’s going to kill me, isn’t he? I know he won’t stop until he does.”

 “Do you believe me? I need you to believe me. There’s just been so much.”

“I want you to know that I kissed my babies good-bye this morning just in case something happens while I’m at work.”

Survivors of domestic violence often encounter numerous obstacles and challenges when ending an abusive relationship. In fact, the most dangerous time for a survivor is when s/he/they are about to leave someone who uses violence. Questions about what to do, where to go, how to get help, who to trust, or how to leave safely can result in devastating consequences. This is a concern and issue known all too well by the partners on the Domestic Violence High Risk Teams (DVHRT) in Harris County. It’s also a reason why every step that is taken to provide protection and safety is measured carefully, done with the survivor’s input, and where all realistic options are carefully considered. Since its inception in 2018, the Harris County DVHRT has been coming together every month to provide this individualized type of attention, protection, and services to high-risk domestic violence cases. 

Partners on the Harris County DVHRT include: Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA), the Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD), Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, Texas Attorney General’s Office – Crime Victims Compensation Division, Harris County District Attorney’s Fugitive Taskforce, U.S. Attorney’s Office – Southern District of Texas, Houston Area Women’s Center and other local domestic violence providers. Due to the success of this team, a smaller DVHRT was established in Pasadena in February 2020 with The Bridge Over Troubled Waters, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, and Pasadena Police Department as partners.
DVHRTs in Harris County do not take a one size fits all approach to providing services and/or solutions. By carefully listening to survivors, analyzing each case and bringing all agencies within the domestic violence response system together to discuss what can and should be done, high-risk survivors of violence do not need to stand alone. While it is often hard to prove the negative with projects like this, the positive outcomes and feedback received from survivors who have been helped by the team show that this program is making a significant difference. The team has not only provided an overall feeling of safety, protection and stability to survivors; they have also provided tangible solutions and results. Success stories include immediate relocation within either the city, state or nation for safety and stabilization, connection to plastic surgeons or specialized doctors to help with injuries, placement into drug and alcohol programs to help destructive behaviors, tuition assistance for college and graduate school to help further a survivor’s financial status, but above everything else, the team has provided trust that things can change, valuable safety, and precious peace of mind.

Where have you guys been this whole time? So glad I found you.”

 “I was ready to die…and now I can’t wait to keep living.”

“I thank God for protecting me from what I thought I wanted and blessing me with what I didn’t know I needed.”

“Thank you for staying by my side when I had no one, when I was in fear of my life. You helped save my life!!” 
Data & Analytics News - Bytes
Indigent Dashboard Released

The Indigent Defense Dashboard provides data on indigent defense caseloads and fees for private attorneys and public defenders. The dashboard consists of four(4) tabs, each looking at indigent defense in a particular method: summary, indigent defense by court, indigent defense by attorney, and smart defense. The summary tab provides a high-level view of Harris County indigent defense, focusing on the number of attorneys, number of cases, and indigent fee distribution. The Indigent Defense by court and indigent defense by attorney tabs present the number of attorneys, cases, and fees with a focus on either court or attorney. Lastly, the Harris County Smart Defense tab provides selected metrics for Harris County as described in the ACT Smart for Public Defense website.

The Indigent Defense Dashboard data is separated by fiscal year (October 1st – September 30th) from 2014-2019 and refreshed once data is published by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission yearly.

The Indigent Defense Dashboard can be accessed at:

What’s Happening Around Harris County

Keeping Harris County Jurors Safe While Serving During a Pandemic
By Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk
When COVID-19 first presented itself as a public health threat locally earlier this year, the Harris County District Clerk’s Office (DCO) quickly began planning contingencies for the jury summoning process. The District Courts issued the first suspensions of jury service in mid-March and our Communications and Jury teams made the proper announcements on our website, as well as on social and traditional media.
However, we knew the suspensions wouldn’t last forever and, therefore, we rolled out the first phase of e-Juror, my program to streamline and improve the juror experience, and a priority of my administration. All summoned jurors are required to pre-register online through the DCO’s webpage (www.hcdistrictclerk.com/jury) before their date of service or can call the DCO’s Jury team to pre-register over the phone. Our analysis indicates that approximately 85% of residents who pre-registered during the month of October actually appeared on their assigned date.
This past summer, we had to form new grand juries and resumed limited regular jury service, in coordination with other county agencies and the Jury Committee of the Board of District Judges. With that goal, Harris County contracted to use NRG Arena for jury assembly and voir dire to assure adequate space for social distancing. Following the COVID-19 guidelines set by the CDC and Harris County Public Health, we have implemented a comprehensive protocol to ensure the health and safety of jurors and DCO staff. The protocol entails health screenings, social distancing, continuous sanitizing of the facilities, and the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The DCO has strived to publicize these measures and assure the community we are doing our best to keep everyone safe, while still carrying out one of the indispensable mandates of our justice system. I am proud to lead an exceptional team of public servants who are committed to ensuring the integrity of our juries.
Picture Above: National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, AL

When designed, the Memorial will be based on the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI’s) National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL
Harris County to Build Memorial to Commemorate Black Victims of Lynching in Harris County
From the Office of
Judge Lina Hidalgo
Some of the things that make our County special are our rich diversity, history, and our willingness to reckon with our past. In September, Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved the building of the County’s first lynching memorial to be built downtown to commemorate the lives of four black men that were violently and unjustly murdered. The Memorial will be built near the County Courthouse complex as a reminder of all of those who were denied justice in the past and our duty to right those wrongs as best we can in the present.
Double Duty: JAD Director appointed Interim Director for Pretrial Services
Jim Bethke, Director of JAD was appointed as interim Director of Harris County Pretrial Services last month. Bethke will be working as interim Director for the next three to six months while a search for a new director is underway. During this time, Jim will also continue to his role as Director of JAD with the assistance of two deputies, Dr. Ana Yáñez Correa, Deputy Director and AJ Roy, Data/Technology Deputy Director and the policy team.
JAD is holding its next CJCC meeting on Friday, December 11th.

CLICK on link below for CJCC Agenda:

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