Vol. 25 | November 2022
Lina Hidalgo
Harris County
Adrian Garcia
Harris County, Commissioner Precinct 2
Lesley Briones
Harris County, Commissioner Elect - Precinct 4

On behalf of the Office of Justice and Safety we are pleased to congratulate newly elected and re-elected members of the Commissioners Court on your success in the recent election. We appreciate your hard work and commitment to serving Harris County. We also extend our sincere congratulations to all newly elected and re-elected officials in Harris County. Thank you for the hard work you are doing and will be doing to make a safer and prosperous Harris County.
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD) invited the Office of Justice and Safety’s Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher and Specialist, to present at their Interagency Meeting. They host this meeting every other month as a way to network and gain more knowledge about other victim assistance agencies in the County.   
On November 10, 2022, Dr. James presented at this Interagency Meeting, their last one of the year, discussing the background of OJS, what we do, and the projects we’ve completed or are working on focusing on survivors of crime. She highlighted OJS’s data dashboards, the projects completed on U-Visa certification policies, the creation of the Harris County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), and the Survivor of Crime Resource Guide. Dr. James also provided information on projects OJS is currently working on, for example, the forthcoming family violence report.  
OJS thanks the Community Supervision and Corrections Department for inviting us to speak at their meeting and allowing us to share about OJS’s efforts to support survivors. 

Click here to view the presentation.

The Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) policy team was invited to tour The Harris Center’s Respite, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (RRR) Center. The Harris Center’s Chief Executive Officer, Wayne Young, along with Amanda Jones, Director of Government and Public Affairs, and Shalanda Williams, Director of Reentry Programming, led the team on a tour of the new facility.
The tour commenced with an overview from Mr. Young on the history and future of Harris Center, including its strategic plan. The RRR Center provides housing and services to address the psychological, emotional, occupational, and health needs of individuals impacted by the system. Programs include a jail diversion program; mental health supported housing, outpatient competency restoration services, hospital-to-home services, and jail reentry support. The RRR Center is also building a 26-apartment complex for those in need of housing assistance and continuous on-site support.
During the tour, the team witnessed firsthand some of the amazing services offered and the impact the RRR Center is making on the countless individuals they serve.


The 77th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) was held in Atlanta, GA, November 15-18. The American Society of Criminology (ASC) is an international criminology and criminal justice organization whose members pursue professional and scholarly knowledge concerning crime, criminal justice, deviance, and delinquency. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Seeking Justice: Reconciling with our Past, Reimagining the Future.” Over three- thousand criminologists, practitioners, and academicians from several states and countries attended this year’s conference to discuss the latest research in the field and various criminal justice policies, both domestically and worldwide.
The Office of Justice and Safety’s, Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher and Specialist, had the opportunity to attend and participate in the lightning talk on police accountability at this year’s conference. At this talk, she discussed the OJS’s forthcoming use-of-force policy and guide as well as OJS’s data dashboards. In addition to contributing to the lightning talk on police accountability, Dr. James attended numerous sessions while at ASC. These included sessions on the impact of COVID-19 and domestic violence, survivor criminology, and media portrayals of survivors and killers. Dr. James learned how the media portrays survivors, particularly POC versus white survivors and why language matters, and how victim service providers reacted to the increase in domestic violence calls in response to COVID-19. Dr. James also was able to meet at talk with members of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, Lenore Anderson, President, and Aswad Thomas, Vice-President and National Director of Crime Survivors of Safety and Justice. Dr. James listened to Ms. Anderson’s speech on mass incarceration and how the justice system needs to change to fully take in the perspectives of survivors and watch as they received the American Society of Criminology’s President’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Justice.
Dr. James also was able to meet and discuss various criminal justice issues and policies with various practitioners and academicians who attended from various states and around the world, including but not limited to: Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Australia, Georgia, Indiana, West Virginia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
Dr. James also discussed OJS’s survivor of crime work, particularly the Model U-Visa Policy, the Harris County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), the Survivor of Crime Resource Guide, and the forthcoming family violence report.
Dr. James looks forward to bringing back the knowledge she attained while at the conference and sharing it with OJS, as well as the connections with practitioners and academics. She plans to continue the conversations on improving survivors’ rights and reforming the criminal justice system with OJS and other criminal justice actors in the County.
Earlier this year, The Office of Justice and Safety collaborated with Collective Action for Youth, or CA4Y, to form the OJS Youth Advisory Board with a generous grant from Annie E. Casey Foundation. CA4Y is an organization committed to developing a foundation of understanding, learning, and trust-building required for systems change of impacted youth and families. This Advisory Board is a group of systems-impacted young persons who provide input on juvenile justice matters. To date, the group has met six times and discussed everything from youth firearm violence to incarceration and reentry. Workgroups help youth understand the current workings of the criminal and juvenile justice system while developing leadership skills to foster change in the community. At one recent meeting, a panel of formerly incarcerated young people discussed how incarceration impacted them. Most panelists recounted that they believe things might have turned out differently had they had more supervision and structure during their formative years. One panelist mentioned that he had always been a part of a “system” and really did not know what life was like without one. Growing up in foster care bouncing from one home to another, as his mother was incarcerated and his father unknown, he ended up in the juvenile justice system for fighting at school and then in the criminal justice system. Another panelist lamented that he was exposed to the criminal element after his father was released from prison. Most youth participants agreed that structure, strong positive parental involvement, curfews, and activities to keep youth involved were very important to avoid criminal justice contact, but it was sometimes hard to do, especially when it was so easy to hang out with the wrong crowd.
On November 10, 2022, Harris County also had the opportunity to attend and participate in Table Talk, sponsored by Collective Action for Youth (CA4Y) at Hester House. Table Talk provided an opportunity for stakeholders of the community and families to participate in conversations about the importance of community during a seated family-style meal. Stakeholders, youth, and family members participated in a guided conversation about the impact of justice involvement on the community where they reside. This session of Table Talk created a safe space for open and transparent conversations about systems transformation and the community. The families that participated felt a deeper connection with agencies, such as Change Happens, Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, Office of Justice and Safety, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Last month, Casey Foundation announced they will fund the advisory board for an additional year.

As Harris County works to increase the availability of community-based support for at-risk youth, the Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund is an important step in providing young persons with opportunities to remain engaged in pro-social activities during the inherently turbulent teenage years. The reinvestment fund will finance grassroots organizations to provide community-based programming with the aim of keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system or community-based intervention if a youth is justice-involved. The application period for non-profit organizations to apply for funding closed in early October with a robust response from community-based organizations. Harris County looks forward to announcing sub-grantee awards in December of this year. The fund is administered in partnership with Juvenile Probation Department, Office of Justice and Safety, and Change Happens. Information can be found at: https://www.changehappenstx.org/ or contact Kelly Venci Gonzalez at Kelly.vencigonzalez@jad.hctx.net
OJS Hosts Violence Prevention Partners for Friendsgiving
The OJS team is grateful to members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Public Health, Juvenile Probation, and others for breaking bread with us in celebration of a year of collaboration around preventing violence in Harris County.

We are excited to continue partnering with stakeholders from across Harris County to further advance violence prevention initiatives so that all Harris County residents can live in safe, healthy, and thriving communities.
A Spotlight on Domestic Violence Awareness Month Event with OJS Partners From October
On Tuesday, October 18, 2022, the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) held a press conference to honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month, celebrate 45 years of helping survivors, and announce information about their new locations to offer even more services to those affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking. Event speakers included Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Congressman Al Green, Houston City Councilmember Abbie Kamin, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, along with leaders from HAWC and the Houston Police Department (HPD). 

HAWC leaders, including CEO Emilee Whitehurst and Deputy CEO Sonia Corrales, discussed their new residential campus which will have 135 units for emergency shelter, along with four Survivor Empowerment hubs situated in various locations across Houston. The new main campus will be 15,000 square feet and have the capacity to serve 360 women and children. It will include an elementary school approved by Houston Independent School District (HISD) and a childcare center. The facility will also feature behavioral health services and counseling, a career counseling and financial empowerment center, and other services focused on helping survivors heal. HAWC expects to break ground on the new facility in December and have all four Survivor Empowerment hubs operational by the first quarter of 2023. 
Following the press conference, HAWC hosted a small reception for those in attendance to learn more about the #HAWCFutureForward campaign, including expansion plans, the new facility, and their mission to help survivors and eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault in the community. 
To learn more about HAWC and its services, refer to their website: https://hawc.org/.
HAWC also offers two free, confidential 24-hour hotlines for safety planning, counseling, information, and/or referral. Domestic Violence Hotline: 713-528-2121; Sexual Assault Hotline: 713-528-7273. 
Ending Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO), held its first, Celebrating Survivors: Victim Voices Panel on Tuesday, October 25th They were joined in this event by the Houston Police Department (HPD) and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). This event was bilingual and presented in both English and Spanish, with Officer Robles of the HPD translating for those in attendance. The goal of the event was to highlight survivors for their bravery and to share information and tips on how to break the cycle of violence, as well as provide resources for survivors or those who know survivors to leave an abusive relationship.  
The event started with an introduction from District Attorney Ogg. She recognized certain individuals in attendance, such as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess, and various service providers including, but not limited to Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) and Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA), and members of law enforcement. DA Ogg also called on those in attendance and watching virtually to empower others to do something about an abusive relationship, whether that means calling law enforcement or reaching out to a victim service provider, such as HAWC to get information and resources.  
In addition to DA Ogg, the first panel was the Survivor Panel and included Mary McFaden, Domestic Violence Division Chief at the HCDAO and two domestic violence survivors, Tammy Rodriguez and Ramya Varanasi. As part of this panel, the two survivors shared their stories of experiencing domestic violence and how they left these abusive situations. Both provided advice to those who may currently be in abusive relationships to not be afraid and to make a change. Both discussed how there are many resources available for survivors to get assistance to leave the abusive situation, even resources for immigrant survivors or survivors who are unsure of their rights.  
The second panel of the evening was the First Responder Panel which included law enforcement speaking of the resources available for survivors. This consisted of Lt. Pleasant with HPD, and Officer Magallanes with HCSO, Assistant District Attorney Vanessa Goussen and Assistant District Attorney Chief Stephany Abner. This panel discussed the process of reporting domestic violence to law enforcement and the steps taken following the report. Lt. Pleasant provided information on HPD’s Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) and what happens following the report (e.g., evidence collection, investigator follow-up, etc.). Officer Magallanes provided information on HCSO’s Sheriff’s Mobile Advocacy Response Team (SMART), which is similar to HPD’s DART, and reiterated much of the information provided by Lt. Pleasant. The Assistant District Attorney’s discussed what a protective order is and what limits it places on abusers and the resources that the HCDAO provides survivors. All information was again presented in both English and Spanish.  
This event highlighted the need to have survivors share their stories, and to not only hear, but listen to the survivors. Not only what they endured, but what they need to heal from the trauma experienced and start thriving. It also provided various information on resources available to survivors. Breaking the cycle of violence and preventing future violence requires the whole community to be invested in listening to survivors, sharing resources and working together towards this goal.  
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, the following can be contacted for resources, information, or assistance: 
Houston Police Department (HPD) Victim Services: https://www.houstontx.gov/police/victim_services/index.htm; 713-308-0080 
Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Crime Victims’ Assistance Unit: https://harriscountyso.org/Services/CRIMEVICTIMSASSISTANCEUNIT; 713-274-9369 
Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO) Domestic Violence Division: https://app.dao.hctx.net/victim-services/domestic-violence-division; 713-274-0212 
Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC): https://hawc.org/; 713-528-2121 (domestic violence 24/7 hotline); 713-528-7273 (sexual assault 24/7 hotline) 
Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA): https://avda.org/; 713-224-9911 
Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC): https://www.hcdvcc.org/; 281-400-3680 
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 
You can also refer to the Survivor of Crime Resource Guide for other resources here
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