Vol. 30 | April 2023
Second Chance Month
April marks Second Chance Month, a nationwide awareness effort to recognize the value of helping formally incarcerated individuals reenter society following completion of their sentences to become contributing citizens. Addressing the root causes and underlying needs is a vital piece of the puzzle when helping those to reenter society from the criminal and juvenile justice systems. This effort helps to provide rehabilitation, trauma-informed care, resources devoted to prevention, and social support.

To recognize April as Second Chance Month, we wanted to share some of the work that Harris County is doing to help those reentering society. In July 2021, the Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to establish ACCESS Harris County within the Harris County Public Health Department. ACCESS (Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self Sufficiency) is an integrated care-coordination model that works to improve outcomes for vulnerable individuals through a multi-interdepartmental disciplinary team or care coordination team.

ACCESS will launch five cohort areas, Violence Prevention, Homeless/Physical/Behavioral Health, Black Maternal Health, Transitional Age Youth, and Reentry, to address social determinants of health within the County. To ensure all cohort programs are successful, ACCESS Harris collaborates with a variety of agencies and organizations, known as the Safety Net Collaborative, to serve the varying populations, which include:

  • The Harris Center for Mental Health & IDD
  • Harris County Resources for Children and Adults
  • Harris County Department of Education
  • Harris County Sheriff’s Office
  • Community Supervision & Corrections Department (Adult Probation Officer)
  • Department of Economic, Equity, and Opportunity
  • Harris Health System
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division Region III/Area Agency on Parole
  • Harris County Community Services Department
  • Harris County Housing Authority
  • Harris Health System
  • Harris County Libraries
  • Harris County Office of Justice and Safety

The Collaborative meets monthly to discuss the progress of ACCESS Harris and provides a space for leading agencies to contribute to the outcomes of each cohort. The Harris County Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) began collaborating with ACCESS Harris when the Safety Net Collaborative launched. Dr. Natosha Willis, Justice Policy Research Analyst with the OJS, began meeting with ACCESS Harris team members in September 2022 to provide recommendations on the reentry cohort KPIs and essential roles needed for the coordinated care team. Most recently, Dr. Willis and Alex Luo, a Justice Policy Research Analyst with the OJS, participated in workflow trainings with IBM to provide feedback on the case management system that the ACCESS Harris Reentry team members will utilize.

Reentry programming is a growing need within the County. Individuals who have been impacted by the criminal justice system often face a number of challenges and barriers when reentering society. The ACCESS Harris Reentry Cohort will support system-impacted individuals and seeks to break the cycle of recidivism by providing integrated services to address the most pressing needs that create barriers to improving their lives. The coordinated care team will provide services and resources to ensure their transition is successful, decreasing the likelihood that they will recidivate. Services include employment, education, housing, and food assistance, resources for medical and behavioral health assistance, substance abuse services, and other resources to aid in a successful transition. Being a piloted program, ACCESS will initially assist 200 to 300 participants in the reentry cohort.

ACCESS Reentry will serve the Harris County Jail, probation services, organizations that serve justice-impacted individuals, other ACCESS Harris cohorts, and the newly redesigned Little Baker/Women’s Empowerment Center. The ACCESS reentry cohort seeks to hire more than 20 positions to assist with participants' different needs. Positions will include care-coordination workers, reentry specialists, social workers, case managers, substance abuse counselors, and more. This is an exciting time for Public Health and the County. ACCESS Harris County plans to launch the reentry cohort service in the Summer of 2023. 
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
On March 30, 2023, Drs. Veronyka James and Natosha Willis attended Survivors Speak Texas at the State Capitol in Austin. Survivors Speak is hosted by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), a national network of nearly 200,000 crime survivors who are committed to creating healing communities and shaping public policy that makes all communities safe. The largest gathering of crime survivors in the country, Survivors Speak is an annual event held nationally across ten states. Within Texas, there are eight active chapters and one developing. Five chapters participated in the Survivors Speak Texas event on the 30th with approximately 125 in attendance. This is the second Survivor Speak event in Texas.

Each chapter provided members and supporting participants transportation to Austin from their respective cities. The event commenced with a short march to the Texas State Capitol building followed by a press conference and vigil in the rotunda of the Capitol. During the press conference, CSSJ leaders and advocates spoke, including Representative Mary González of District 75, Kimberly Youngblood, CSSJ Texas Statewide Manager, Terra Tucker, Texas State Director, and Aswad Thomas, Vice President of Alliance for Safety and Justice and National Director for CSSJ. Representative González thanked survivors for attending and sharing their stories while encouraging them to continue advocating for system-wide change. Each spoke on the courageous work of survivors and the current bills at the legislature this session.

The bills include:
  • SB 49/HB 250, Survivor Bill: This bill will increase the level of support survivors need to cover relocation costs; allows increases in the caps on compensation survivors may receive to cover bereavement loss of earnings and relocation; and expand eligibility to support all household members of the direct victim and all family members, even if the household member is not related by blood or marriage to the direct victim. HB 250 passed out of committee.

  • SB 499/HB 1737, Clean Slate Automation Bill: This bill will automate criminal record nondisclosure for qualifying offenses following the successful completion of a period of deferred adjudication community supervision. Given that the process for obtaining nondisclosure can be arduous and costly, this will save valuable time and court resources, as well as prevent eligible people from having to pay fees and attorney costs. Ultimately allowing more Texans the opportunity to improve their stability and self-sufficiency. HB 1737 passed out of committee.

  • HB 5114, Community Supervision Bill: This bill will award work-for-time credits to certain persons placed on community supervision or released on parole or to mandatory supervision. The bill allows for individuals who maintain employment to receive time credits that count towards the completion of their parole or supervision period.
During the vigil, a few survivors were given the opportunity to share their stories. Following the conference, attendees gathered outside for lunch and healing activities which included dancing, art therapy, yoga, and massages. Survivors gathered to share stories and shared lived experiences. CSSJ noted the first Survivors Speak Texas event was a success as survivors established community and contributed to the passing of HB 385 and SB 957 during the last legislative session. All of the attendees this year are hoping the same to be true because, as they chanted on the way to the Capitol, “When survivors speak, change happens”!
The ODonnell Monitors released their sixth six-month report on March 3, 2023, and held public meetings in person on March 24, 2023, and virtually on April 11, 2023, to discuss the report and answer any questions from the public. 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.
In this meeting, Professor Brandon Garrett highlighted high-level conclusions observed since the beginning of the monitoring period in 2020 through now and touched on some new items in this report.   
This report includes much better-identified data on the unhoused and mental health population. These vulnerable populations are likelier to cycle through the system more often than others, even with the consent decree in effect,. The report also touches on cases processed in the dockets and the step-down program by the Harvard Kennedy School. This pilot program was launched in October 2020 and has seen over 2,000 clients receive reduced supervision with no changes in compliance or re-arrest rates.   
Professor Guerra Thompson highlighted the collaborative efforts of all parties in Harris County who have worked together to improve all aspects necessary for the consent decree implementation. She highlighted OJS‘s work on the bail dashboard to give data access to the public and provide transparency. She also expressed gratitude for the data assistance from HPD, which is not a party to the lawsuit, to give a broader view of the issues. We are seeing much progress because thousands of people who would have spent days or weeks in jail before the consent decree and cost thousands to the county are now being released quickly.  
You can read the full report here
About the ODonnell Consent Decree Monitors 
Duke Law professor Brandon Garrett was appointed independent monitor and directs the seven-year monitoring project, including ongoing analysis of Harris County data and intensive stakeholder engagement. He works closely with deputy monitor Sandra Guerra Thompson, professor of law and director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center, and Dr. Dottie Carmichael of the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University. Dr. Songman Kang of Duke University and Hanyang University (Korea) also plays a crucial role in data analysis for the monitorship. 

This month, OJS Policy Director Lindsey Linder joined Richard Woods and Stephanie Armand from the Harris County District Courts, as well as Ed Wells and Sylvia Cherry from the Harris County Office of Court Management, in attending the Executive Forum for the Criminal Justice Planning and Justice Administration hosted by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) at Sam Houston State University. Also in attendance were representatives from the Office of Court Administration, the Council on Criminal Justice, Pew Charitable Trust, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and the following counties: Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston, Lubbock, Travis, and Tarrant. 
CMIT exists to create and deliver a broad range of professional development programs for personnel in the adult and juvenile community and institutional corrections agencies. The mission of CMIT is to improve the effectiveness of juvenile justice and criminal justice practitioners by providing high-quality and relevant professional training to institutional community corrections personnel, providing technical assistance and direction to juvenile justice and criminal justice agencies and organizations, and facility research and program evaluation of interest to juvenile justice and criminal justice practitioners and policymakers. 
The forum included discussions related to mental health, violence prevention, reentry, bail reform, and more. OJS Policy Director Lindsey Linder presented on criminal justice legislation currently being considered by the Texas Legislature and shared updates on Harris County’s recent violence prevention efforts. 
OJS would like to, once again, extend our sincere gratitude to CMIT for hosting the forum. Lindsey found the discussions enlightening and is excited to use the knowledge gained at the forum to improve criminal justice system outcomes in Harris County. 

Congratulations to the Honorable Hazel B. Jones, the new Administrative Judge for the Felony District Courts and the latest Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) member.
Judge Hazel B. Jones is proud to have been born and reared in Houston, Texas, attending Mary Brantley Smiley High School and graduating Magna Cum Laude. Judge Jones continued her education at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and immediately pursued a career in leukemia research at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Although leukemia research was worthwhile, Judge Jones had a keen interest in the legal field and returned to matriculate at Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C.
During her legal career, Judge Jones has served as an Assistant District Attorney for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. She worked as a private attorney for several years, zealously representing persons charged with crimes in state and federal court in Houston and surrounding areas.
She was elected judge of the 338th Criminal District Court of Harris County, Texas, in 2008 and elected judge of the 174th Criminal District Court in 2016, where she currently presides in her third term as a State District Judge, senior status.
Judge Jones is invested in our community and its children. As such, she has spent time educating the youth through tutoring, judging mock trials, and speaking to teenagers about the law and the legal ramifications of certain conduct.

We welcome you to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and look forward to working with you, Judge Jones.
By: Office of County Judge Lina Hidalgo
In Harris County, we have over 220 individuals in jail with significant mental health needs languishing in jail – sometimes for years – just to get access to the educational resources and services that will help them restore competency in order to stand trial.

This month, Commissioners Court approved $646,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to provide the services needed to more than double the number of individuals annually restored to competency, which will help reduce the jail population and overcrowding, and cut the court case backlog.
We’ve all heard the Harris County jail is Texas’ largest provider of mental health services. This is one step forward in changing that. 
By: Office of Precinct 2 Commissioner Garcia
Lizbeth Ibarra loves to play and have fun. The 12-year-old particularly enjoys relaxing on a swing at a playground. But, for most of her life, finding an accessible playground near her home in the Pasadena area was challenging. Lizbeth's wheelchair couldn't go on the grass or wood chips at most playgrounds. Plus, the playsets weren't made for people of differing abilities.

In Precinct 2, that's changing. Since 2019, under Commissioner Garcia's leadership, Precinct 2 has invested $19 million to upgrade or replace 13 playgrounds to make them accessible so everyone can play. Lizbeth is proud to be part of Precinct 2 where she can swing and get around the playground with ease.

To find a Precinct 2 park to visit, go to: engage.hcp2.com/Facilities
By: Office of Commissioner Ramsey, Precinct 3
On March 27, 2023, deputies with Constable Mark Herman's Office responded to the 5600 block of Treaschwig Road in reference to an alert of a possible stolen vehicle that just traveled through one of Commissioner Tom Ramsey's Flock Safety Cameras.
Upon arriving, deputies located the vehicle and conducted a traffic stop. The driver was identified as Rashad Bolden and the vehicle was confirmed to be stolen out of the Harris County area.
Further investigation revealed he was in possession of 14 grams of Methamphetamine and he was currently out on two $15,000.00 bonds for Possession of Controlled Substance.
"Rashad Bolden was arrested and booked into the Harris County Jail, charged with Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle and Possession of Controlled Substance. His bond and court information have not been set at this time" - Constable Mark Herman.
Follow at http://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.
*Visit link below for more information of Commissioner Tom Ramsey's Flock Safety Cameras*

(Image Courtesy Harris County Precinct 3's Office)
By: Office of County Administrator

Commissioners Court announced this month that Harris County received, for the first time, the Silver designation from the national SolSmart program for encouraging the growth of clean, affordable solar energy at the local level. As a SolSmart Silver designee, Harris County has adopted nationally recognized best practices to advance solar market growth. The County worked with SolSmart's no-cost technical assistance team to increase local knowledge of solar energy so the entire community can benefit.
“I am proud to have led Harris County in becoming the first SolSmart County in Texas. I hope this designation demonstrates that we are taking concrete steps to address one of the most pressing issues of our time - climate change - and will inspire other Counties to join us,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “In 2019, I became laser focused in making Harris County a SolSmart community. I knew this designation would better position Harris County to attract new investments and economic development to our area. Companies and investors are increasingly looking for locations prioritizing sustainability and clean energy, and receiving this designation signals to these groups that Harris County is committed to creating a more sustainable future. This can lead to job creation, increased revenue, and a more robust local economy, and Precinct 2 is on its way to becoming the Clean Energy Capital of the country.”
SolSmart is led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. Nearly 500 cities, towns, counties, and regional organizations have achieved SolSmart designation since the program launched in 2016. To achieve SolSmart Silver designation, Harris County has trained permitting and inspection staff on best practices for permitting solar energy and solar-plus storage systems. The planning and zoning department has clarified that solar energy is allowed by-right in all major zones. These and other actions taken will make it faster, easier, and more affordable for local residents, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to install solar in this community.
"This designation reflects the innovation in Harris County that continues to make our region a global energy leader,” said Commissioner Lesley Briones. “We will continue to be the Energy Capital of the World by leading both in the traditional energy sector and in renewable and sustainable energy. We must remain adaptable in the face of new challenges and opportunities to continue growing our economy and driving Harris County forward.”
As a SolSmart designee, Harris County is helping promote best practices in solar permitting, demonstrating leadership by installing solar photovoltaics on County facilities, and exploring the integration of battery storage and electric vehicle charging stations with on-site solar deployment.

This work aims to enable more local solar opportunities and spur market demand for these smart technologies. The actions the County has taken will help encourage solar companies to do business in the area, driving economic development and creating local clean energy jobs.
“We are honored to receive SolSmart Silver designation and especially proud to be the first county in Texas to be a SolSmart community and the first local government in the Gulf Coast region to achieve this distinction," said Lisa Lin, Director of Sustainability, Office of County Administration. “This recognition builds upon the implementation of our Clean Energy Strategy and Climate Action Plan for Internal Operations, and we hope to build more pathways to make reliable renewable energy affordable and accessible to all."
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