Vol. 23 | September 2022
Charles Blow, Author and Advocate
U.S. Representative, Lucy McBath
The Office of Justice and Safety was thrilled to be one of the partners of Harris County Public Health (HCPH), which hosted its first inaugural Violence Prevention Conference: A Holistic Approach to Public Safety at NRG Center on August 30th and 31st. The hybrid-style conference addressed local and national crime epidemics and introduced public health approaches to violence prevention. Approximately 300 attended the event in person, while more than 200 participated virtually. Many conference attendees appreciated the hybrid structure, particularly during a time when COVID and other infectious diseases are still prevalent.
Dr. Arelia Johnson, Racial and Ethnic Disparities Administrator with the Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) stated, “Hybrid conferences are not easy to accomplish. However, the Violence Prevention Conference was seamless, well organized, and thought out.”
The conference brought together a diverse group of presenters, professionals, practitioners, and community members with public policy, law enforcement, academia, social justice, and public health backgrounds. Both days were packed with engaging sessions, networking opportunities, and cultural entertainment. Speakers offered varied perspectives and valuable takeaways for attendees to consider and implement within their communities. 
Iris Lewis of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department cited, “bringing current and relevant issues to the conference, and discussing how people can affect change in systems [was critical]. The experiences shared by the presenters encouraged me to want to do more."
Mayor Sylvester Turner commenced the conference, discussing Houston’s current crime statistics while ensuring the audience that public safety is still a top priority. Commissioner Rodney Ellis followed, echoing the mayor’s eagerness to identify effective violence prevention strategies.
Author and Advocate Charles Blow served as the keynote speaker on day one. Blow set the tone for the conference by sharing his personal story and experiences with violence and emphasized a need for change from the usual focus on punishment to more solutions that help communities. Additional main session speakers included Mr. Benneth Lee, CEO & Founder of the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated, and Dr. Jeff Temple, Director of the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Texas Medical Branch
Breakout sessionswere offered throughout the day to provide participants with opportunities to delve deeper and facilitate discussions on violence-related topics. Harris County departments led two sessions to educate participants on recently implemented programs aimed at addressing local crime. 
Harris County Sheriff’s Office Community Problem-Oriented Policing Unit presented on law enforcement’s approach to violence, and HCPH’s Community Health and Violence Prevention Services division discussed their new violence interruption programs. Other sessions addressed youth and school safety, domestic and sexual violence prevention, and the epidemiology and effects of pediatric firearm injuries.

Day two focused on root causes and solutions for violence with evidence-based policy and public health approaches offered to participants.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Commissioner Adrian Garcia kicked off the second day while main session speakers included Congresswoman Lucy McBath of Georgia, juvenile justice expert and head of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Elizabeth Ryan, Civil Rights leader Benjamin Todd Jealous, and Trauma Medical Director Dr. Shiree Berry. Elizabeth Ryan spoke about supporting families and youth to prevent crime. Jealous delivered a riveting speech emphasizing the importance of coalition building to ensure the adoption of public health approaches to end racial disparities. Breakout sessions addressed topics on credible messengers, the impact of violence outreach, community policing with a focus on youth, and methodologies for preventing crime. Dr. Chico Tillmon, Executive Director of READI at Heartland Alliance, closed out the conference by addressing the gun violence epidemic, highlighting the importance of violence interruption programs as solutions. 
Dr. Ana Yáñez Correa, Interim Director at OJS, and Dr. Natosha Willis, Justice Policy Research Analyst who assisted, shared that “participants are still raving about the dynamic and informative two-day event, speakers shared what an amazing job the Public Health team did making the conference a reality”. 
Youth Justice Policy Analyst Kelly Venci Gonzalez stated, “I thought the conference was one of the best I have attended. I thought the speakers were knowledgeable, interesting, and engaging.”
Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Specialist at OJS, who attended the conference in person, shared that she felt “Attendees left with a renewed passion for working toward preventing violence and eliminating the systems that have caused inequities in society which contribute to violence.”
HCPH plans to hold the conference annually, aiming to host the next event in June 2023. Each year, HCPH hopes to continually engage local leaders and share evidence-based best practices for combatting crime and violence in Harris County and Texas communities and communities across the nation. As stated at the conference’s closing, “violence prevention is everyone’s responsibility… it shouldn’t have to affect you for you to care about it." 

News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
The right to bail is a fundamental manifestation of the presumption of innocence and a key component of the justice system. OJS has created an infographic to help you understand the basics of bail in Harris County.
This infographic includes information on an individual’s right to bail, a court’s ability to deny an individual bail, the types of bail bonds used in Harris County, and a brief description of changes to local misdemeanor bail practices over time.
OJS hopes this infographic will help answer questions about how bail is used in Harris County. Download the full flyer here.
In case you’ve missed it, you can also look at our public-facing dashboard to improve transparency in Harris County’s bail practices. And our user guide provides more details about bail, the existing limitations, and our current practices. 

View the ODonnell Consent Decree Dashboard to find see trends around misdemeanor bail. 
In this hour and a half of public presentation, Independent Court Monitors and representatives of Harris County Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, and Presiding Judge of Criminal Courts at Law will discuss the fifth Monitor’s report, including consent decree implementation updates and completed milestones. The event will allow interaction through a question-and-answer forum.

ODonnell et al. v. Harris County et al. is a class action lawsuit that was filed in federal court in 2016, alleging 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 Harris County residents will be essential to meaningful and lasting reform and to the effective and ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the system.

On April 19, 2021, The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council announced its search for community members to be part of the Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee (REE). The purpose this of the community-led committee is to: (1) increase transparency, (2) develop interventions that mitigate racial and ethnic disparities, and (3) increase public safety by advancing best practices as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The REE met on August 24, 2022. the members focused on two priority areas (1) ways to partner with the RAND Corporation who is conducting a study on the extent to which racial and ethnic disparities exist throughout the system and solutions to address them, and (2) how to support the work of the Holistic Assistance Response Team (HART). HART is a first responder program created to provide holistic non-arrest alternatives to citizens experiencing distress. Workgroup members have been tasked with examining data pertaining to calls and to determining if any disparities exist. There are two existing workgroups for The REE Committee and they set agendas, work through goals, provide feedback, and support the educational and community endeavors of our current partners.
Additionally, Dr. Gabriela Baeza Ventura volunteered her time to support the efforts of OJS Team Member Kelly Venci Gonzales and her work with the youth reinvestment fund. Dr. Baeza Ventura, a professor at the University of Houston, will participate on YRF Advisory Board.
The REE Committee has a standing meeting on the 4th Wednesday of the month.
 The 50th Annual Meeting of the Southern Criminal Justice Association (SCJA) was held in Asheville, NC, this month as an in-person conference. The theme of this conference was “Going Back to Our Roots: A Celebration of 50 Years of SCJA.” This conference was about celebrating all the stellar panels and fellowship of the conference over the last 50 years and how it has become the top regional criminology conference.
Hundreds of criminologists, practitioners, and academicians from several states came together to celebrate SCJA and discuss the latest criminal justice research and policies. OJS’ Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher and Specialist, had the opportunity to attend and present at this year’s conference.
Dr. James presented on the family violence report that OJS put together that will soon be presented to Commissioners Court. This report discusses the issue of family violence, its impact on survivors and their children, and strategies to better support survivors that do not necessarily rely on the criminal justice system. Additionally, Dr. James presented the innovative ways Harris County supports survivors of family violence.
In addition to presenting, Dr. James also attended various sessions while at SCJA. These included sessions on the impact COVID-19 had on victim services, civilian review boards for police, intimate partner violence, issues and challenges facing those who are justice-involved, and the past and current state of juvenile justice. She also met and discussed informally, criminal justice issues and policies, including, the Harris County Model U-Visa policy, and the Harris County Sexual Assault Team (HCSART), with various academicians and practitioners from around the United States. 

The Texas Association of Counties held its Legislative Conference in Austin for three days at the end of August, and OJS Senior Justice Policy Research Analyst Zachary J. Lee was in attendance.

The August 24-26 event included well-attended speeches by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and US Senator John Cornyn, still, some of the most informative conversations happened in the smaller presentations and breakout sessions. The importance of mental-health interventions was the most frequent area of discussion relevant to OJS’s work, but talks on bond reform and the practical effects of Senate Bill 6 were also vital to improving OJS’s understanding of those topics. As a former prosecutor, Zach also attended the breakout session hosted by the Texas District and County Attorneys Association and was blown away by the quality of the discussion there.

Zach is excited to put all his new knowledge to work for OJS.
Spotlight on Media & News Announcements

Harris County continues to see positive results from the misdemeanor bail reforms implemented over two years ago through the ODonnell Consent Decree. The independent monitors overseeing Harris County’s historic misdemeanor bail reform filed their fifth report on September 3, 2022.

The report demonstrates a decline in repeat arrest numbers, a significant reduction of racial and ethnic disparities in those who obtain pretrial release, and further evidence of large cost savings to Harris County and to defendants and their families from these reforms.
“Our latest findings describe how the bail reforms under the ODonnell Consent Decree have saved Harris County and residents many millions of dollars, improved the lives of tens of thousands of persons arrested for misdemeanors, and have produced no increase in new offenses by persons arrested for misdemeanors,” said Brandon Garrett, Independent Monitor, ODonnell Consent Decree.
Under this new policy, Harris County has implemented increased constitutional protections for indigent arrestees accused of misdemeanor offenses. Previously, most misdemeanor arrestees remained incarcerated until their cases were resolved due to an inability to pay bail, which created an unconstitutional racial and ethnic disparity gap.

The consent decree and most recent monitor report addresses misdemeanor crimes only. The public and local elected officials have understandably sought explanations on the root causes of the increase in certain felony-related crimes, in particular the increase in homicides, as one act of violence is too many. The report notes public accusations linking homicides to “bail reform.” However, the report cites no evidence that misdemeanor bail reform has led to an increase in homicides.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric that attempts to equate ‘bail reform’ with an increase in crime and associate the idea with undermining law enforcement. That rhetoric confuses the public. Misdemeanor bail reform in Harris County began under the ODonnell case and was necessary because individuals charged with low-level misdemeanor offenses were sitting in jail longer than is permitted by the US Constitution—not because they posed a threat to the public, but simply because they could not afford to pay cash bail. The cash-bail system remains unchanged for felony cases. Just to clarify, when we say misdemeanor in this context, we are referring to those charged with low-level, non-violent offenses such as trespass and driving with a suspended license. We are not referring to individuals charged with serious violent offenses like armed robbery or homicide. This fifth monitor report exemplifies how misdemeanor bail reform is positively impacting public safety in Harris County,” said Deputy Administrator of Justice and Safety, Perrye Turner. “Fewer people have been re-arrested for misdemeanors following an initial arrest, and crime did not spike under misdemeanor bail reform. Moreover, it is likely that fewer people have pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit for the sole purpose of getting out of the Harris County Jail.”
Some key takeaways from the ODonnell Independent Monitor Report include:

  • The bail reforms have saved Harris County and residents many millions of dollars and improved the lives of tens of thousands of persons arrested for misdemeanors. These large-scale changes have produced no increase in new offenses by persons arrested for misdemeanors
  • Overall, repeat offending by persons arrested for misdemeanors has remained largely stable between 2015 and 2021
  • The number of persons arrested for misdemeanors has steadily declined
  • The number of those arrested for misdemeanors who have new charges filed within one year has also declined

The independent monitors’ report further highlights major consent decree accomplishments. The county is actively developing an implementation plan to improve court appearances and indigent defense based on research conducted by ideas42 and the National Association for Public Defense. A public dashboard with ODonnell relevant data is now available. The county obtained a vendor to administer Rule 9 refresher trainings for all misdemeanor stakeholders. In addition to an extensive exploration of the secondary consequences of the consent decree protocols authorizing prompt unsecure pretrial release on re-arrests and costs.

The next Monitorship steps include gathering data to permit a more detailed cost analysis; beginning to quantify the cost consequences of policy changes under the Consent Decree on key processes, including arrest, booking, pretrial screening, bond hearings, court settings, and pretrial detention. Other measures, including prosecution costs, victim services, pretrial supervision, and defendant costs, are still in development. Finally, the monitorship will continue to encompass data analyses and provide feedback in regular meetings concerning the assembly and validation of data regarding misdemeanor cases.
“Since misdemeanor reform has come into effect, our system is significantly less congested with low-level defendants, racial disparities are decreasing, and our deputies are better able to focus on preventing violent crime,” said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Today, our jail is beyond capacity because of the number of people jailed on felony-level violent charges. If not for misdemeanor bail reform, we would struggle even more to find space for violent offenders who need to be in jail.”
The monitors’ next federal court report will be submitted on March 3, 2023. To read the full fifth monitor report, visit the OSJ website here.

Join the conversation. The Office of Justice and Safety will host the first in-person public meeting on October 7, 2022, at noon, at the Harris County Administration Building, 1001 Preston St., 9th Floor Commissioners’ Courtroom, for independent monitors to present their findings.
Data & Analytics News-Bytes
Anisha Dasgupta, Intern,
Office of Justice and Safety,
Data and Analytics
Shray Thotangare, Intern,
Office of Justice and Safety,
Data and Analytics
This summer OJS Data and Analytics team headed by AJ Roy, Deputy Director of Data and Analytics initiated an Internship/Volunteer program for high school interns to allow them to get a sneak peek into the world of Data Analytics.
Shray Thotangare from High School, a Senior from Austin High School, Fort Bend, and Anisha Dasgupta from the High School Junior from Jesuit High School, participated in the OJS intern program to get some hands-on experience in computer and business science.

The objective of the program was to introduce the students to:
  • Technical skills, like gathering data from the source, SQL, Data Architecture, and ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load), and creation of dashboards and data visualizations
  • Analytical skills, like data analysis and exploration, finding patterns, correlation, and trends across data sets
  • Soft skills, like delivering a presentation of analysis and findings.
  • Experience bringing all these skills together in from of a project
Over the course of their internship, Thotangare and Dasgupta analyzed trends for six highly populated counties in Texas on:
  • Index-Crimes data (Murder, Assault, Rape, Robbery, Burglary, Auto Theft, and Larceny) [based on data published annually by the DPS (Department of Public Safety) across for past seven years],
  • Census Data [based on data published in 2020 by U.S. Census Bureau] based on parameters like age, education, and poverty
  • Find patterns and correlations between high Crime Index and Census parameters
“The Harris County Office of Justice and Safety, Data & Analytics Internship greatly impacted me with immense knowledge and a variety of skills that can be used lifelong. The detailed and thorough curriculum taught me ways to think critically, recognize patterns, and create visualizations to display the analysis done on an index crime dataset. I've taken away the knowledge of how data analysis works and the various skills involved in data analysis,” said Shray Thotangare.
“This internship impacted me in a really positive and beneficial way,” stated Anisha Dasgupta. “Not only did I have the opportunity to learn new skills and implement them throughout the project, but I also got exposed to different aspects of data science which was really interesting.”
By: The Harris Center for Mental Health & IDD

In 2020, Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to be operated through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
988 offers 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing mental health-related distress.

That could be:

  1. Thoughts of suicide
  2. Mental health or substance use crisis, or
  3. Any other kind of emotional distress

People can call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org for themselves or if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

988 serves as a universal entry point so that no matter where you live in the United States, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help via a network of over 200 well-qualified and accredited crisis service organizations.

The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD is proud to serve as one of 5 organizations in the State of Texas to support this important initiative. The Harris Center has been a partner with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for over 10 years and has been working diligently with State and National stakeholders to prepare for the expansion to 988 for almost 2 years.
"The Harris Center for Mental Health & IDD is honored to have the experience and expertise to be chosen to operate the 988 Lifeline for our region. This is an important resource that can help anyone in a critical time of need," said Wayne Young, CEO, Harris Center for Mental Health & IDD.
Within the first few days of the 988 launch in July, we saw an 80% increase in call volume. Looking across the first full seven weeks we are seeing a 38% increase in call volume. The Harris Center is answering calls not only for Harris County but also for 45 other Texas counties. Together, with the 4 other Texas centers, all 254 counties in Texas have a dedicated 988 answering point.
We anticipate that 988 will continue to grow and evolve over the years, much the way 911 and emergency medical services have grown over the past five decades. For more information on 988 please feel free to explore https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/faqs.

The Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) has invited the Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) to speak at their final Deliberate Dialogue on September 29th. This will be held virtually from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher, and Lindsey Linder, Interim Policy Deputy Director will be discussing the work of OJS and how this impacts the criminal justice system with a specific emphasis on domestic violence survivors

You can register in advance for the Deliberate Dialogues: Domestic Violence Cases and The Intersection of Criminal Justice, here: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZckdO-sqzooGNIpFWIh_67SHay2fvaEqS8Z
By: The Office of Court Management

The Court Manager for Harris County Courts at Law has been awarded the 2022 Ernest C. Friesen Award of Excellence for his leadership and achievements in enhancing and improving the administration of justice.

The award was presented to Ed Wells, who leads the Harris County Courts Office of Court Management, a team tasked with providing support and guidance for the 20 Harris County Criminal and Civil Courts at Law, 16 Harris County Justice of the Peace courts, and 12 Harris County magistrates.

Presented by the Justice Management Institute, the honor is bestowed upon individuals who demonstrate vision, leadership, and a sustained commitment to the achievement of excellence in the administration of justice. Recipients are teachers, innovators, and leaders who are passionate about the work, set high expectations, and have the courage to take risks.

In recognizing Wells, The Justice Management Institute noted that he had demonstrated “exemplary leadership” in court management throughout his career — as court manager in Harris County and previously as Clerk of Court for the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals, director of the Galveston County Office of Justice Administration, and court administer for Galveston County.

By: Precinct 4

Precinct 4 road and bridge crews don’t just assist first responders; they are first responders.

When two grass fires broke out near Precinct 4 parks only a week apart, crews were on scene fighting the blazes alongside firefighters.

The first fire ignited near Paul D. Rushing Park on July 26.
“Our crews were out removing trash on our roadways, mowing, and other vital tasks in the Precinct 4 area,” said Mark Noski, assistant superintendent of Precinct 4’s Road & Bridge Department at the Tomball Service Center. “But a little before 3 p.m., a call was received of a grass fire gaining ground in the Katy/Hockley area with Paul D. Rushing Park in its path.”
Crews responded with water trucks and ground support from Katy, Hockley, and Tomball. While road and bridge workers attempted to extinguish the fire, parks staff cleared vegetation to keep the fire from spreading. Within a few hours, the team and firefighters from Cy-Fair and Waller County quashed the blaze before it could damage Rushing Park.

The second fire broke out near Dyess Park on Aug. 4, killing one man.

Precinct 4 crews from Tomball, Bear Creek, and Hockley Camp arrived on the scene in less than an hour with water trucks and dozers to clear brush. Precinct 4 employees fought to protect a nearby home and prevented the fire from spreading to Dyess Park.

Because of their quick thinking, the fires were extinguished before they could spread.
With the fast efforts from our fire departments, parks, and road and bridge crews – and police holding traffic to allow equipment to be brought in – the fire was extinguished within a few hours,” said Noski. “As always, Precinct 4 is ready and willing to be of assistance to our fire and police departments and, most of all, our community.”
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