Vol. 24 | October 2022
In a presentation to the Harris County Commissioners Court on October 25, the Office of County Administration gave an update on the criminal court backlog and the violent crime rate in Harris County, reporting a 12% overall drop in violent crime countywide compared to this time in 2021.

Overall, Harris County’s violent crime rate has decreased by 12% from 2021. The murder and nonnegligent homicide rates have decreased by 13% from 2021. Rape has been reduced by 34% from 2021. Robbery has fallen 11% from 2021. Aggravated Assault has declined by 11% from 2021. The overall violent crime rate, including all of the above four categories, decreased by 12% from 2021 and is 2% lower than in 2018. 
Also given was an update on the criminal case backlog. Following over five years of delays due to Hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic, courts are now operating at full capacity, and the data show a meaningful decrease in criminal and misdemeanor backlog cases. 
  • 58,261 felony cases or an average of over 2,500 cases per District Court were disposed of in the past year. Over 19,500 backlogged felony cases (over 360 days old) were resolved since January 2022, with the overall backlog down 23%.
  • 54,823 misdemeanor cases overall or an average of over 3,400 cases per County Court were disposed of in the past year. Over 28,000 backlogged misdemeanor cases (over 180 days old) were resolved since January 2022, with the overall backlog down 26%.
  • District Court monthly clearance rate, the number of incoming cases divided by the number of cases resolved, sits at 120%; 3-month clearance rate is 115%. A clearance rate of over 100% indicates that the overall number of cases in the criminal justice system has decreased.
  • County Court monthly clearance rate sits at 126%; the 3-month clearance rate is 133%.

To view the full presentation click hereTo view the press release on the crime rate in Harris County, which includes the presentation provided at Commissioners Court and a link to the crime index dashboard click hereThe video presentation can also be viewed here.

Following a discussion with a crime survivor who had not been aware of the resources available to them within Harris County, the Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) decided to create a Resource Guide for crime survivors. 
This guide provides information on a variety of different service providers, from victim advocates with law enforcement to non-profit providers, for various types of victimization. 
The guide is especially useful for those who have experienced victimization but do not necessarily want to report the crime to law enforcement. Most crime survivors learn of services following reporting to law enforcement, but research shows that only 30-50 percent of survivors choose to report. Those who do not may lack the necessary information on resources they can benefit from within Harris County or the City of Houston.
The Guide breaks down services by victimization type, so a survivor can quickly locate the service(s) that would be the most helpful to them, and by Harris County Commissioner Precinct.  
The Guide will be helpful to anyone who has experienced victimization to find the resources that will be most helpful to them in their particular circumstance. It will also be helpful for service providers to connect with other providers and share resources. 

You can find the Survivor of Crime Resource Guide on the OJS website here.  
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
On Friday, October 7, 2022, The Office of Justice and Safety hosted the first in-person public presentation of the ODonnell Consent Decree and held an additional virtual meeting on Thursday, October 13, 2022. The consent decree was created following a class action lawsuit against Harris County from Plaintiff Miranda ODonnell, claiming that the bail system was unconstitutional. Specifically, ODonnell reported that after being arrested for driving with an invalid license, she was detained in Harris County Jail because she could not afford to pay her $2,500 bail. The parties involved in this lawsuit reached a settlement agreement known as the ODonnell Consent Decree.
In that agreement, parties recognized that the input and involvement of Harris County residents would be essential to meaningful and lasting reform and effective for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the system. As a result, public meetings occur every six months. In those meetings, Independent Court Monitors and representatives of the Harris County Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, and Presiding Judge of Criminal Courts at Law will discuss the Monitors’ report, including consent decree implementation updates and completed milestones, and allow for a question and answer forum. The meetings are all simulcasted.

Please click here to view the most recent public meetings.
Recently, Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) held the last in their series of Deliberate Dialogues with criminal justice actors. These were held to give the public and those working with survivors a better understanding of the criminal justice system, how it works, and the various actors within Harris County. HCDVCC hosted the Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) for their sixth and final dialogue on September 29th.  
As part of the dialogue, Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher, and Lindsey Linder, Interim Policy Director, discussed who OJS is, how they came into existence (previously as the Justice Administration Department [JAD]), and how they promote the Harris County Justice and Safety Goal of “promoting safe, healthy, 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.”  
OJS also discussed the importance of Commissioners Court and what they do. OJS shared information on bail, the ODonnell Consent Decree, how this changed misdemeanor bail practices in Harris County, and the various projects of OJS, including all our dashboards and OJS’ role in the implementation and monitoring of the ODonnell Consent Decree.  
OJS also talked in detail about our various survivor-centered projects. This included the Harris County Model U-Visa Certification Policy, the creation of the Harris County Sexual Assault Response Team (HCSART), and the recently completed Survivor of Crime Resource Guide. OJS also identified future projects, such as upcoming reports on family violence and uplifting the voices of all survivors, as well as efforts to develop Trauma Recovery Centers (TRCs).  

Audience members and members of HCDVCC posed insightful and thought-provoking questions throughout to clarify terms or for OJS to provide additional explanations of certain things (e.g., ODonnell). Overall, OJS was grateful to be given the opportunity to present who we are and what we do with such an inviting group.   
To see the entire Deliberate Dialogue series, go to the following link: https://www.hcdvcc.org/deliberate-dialogues/videos/
HCDVCC will be holding a final wrap-up Deliberate Dialogue to conclude their series on November 3rd at 6:30 p.m. You can register on HCDVCC’s website or through this Zoom link. To download the full presentation link, click here.

In September 2022, the Safety + Justice Challenge (SJC) held its first in-person Network Meeting in two years in Atlanta, Georgia. The SJC is a collaborative effort to invest in locally developed, equity-based solutions with a balanced approach to protecting public safety. The network receives support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It includes SJC Partners and Allies that offer on-the-ground support and expertise in addition to a network of 57 participating SJC counties and cities. The goal is to reimagine and rebuild local criminal justice systems by reducing jail incarceration and increasing equity for all. 
Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) team members attending the conference in person included Dr. Arelia Johnson, Racial Disparities and Fairness Administrator; Bryonne Cummings, ODonnell Decree Consent Project Manager; and Alex Luo, Justice Policy Research Analyst. 
The conference theme of “Celebrating Success. Sustaining Progress. Transforming Systems.” aimed to highlight the accomplishments of Network sites over the past six months in reducing local carceral footprints, allowing SJC colleagues to learn from each other and share successful local strategies, and underscore the future investments that must be made to ensure equitable outcomes and true transformation of justice systems. 
Over three days from September 28 to September 30, Strategic Allies and colleagues from SJC sites gathered for thought-provoking plenaries, peer roundtables, and engaging workshops. Discussions touched on various topics that included effective community engagement and communications techniques; strategic consensus building among community partners, system actors, and elected officials; centering racial equity; diversion and reentry efforts for populations with behavioral health and other needs; and more. The conference also highlighted meaningful discussions around effective data collection and management approaches to measuring jail population trends and data needs of courts, public defenders, law enforcement, and other stakeholders. 
Meeting highlights included a Keynote Presentation from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and two panels on policies to increase pretrial release safely. A panel on the Illinois Pretrial Fairness Act discussed the Act’s elimination of money bonds and its potential to reduce unnecessary incarceration for low-level detention and reduce the disparate impacts of incarceration while ensuring community safety. Additionally, a workshop on understanding court nonappearances highlighted Harris County’s mitigation efforts with a presentation from Natalie Michailides, Director of Harris County Pretrial Services, with assistance from Bryonne Cummings
From October 19th-21st, members of the OJS team participated in the statewide Executive Forum for Criminal Justice Planning and Justice Administration hosted by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) at Sam Houston State’s Criminal Justice Center in Huntsville, TX. Also in attendance from Harris County were Natalie Michailides, Director of Pretrial Services, Stephanie Armand, Criminal Division Operations Manager, Criminal Courts, Sylvia Cherry, Court Services Director, Richard Woods, District Courts Administrator, Pamela Davis, Deputy District Courts Administrator, and Amanda Marzullo, Senior Policy Analyst for Commissioner Ellis, Precinct One and Chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Those in attendance explored how to utilize criminal justice data more effectively, best practices to lower the jail population, address case backlogs, and share their experience with these issues in their counties and possible solutions. Participants discussed how they could collectively work together and continue to share ideas and practices on the various criminal justice issues (e.g., jail overcrowding) facing the Counties in Texas to determine the best solutions.
Other participants included criminal justice planners from Travis, El Paso, Dallas, Williamson, Galveston, and Bexar counties.

The conference discussions included a presentation by OJS Survivor of Crime Researcher Dr. Veronyka James on the importance of supporting survivors of family violence, as well as a presentation on racial justice from Edwin Bell, Director of Racial Justice, Equity, and Inclusion at the National Center for State Courts and a presentation on indigent defense from Geoff Burkhart, Executive Director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
OJS is grateful to CMIT for inviting us to present and participate in the forum. The discussions and collaborations with other counties were invaluable.
To view Dr. Veronyka James’s presentation on the importance of supporting survivors of family violence click here.

In 2007, Congress designated September 25th as the National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims. This day is set aside for advocates and the community to commemorate murder victims and surviving family members. It is also a day to honor the work of organizations that provide services to individuals and communities coping with homicide-related deaths. According to the Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), “the purpose of this event is to focus on the impact of murder on families and communities, and ways to support and serve survivors.”  
For the National Day of Remembrance, CrimeStoppers of Houston held an event at their office on the evening of September 25th and invited the Office of Justice and Safety’s Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher. Kelly Venci-Gonzalez, Juvenile Justice Policy Analyst, also attended this event. CrimeStoppers was packed with surviving family members and individuals who came to commemorate murder victims in Houston last year (August 2021 to August 2022) and their surviving family members. There were also individuals in attendance from Houston Police Department (HPD), the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), and the District Attorney’s Office. Additionally, many leaders attending spoke for the first half of the evening. There were also several media outlets in attendance
The evening began with an opening prayer, and CrimeStoppers thanked the officials, victims, and advocates. Many of those there stated that the problems of crime in the County could be solved by working together for solutions to assist crime survivors and hold offenders accountable. District Attorney OggSheriff Gonzalez, and Executive Chief Slinkard of the Houston Police Department spoke, and Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey. There were also 3 out of 4 invited Houston City Council members present, and United States Representative for Texas District 18 Sheila Jackson Lee and Texas State Senator John Whitmire also spoke at the event.  
After these political figures spoke, the floor was opened to any of the survivors in attendance to speak. Many in attendance had unsolved cases. Several talked about losing their loved ones and their frustration with the system (either with not getting answers to their cases, the sentences offenders received, or the criminal justice system as a whole).  
Hearing from survivors about the trauma they suffered from losing their loved ones, compounded with frustrations of not being heard by system actors or of their cases remaining unsolved, highlighted how we must do better for survivors in the County. Survivors need to have their voices heard and not be told what is best for them; survivors should tell systems actors what will be best for them in their specific cases. Survivors have faced barriers and hurdles with the justice system, which delay their healing or traumatizes them. We must fight for survivors, listen to them, and truly help them heal from their trauma.
This impactful night demonstrates how violence impacts individuals, families, and communities. This trauma ripples through communities, leaving devastation in its path. It is incumbent for system actors to be responsive to survivors and families and their input for a more just system. Systems actors should be trauma-informed and responsive in every phase of this complicated process.      

OJS has created an infographic to help you understand the basics of Harris County’s criminal justice system!

This criminal justice system overview includes information on exciting new justice initiatives and resources, such as OJS’s publicly available criminal justice data dashboards.

OJS hopes this infographic will help answer questions you might have about the Harris County criminal justice system.  
A Look at Policy & Partnerships at Work
By: The Quattrone Center

A report released this August by researchers at the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School analyzed the impacts of Harris County’s expansion of pretrial release for people charged with misdemeanors, which began in 2017. Dr. Paul Heaton, whose previous work on pretrial detention in Harris County was cited by the District Court and Fifth Circuit in the ODonnell case, was interested in measuring the impacts of the county’s misdemeanor bail reform. His inquiry focused on a federal injunction implemented in the ODonnell case in 2017 which caused a large jump in the pretrial release rate at a distinct point in time, providing a valuable opportunity to isolate the effects of pretrial policy from other factors that influence case outcomes or crime rates, such as natural disasters or the pandemic.

Heaton and his team worked closely with Office of Safety and Justice staff members AJ Roy and Laura Hogan, who curated OJS’s data warehouse and worked hard to provide anonymized data for the project. The data, which came from various sources in Harris County, including the police, the sheriff’s office, Pretrial Services, and the courts, cover all misdemeanor and felony cases from January 2015 through the present, a total of over 517,000 cases. As part of the research process, the team subjected their primary statistical analysis to numerous quality checks–for example, changing the sample window, using different comparison groups, or excluding certain categories of cases—to ensure their conclusions were robust and reliable.
The study indicated that Harris County’s misdemeanor bail reform was largely a success. The injunction shortened pretrial detention lengths for roughly 12% of misdemeanor defendants, an impact that translates to nearly 100,000 fewer days of custody each year and millions in reduced jail costs for Harris County. Guilty pleas fell by 15% and conviction rates by 9% as a result of the increase in pretrial release rates. The likelihood of a jail sentence also fell by 17%, and the average sentence length among those who received a jail sentence decreased by 15%. Some Harris County residents have expressed concerns that liberalizing pretrial release might increase crime rates, but the report finds no measurable increases in new cases for those exposed to the injunction within one year, and in fact, observes a 6% decrease in new cases among these individuals over the following three years. While the report did find a statistically significant increase in case non-resolution due to releasing more misdemeanor defendants, the effect was small – case resolution rates only fell by one percentage point, from 99 to 98 percent. These findings should reassure other jurisdictions that it is possible to increase pretrial release for people charged with low-level offenses without threatening public safety.
Dr. Heaton presented the results to Commissioners Court on September 27 and the study was well received. The full report is available here and a short video describing the report and its findings are available here.
Data & Analytics News-Bytes
Last month, the OJS Data and Analytics team highlighted the pilot of their high school summer intern program and its inaugural interns, Shay Thotangare and Anisha Dasgupta. Both interns exemplified great aptitude and learned some advanced technical skills critical to completing data analysis during their internship. They can use these newly acquired skills in their future education and career goals.

They wanted to understand the historical and current violent crime rates in their community and the impacts of crime on residents in the community. By gathering unorganized data from multiple sources, the interns applied statistical techniques to organize the data, such as Index Crimes and U.S. Census Data. Once compiled, they analyzed the crime rates to the population census in six highly populated counties in Texas.

What they learned from this analysis was a direct correlation between poverty and violent crimes. They observed that the higher the crime rate of reported communities, the higher their poverty rate. The outcome of the exercise to gather, organize and analyze the data on their community is supported by similar studies in other communities in other states, such as Illinois.

Once they found this correlation, they wanted to share their newly gained knowledge to bring awareness to the community. They furthered their technical skills by developing a product that provided insight and transparency to their study, visually showing the direct correlation. They believed that greater awareness could help their community fix the underlying issues and reduce violent crime.  

An example of their visualizations is below:
OJS found this pilot summer intern program extremely rewarding by teaching youth wanting to learn advanced technical skills and who expressed a desire to make a difference by helping others. OJS is excited to offer this same program next year!
Anisha Dasgupta, Intern,
Office of Justice and Safety,
Data and Analytics
Shray Thotangare, Intern,
Office of Justice and Safety,
Data and Analytics
By: Office of Harris County Commissioners Precinct 4
Victims of violent crime now have more resources in their community. Commissioner R. Jack Cagle opened Precinct 4’s second Victim Support Service Center at Katy Christian Ministries on Monday.
The center will serve as a convenient location close to home for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other violent crimes to meet with trauma nurses and staff of the district attorney's and sheriff's offices. Services that used to take more than 20 hours to complete will now take a fraction of the time.
Victims will also receive a hotel voucher and transportation so they will not have to go back to their attackers in cases of abuse.
"After experiencing trauma, victims shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to pursue charges against their attacker or abuser," said Cagle. "The victim service center provides a safe space for victims to receive the help they need in one location. I hope this center serves as a model for improving victim services across the county."
Cagle opened the first Victim Service and Support Center at the Ponderosa Fire Department in January. The area was formerly in Precinct 4 but was moved to Precinct 3 in last year’s redistricting. He plans to open additional locations in crime hotspots across the precinct.
“Services like these have always been rare outside Beltway 8,” Cagle said. “But crime happens everywhere. I’m proud to continue bringing more services to Precinct 4 residents.”
The new victim service center was made possible through partnerships with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Harris County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners, Northwest Assistance Ministries, and TOMAGWA. TOMAGWA donated a medical bed, and Precinct 4 donated medical supplies.
On November 3, 2022 at 6:30 p.m., the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) will conclude its virtual Deliberate Dialogue series on the intersection of domestic violence and the criminal justice system. This final discussion will summarize what was learned throughout the series with policy recommendations and community action steps to be discussed. Interested attendees can register on HCDVCC’s website – www.hcdvcc.org or through this Zoom link.
HCDVCC’s Deliberate Dialogue monthly series launched in March 2022 to focus on the many different entities and agencies, some more known than others, that are a part of the criminal justice system and who have a significant role in domestic violence cases. By talking to representatives from these agencies and taking a deeper dive into their work and their policies on domestic violence, the Deliberate Dialogue series endeavored to give attendees a collective understanding of all parts of the system and a working knowledge of what agencies are accountable for within the system and how this translates to victim safety and offender accountability. By learning more about each agency and how they interface with each other on domestic violence cases, this series offered information on the big and complex issue of domestic violence and how our community can work better together in addressing some of the gaps and needs for a better community response.

To view past recordings of the series, visit www.hcdvcc.org
KPRC - Ch 2's Khambrel Marshall, hosted Harris County Administrator David Berry as a guest on “Houston Newsmakers” recently. Marshall and Berry talked about the community engagement meetings taking place to provide voters with information on the 1.2 billion dollar bonds that will be on the ballot this election season. To view the full interview click here. To view the additional digital segment click here.
By: Harris County Public Library

Curiosity Cruisers are a fleet of four mobile super libraries on a mission to improve the quality of life for children in Houston through books and early exposure to science. The fleet is outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, including laptops, iPads, 3D printers and a variety of hands-on educational kits, and is staffed by Harris County Public Library Librarians. Each vehicle is customized with accessibility ramps and colorful interiors to spark the imaginations of young patrons. The Curiosity Cruisers travel with two superhero mascots, Owlbotron and Northtale, who engage children to foster a lifetime of curiosity and teach that “reading is a superpower.”

Our super fleet’s origin story begins in 2017 with the partnership with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and its Ladies for Literacy Guild. Since rolling onto the streets of Harris County, we have touched the lives of thousands of children. We served an estimated 24,000 children and logged approximately 45,000 miles in 2021 alone!

This year, with the help of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and other sponsors, we were fortunate to add a fourth vehicle to our fleet to expand the program and increase our impact in our communities across Harris County.
“The addition of the Curiosity Cruiser 4 will allow Harris County Public Library to expand on the 270 programs we presented, and the 25,000 books put in the hands of children last year, said Edward Melton, Executive Director of Harris County Public Library, “Each STREAM program that sparks a child’s curiosity, each book a child can call their own is a building block for a stronger, more resourceful community and a brighter future. Growing our fleet will deliver inspiration and empowerment through literacy to children across the County.”
The vehicles and our librarians attend outreach events where young patrons can clearly see the program's overarching message that reading, curiosity, and learning are valued, rewarding and, most of all fun, and children literally take this message home with them. Each child who attends gets to select a book from the Curiosity Cruiser’s shelves to help start or build their personal library.

Our more in-depth 9-week programs feature our awesome Cruiser librarians who help children at Harris County community centers explore STREAM (Science, Robotics, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) through Virtual Reality, 3D printing, and Coding. As with all our events, these programs culminate with each child boarding the Curiosity Cruiser and selecting a book to call their own.
The Curiosity Cruiser fights for literacy by providing access to terrific books and learning opportunities that lead to lifelong learning. It is a sad fact that many children in Harris County do not have books in their homes, and those children are at higher risk of falling behind their peers academically. Couple that with the fact that there are areas within our county without easy access to libraries, creating book deserts where access to reading material is limited and literacy is in jeopardy. The Curiosity Cruiser fleet targets those areas because access to reading materials helps children to develop a healthy habit of reading and studies show that by reading a wide range of stories, children develop larger vocabularies and stronger oral and written skills which lead to better academic performance.

In its 9-week program, the Curiosity Cruiser also provides STREAM learning. Our STREAM programs offer fun, engaging and hands-on experiences designed to let children discover science concepts and 21st-century technologies. With guidance from our librarians, children explore 3D modeling, robotics, drone programming and virtual reality design.
“You can really see these kids light up when seeing the future of technology and possible careers,” says Kelly Hayden, the Curiosity Cruiser Programming Coordinator, “They say things like ‘I had no idea it was this easy to make a video game’ or ‘I’ve never seen a robot in person.’”
When literacy rates rise, we all benefit. From a stronger, more adaptable workforce to a more engaged and informed electorate, universal literacy is the key. You and your county department can help HCPL promote literacy and lifelong learning.

For individuals:
  • Find out more about HCPL and all the services we offer. From cutting-edge Maker Labs to Passport Services, it just might surprise you.
  • Join your local HCPL branch’s Friends of the Library group or become a volunteer adult literacy, English language learning, or citizenship tutor.

For County Departments:
  • We would love to partner with you for in-library programs that highlight your department’s services. Contact any of our 26 branch locations to explore programming opportunities.
  • We can provide you with a variety of the library’s promotional materials including the Library User’s Manual, bookmarks, and flyers to have on hand for your clientele.
  •  HCPL has a robust social media presence with a highly engaged audience. Find us at @harriscountypl, Share library content on your social media. and let us know how we can help promote your initiatives and services on ours.

If your department would like to have the Curiosity Cruiser visit an event or a location
  • The Curiosity Cruiser is available for select events up to 3 months in advance.
  • For more information about the Cruiser and our programs, please visit www.curiositycruiser.org
  • Please keep in mind that events and community centers must meet certain criteria for one of our vehicles and staff to participate but we are always seeking new communities and events to visit. Please email curiositycruiser@hcpl.net if you have any questions.
In The News
Houston Public Media: How rhetoric about bail reform is shaping the upcoming election in Harris County
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