Vol. 29 | March 2023
Harris County’s historic misdemeanor bail reform, the ODonnell Consent Decree, was settled in federal court and approved by Commissioners Court on November 21, 2019. The consent decree represents the first federal court-supervised remedy governing bail. Settlement parties agreed to a seven-year comprehensive implementation plan with oversight by an independent federal court monitor. On March 3, 2020, the federal court-appointed Independent Monitor'sProfessor Brandon Garrett of Duke University School of Law, Deputy Monitor Sandra Guerra Thompson of University of Houston Law Center, and research experts from the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A& M University and the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke University School of Law to report progress of the consent decree.

In compliance with the consent decree, a progress report is provided to the federal court every six months for the first three years until March 2023, and then annually until the conclusion of all implementation, scheduled for March 2026.

Their sixth report, filed on March 3, 2023 in year three of the monitorship, highlighted Harris County’s significant consent decree accomplishments, Accomplishments included the presentation of a plan to improve nonappearance with an approved budget allocation; improvement of data regarding persons flagged as homeless or with mental health assessment requests; the procurement of Deason Criminal Justice Reform, SMU Dedman School of Law, to administer the required compliance training; and work on improving indigent defense and bail decisions. Overall, the bail reforms under the ODonnell Consent Decree have saved both Harris County and its residents millions of dollars. The number of those arrested for misdemeanors who had new charges filed within a year has declined, while repeat offending by persons arrested for misdemeanors has remained stable.

Their sixth report also featured the third edition of Community Viewpoints. Deputy Monitor Sandra Guerra Thompson interviewed Sybil Sybille and Tara Grigg Green, two ODonnell Community Working Group members, on “The Role of Trauma in the Criminal Justice System: Women, Foster Children, and Veterans.”

Lastly, the Monitor Team thoroughly detailed their work on policy assessments and reporting, reviewal of the implementation of Criminal Courts at Law and Office of Court Management court appearance process and electronic court notification system, updates on all of the misdemeanor Harris County criminal justice stakeholders, [LA(1] and a data analysis and cost study. The data analysis included richer and more comprehensive data; however, their findings essentially confirmed previous reports. All independent monitor reports can be found https://sites.law.duke.edu/odonnellmonitor/ and https://ojs.harriscountytx.gov/ODonnell-Consent-Decree.

Register here for a virtual public meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, at 6 PM.
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
On February 15, 2023 the Harris County Sheriff’s Office inaugurated the Women’s Empowerment Center, a new gender-responsive, reentry-focused facility for women in custody. The Center will hold minimum and medium-security women and will provide a more holistic environment that focuses on treatment, services, and reentry, with the aim of offering wraparound programming to better prepare women for reentry and connect them with vital supports after release.

The Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the facility with community members and County stakeholders. At the ceremony, Sheriff Gonzalez spoke powerfully about the importance of treating individuals humanely and providing them with the tools to address their underlying needs and support a successful transition back into their communities. Commissioner Briones spoke about the potential of a program like the Women’s Center in addressing the unique vulnerabilities of incarcerated women. The tour of the facility included views of computer labs and classrooms designed for vocational training and remote learning, a cosmetology room where residents can complete cosmetology training programs, a recreational yard that will house a gardening program, rooms designed for small counseling sessions, and community and exercise spaces. The tour also included a view of the visitation area, which has been transformed by a vibrant, floor-to-ceiling mural entitled “A Better Tomorrow” that was painted by Houston-based artist Zsavon Butler. Butler described the mural’s themes as ones of protection, transformation, and growth.
OJS is partnering with County stakeholders to help support a reentry-focused environment and services at the Center. The Women’s Empowerment Center is an important step towards taking a less punitive and more holistic, trauma-informed approach to meeting the needs of incarcerated women in Harris County. Women in jails enter with high rates of mental health challenges, substance use disorders, poverty, and histories of trauma and victimization. A majority of women in jail are also mothers and single parents, with needs relating to their children and to building social connections and healthy relationships. All of these factors make women particularly vulnerable within a jail environment, yet most jails are not designed for women. Investing in addressing women’s needs during their time in custody will help to break cycles of reoffending and reincarceration and support healthier communities.

OJS Policy Director Lindsey Linder attended the 36th Annual Juvenile Law Conference from February 19-22 in Horseshoe Bay, Texas. The conference brought together juvenile justice practitioners from across the state, including judges, probation officers, attorneys, service providers, and more. Sessions included discussions around the issues of magistration and detention hearings—including ethical considerations—special education, child welfare, diversion, mental health, and trauma.
Linder especially appreciated the legislative preview on juvenile justice issues of import currently before the Texas Legislature presented by Tarrant County judge Riley Shaw.

She also enjoyed visiting with justice professionals from counties across the state, learning more about juvenile operations in other jurisdictions, and brainstorming solutions to common problems. OJS would like to thank the Juvenile Law Section of the Texas State Bar for hosting the event. 
Established in 1963, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) is an international association created to foster scholarly and professional activities within the field of criminal justice. ACJS promotes research, policy analysis, and education within this discipline for both practitioners and educators. There are over 1,400 members of ACJS representing all states in the United States, and many countries internationally as well. ACJS holds a meeting annually to discuss various topics in criminal justice, including teaching, policy analysis, and the latest research within the field.  
The 60th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) was held this month in National Harbor, MD, just outside Washington, D.C. This year’s theme was “60 Years of ACJS: Critical Connections between Civil Rights, Crime, and Social Justice”. OJS’s Dr. Veronyka James, Survivor of Crime Researcher, had the opportunity to attend and present at this year’s conference.  
Dr. James presented a workshop on tips for government job seekers and was a part of two roundtables—one discussing mentoring relationships, and one discussing healthy boundary setting. The first roundtable focused on mentoring and discussed the mentoring individuals have received during academia or in their professional roles, how to be good mentors, and how to “pay forward” mentoring to the next generation. The second roundtable focused on boundary setting and work-life balance. In collaboration with the ACJS Employment Exchange Program Committee, Dr. James also hosted a workshop on tips for government job seekers. She discussed tips on how to locate government jobs, applying for and interviewing for these positions, and how these positions compare with academic appointments. She also discussed her role within OJS and some of the projects she and the Policy Team have worked on, including but not limited to, the U visa policy, the creation of the Harris County Sexual Assault Team (SART), and the Women’s Empowerment Center.    
In addition to presenting, Dr. James also attended various sessions while at ACJS. These included sessions on family violence, the effectiveness of child advocacy centers, domestic violence and veterans, and gendered differences in offending. She also attended a keynote speech by Chef Chad Houser which detailed his creation of Café Momentum in Dallas, TX. Café Momentum helps justice-involved youth by providing paid internships with the restaurant where they learn life skills and financial literacy, and provides support and care for these youth to thrive. Dr. James also met and discussed criminal justice issues and policies with various practitioners and academics from the United States and abroad including information on Harris County’s U visa policy, the Women’s Empowerment Center, the Youth Reinvestment Fund, and various other OJS projects completed or in progress. She also served as Chair of the Police Section while at the conference. In this role, she helped organize and host the section’s successful business meeting and reception and also helped with organizing the first-ever joint section reception for all thirteen (13) ACJS sections.  
Dr. James looks forward to bringing back the knowledge and connections she attained while at the conference and sharing them with academics and practitioners in Harris County. She will continue the conversations she had on the various ways to best support all survivors of crime. 
Spotlight on Media & News Announcements

The Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee, a standing committee of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, is presenting Centering [Racial] Disparity and Highlighting Fairness in the Harris County Criminal Justice System which will be held at the Anderson-Clarke Center on the Campus at Rice University May 18 and 19, 2023.
“We continue to see massive racial disparities throughout our criminal justice system that affect people and their families well beyond a single court case. To ensure fair and equal treatment for everyone in Harris County, we must get to the root causes underlying racial disparities and our system of mass incarceration. This conference will bring together practitioners and those directly affected by the criminal justice system, a vital step in making the system more just for all,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
Through a series of roundtable discussions, breakout sessions, and speakers, the conference seeks to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities across the Harris County Criminal Justice System by highlighting best practices and solutions for reducing inequalities amongst the most vulnerable populations.
“This practitioner-focused conference is one of many strategic efforts to improve our criminal justice system so that all who enter are assured they will receive equal treatment in Harris County,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia
The conference will feature as its keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling author and distinguished professor and media personality, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. Authoring over 25 books, Dr. Dyson is widely acclaimed for his insights on race, social injustice, and contemporary culture.
“The conference goal is to register 240 Harris County criminal justice stakeholders at no cost. Law enforcement agents and participating attorneys will earn Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits, and provide feedback on how Harris County can continually support fairness,” stated Dr. Arelia Johnson, Racial Disparities and Fairness Administrator with the Harris County Office of Justice and Safety. “There is much we can all learn, share, and collaborate on to make a powerful difference in maintaining efforts to engage community members, criminal justice system stakeholders, partners, organizations, and academics that work with populations impacted at varying systemic levels.”
“None of us woke up this morning to the surprise that indigent people and people of color are disproportionately represented in most jails across the country. The issue of racial disparities in criminal justice is serious, pervasive, and will not be solved overnight,” said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Therefore, it is important for local government to support and facilitate ways (like this conference) for our communities, law enforcement, and all justice actors to interact and share ideas on how to reduce these disparities together.”
This inaugural conference is supported by the MacArthur Foundation through the Safety and Justice Challenge and the Rice University Police Department and is being hosted by the Office of Justice and Safety.

Harris County is one of the Safety and Justice Challenge implementation sites that has been charged with understanding the characteristics of jurisdictions that successfully address racial and ethnic disparities.

Please join us May 18-19, 2023, by registering using this link: CONFERENCE REGISTRATION

For more information, please click here to contact, Dr. Arelia Johnson, Racial Disparities and Fairness Administrator, at the Office of Justice and Safety.
By: Office of Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones

In a majority vote during the March 14 meeting of Commissioners Court, Harris County Commissioners approved a holistic Justice and Safety Package to alleviate the court case backlog. Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones — through a collaborative effort with other court members including Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis —introduced the Package, which aims to improve justice and safety in Harris County by addressing multiple facets of the criminal justice system.  

The Package includes a resolution by Commissioner Garcia supporting the creation of six new district courts; a request to develop plans to expand the Holistic Assistance Response Teams (HART) program and to add capacity to the Public Defender’s Office; and a request to identify and implement best practices in the courts to further reduce the backlog, improve the quality of justice, and create cost savings for the County.   

Commissioner Briones’ prior experience as a judge informs her understanding of the issue, and she knows judges need additional resources to continue addressing the current caseload. In line with the holistic approach to criminal justice championed by Commissioner Ellis, the Package also takes a proactive, data-driven look at the criminal justice system, from identifying opportunities to reduce involvement on the front end to addressing various points in the system through disposition and sentencing.  

Commissioner Briones sees the importance of looking at each part of the highly interdependent criminal justice system and characterizes her approach to public safety as a “both-and” mindset. She is proud to both stand with law enforcement and advocate for indigent defense, and she believes these synergistic investments in data-driven solutions throughout the system will deliver on what we all deserve: to be safe, to have our rights protected, and to have access to justice.
James Driver Fully Inclusive Park is recognized by the Urban Land Institute and the Houston-Galveston Area Council.
By: Office of Precinct 2 Commissioner Garcia

James Driver Inclusive Park has received multiple recognitions this month. The Houston District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) awarded the Fully Inclusive Park two Development of Distinction Awards. James Driver, Precinct 2’s flagship recreation space, was chosen as the best in the open space category, while also winning the coveted People’s Choice Award. The park also received recognition from Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) annual Parks and Natural Areas Awards Program. 
“When we first conceptualized James Driver as a fully inclusive park, we didn’t do it for awards or honors; we did it for the families who previously didn’t have a space where everyone can play together, regardless of their abilities,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “It is a place that is truly made for the public, regardless of ability, age, or economic status. The joy that James Driver has continually produced since its opening is the true measurement of success. Nonetheless, I am extremely grateful to the folks who chose James Driver for this distinction.”
James Driver Park was designed by 4 and 1 Landscape Architecture. Project Manager, Tara Klein, submitted the award application on behalf of the project.
“We wanted the county to get acknowledged for their vision. Commissioner and the team at Precinct 2 went all in to make sure that the parks’ amenities went above and beyond basic ADA functionality,” said Klein. “We will continue to submit James Driver Inclusive Park even at the National level for award opportunities, including the ULI Americas Award. I am hopeful that if other communities see the success of James Diver Inclusive Park, it will become the catalyst to make all parks inclusive.”
James Driver Park was one of 6 spaces located within Pct. 2 to be chosen as finalists for ULI Development of Distinction Awards. The other nominees from within the Pct. 2 boundaries were Houston Farmers Market (Finalist, For-Profit Large Category & Winner of Renewal Award), The Plant at Harrisburg (Winner of the For-Profit Small Category), The Center for Pursuit, Avenue Center, and East Aldine Town Center (Finalists, Not-For-Profit Category).

Pct. 2 Parks Director Chris Saddler accepted the awards on behalf of Commissioner Garcia.
“The work we did on James Driver Fully Inclusive Park is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on,” Saddler said. “This recognition from ULI and the voters who chose it for the People’s Choice Award validates how important this space is for the Aldine and surrounding community.”
In an additional honor received this month, James Driver was chosen as the winner of Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Annual Parks and Natural Areas over-$500,000 project award. H-GAC selects park projects that serve as models for planning and implementation in the region each year.
A video application for James Driver Park’s ULI Award can be found by clicking here. More from the 2023 Awards Program is available on the Houston ULI website. For more information about the H-GAC Award, click here.
By: Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office
The Precinct 4 Constable’s office is proud to announce the newest Police K9 in Precinct 4, K9 " Tejas Briones “ and his handler, Deputy Michael Aspras. Our newest K9 is proudly named after Commissioner Lesley Briones! 
Commissioner Briones since being elected has been a strong supporter of our agency and public safety throughout our county! 
The name “Tejas” means friend and ally and was picked by Commissioner Briones and her beautiful daughters. 
Deputy  Aspras who is one of our newest  K9 handlers, and his partner. K9 “ Tejas Briones “  is a  2-year-old Belgian Malinois trained in search and rescue,  criminal apprehension, and narcotics detection. 
Both are already on the streets helping make Precinct 4 a safer place to live, work and visit. 
K9 “ Tejas Briones “ was generously donated to Constable Mark Herman’s Office by our friends and partners at K9s4Cops. For more information on how to support this incredible organization, please visit www.k9s4cops.org
Follow at Facebook.com/Precinct4 and download our new mobile app “C4 NOW” to receive live feeds on crime, arrests, safety tips, traffic accidents, and road conditions in your area

(Image Courtesy Harris County Precinct 4's Office)
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