Vol. 31 | May 2023
Commissioners Court Appoints New
Interim County Administrator
Harris County Commissioners, in a 4-1 vote, approved a motion by Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones to nominate Diana Ramirez as interim Harris County Administrator.

Former County Administrator, David Berry announced his departure from Harris County last month. Berry accepted a position with a renewable energy company, an industry that Berry has experience with prior to coming to Harris County.

Ramirez will be the first woman and first Latina to hold the position, which is responsible for implementing the Commissioners Court’s policies and goals. Prior to being named as Interim County Administrator, Ramirez served as the executive director of the Harris County Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity.

Ramirez grew up in Laredo, Texas. She earned a BA from the University of Texas and Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University.

She has a long history of public service, including serving most recently as the Executive Director of the Harris County Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. She joined Harris County in 2021 following 30 years of public service in various capacities with Travis County, the Texas General Land Office, and Texas Health & Human Services.
Ramirez is Chair of the Government Finance Officers Association’s Committee on Economic Development and Capital Planning and a member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI). She is also a member of ULI’s Public Private Partnership Gold National Product Council.

Ms. Ramirez resides with her husband, and on any given game day, you might find her cheering on her beloved Houston Astros.
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
The Harris County Office of Justice and Safety has selected Dr. Natosha Willis as the next ODonnell Project Manager. Dr. Willis needs no introduction as she transitioned into the new role from the OJS Policy and Research division, where she previously worked as a Justice Policy Research Analyst, specializing in reentry research and programming.

Dr. Willis is a native of Ohio and a three-time graduate of The Ohio State University. She started her career in education and transitioned to the criminal justice sector after completing her doctorate. Her dissertation research, which focused on analyzing factors and experiences that increase the likelihood of incarceration for Black males, re-ignited her interest in serving individuals reentering the community after incarceration.

Dr. Willis began her work with OJS in May 2021. She quickly learned the County’s criminal justice system processes and forged partnerships with other departments to collaborate on new initiatives. Before transitioning to Project Manager, Dr. Willis worked with the Harris County Public Health Department, serving on the Violence Prevention Conference committee and collaborating with ACCESS Harris to launch their Reentry Cohort. She has also worked on initiatives with Pretrial Services and the Sherriff’s Office Community Engagement division and has assisted with various ARPA proposals. Dr. Willis supports the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s (CJCC) Violence Prevention subcommittee and continues to support the Deputy County Administrator of Justice and Safety.

Dr. Willis is excited and eager to continue the great work initiated by the first ODonnell manager, Bryonne ‘Bree’ Cummings.

The Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) works collectively to manage systemic challenges facing Harris County's criminal justice system and strengthen the overall well-being of our communities by developing and recommending policies and practices that improve public safety; promote fairness, equity, and accountability; and reduce unnecessary incarceration and criminal justice involvement in Harris County. In this latest meeting, key stakeholders from various county departments came together to discuss important initiatives, ongoing projects, and future plans aimed at enhancing public safety and improving the Harris County criminal justice system. Let's dive into the highlights of the meeting!

  • Office of Justice and Safety (OJS) Deputy Director of Administration and Special Projects Michael Giordanelli, provided an update on data that has been requested by the CJCC. One of the key focuses of the meeting was the utilization of data to drive decision-making processes and highlighting the need for accurate and comprehensive data collection and analysis to identify trends and develop evidence-based strategies to reduce crime rates and recidivism. 
  • Judge Hazel Jones, Harris County Administrative Judge, provided an update on the case processing subcommittee, including details about the drivers of case processing inefficiency and efficacy. 
  • Deputy County Administrator for Justice and Safety, Perrye Turner provided an update on the jail population subcommittee, including information on data trends in bookings and lengths of stay. 
  • Terrence Cheung and Aimee Wickman of the Justice Management Institute provided an update on the next steps for CJCC strategic planning. 

Overall, the April meeting of the CJCC was productive and highlighted ongoing efforts to improve the criminal justice system in Harris County. Click here to learn more about the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

The Office of Justice and Safety’s (OJS) Survivor of Crime Policy Analyst was invited to attend a training on understanding stalking and to better support survivors of stalking and intimate partner violence. The training was hosted by the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) and held at CrimeStoppers on May 9, 2023.
This training was conducted by Dana Fleitman, who works for the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC), and there were approximately 20 in attendance. Ms. Fleitman started by discussing what stalking is, its prevalence, criminal statutes on stalking, and its various behaviors. She explained how stalking often co-occurs with physical violence (e.g., intimate partner violence), is a risk factor for homicide, and is very underreported. Additionally, this crime is very traumatic and life-altering for survivors—1 in 8 lose time from work, 1 in 7 relocate, and many survivors experience mental health issues as a result of the stalking. Nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience stalking in their lifetimes.
Ms. Fleitman also discussed how to support those who report being victims of stalking and how context is key to responding to survivors. Since part of the behavioral definition of stalking is that “[it] would cause a reasonable person to feel fear for [their] safety or the safety of others,” determining the context and bigger picture of what a survivor reports is key to responding to their reports. For example, if someone received flowers at work, many people would think this was a kind gesture, but if someone has been receiving flowers with death threats, or from someone who has been calling/texting them several times a day or constantly driving by their house, the meaning behind these flowers changes. Stalking often criminalizes otherwise non-criminal behavior, but these stalking behaviors often have specific meanings and will be frightening to the survivor but not necessarily to others.

Other topics discussed were a risk assessment tool that law enforcement or others can use, the use of technology to stalk and how to investigate and document stalking for law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

For more information on stalking, please visit the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) at https://www.stalkingawareness.org/.

For the stalking risk assessment tool, please visit Stalking Harassment and Risk Profile (SHARP) at http://www.coercivecontrol.org/

On April 29, 2023, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) Houston Chapter held their Healing Vigil for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This event was held in observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). This year’s event was held in MacGregor Park to promote a more effective vision of shared safety, greater support for survivors and their families, and to remember those lost due to violence. Attendees were able to share their stories and show support for survivors. Dr. Veronyka James, the Office of Justice & Safety’s (OJS)Survivor of Crime Policy Analyst, as well as a representative from Precinct One, Commissioner Ellis’ Office attended the Healing Vigil to lean more on how to support survivors in Harris County and collaborate with partners to work on a vision of shared safety for County residents.
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice organizes and advocates for healing communities and public safety policies that better support survivors and communities. Through their various chapters, CSSJ hosts trainings on how to advocate for change, address the needs of survivors, and engage in actions 
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice organizes and advocates for healing communities and public safety policies that better support survivors and communities. Through their various chapters, CSSJ hosts training on how to advocate for change, address the needs of survivors, and engage in actions for criminal justice policy reform. To learn more about Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) and their mission, visit https://cssj.org/.
By: Office of Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones

In a 4-1 vote, Harris County commissioners approved the expansion of the Holistic Assistance Response Teams (HART) into the Harris County Sheriff’s Office District IV, which falls primarily in Precinct 4.

Commissioner Lesley Briones requested a plan and budget to expand HART into the Precinct on March 14 as part of a holistic justice and safety package aimed at addressing multiple facets of the criminal justice system.

HART frees up law enforcement to focus on violent crime by redirecting non-violent calls to trained clinicians and EMTs. In its first year, the HART program responded to more than 2,200 calls diverted from law enforcement and referred over 25% of those to behavioral health, social services, and other service providers.
“I’m proud to expand HART into Precinct 4 and applaud Commissioner Ellis for leading the initial launch of this critical program in Harris County,” said Commissioner Lesley Briones. “Working closely with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Harris County Public Health to implement HART, we have seen how taking a holistic, data-driven approach to justice and public safety has led to better outcomes for our community.”
District IV has a population of over 450,000 residents, and between 2021 and 2022, HCSO received nearly 9,000 non-violent calls that could have been diverted to HART, including those involving mental health concerns and welfare checks.
“HART makes our community safer by connecting those in crisis with treatment and by freeing up law enforcement officers to focus on violent crime. It is a win-win,” Briones said.
By: Office of County Administration
On April 27, 2023, Perrye Turner, Deputy County Administrator, Justice and Safety was a recipient of the FBI’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Trailblazer Award. DCA Turner received this award in honor of the 10th-anniversary celebration of the creation of the FBI’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
As a Senior Executive with the FBI since 2012, DCA Turner met with FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Mark Giuliano and proposed the idea for the creation for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the concept to stand up the Diversity Executive Council to meet the FBI Director twice a year to discuss DNI related issues and concerns.

DCA Turner also served as the Executive Champion for the Black Affairs Diversity Committee (BADC), an employee resource group for over 8 years. In 2014, the BADC was the first ERG to receive the FBI Director’s Award for Outstanding Service in Diversity and Inclusion.
By: Office of Justice & Safety
Harris County has endeavored to reduce reliance on incarceration for youthful offenders, promoting the vision that secured detention should be reserved for young people who present a legitimate threat to the community, rather than an interim placement while parents, probation officers, judges, and attorneys figure out the next step for troubled youth. Much hard work to bring practice into alignment with this vision has occurred in the last four years.
On May 15, 2023, Harris County juvenile justice partners further advanced this vision as they came together to celebrate the opening of the Harris County Youth Diversion Center (Diversion Center) with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Diversion Center serves as a respite facility for youth who are referred to the Harris County Department of Juvenile Probation for an offense but do not meet the criteria for secured detention. Despite not presenting a threat to the community, certain young people remain in detention for various reasons from parents who refuse to pick up their children to the Department of Family Services’ shortage of placements for teens with exceptional needs. Now juvenile justice partners have a non-carceral option for these young people.
The Diversion Center serves young people 13-17 who are arrested for lower-level offenses or incidents involving family conflict. Using American Rescue Plan Act or “ARPA” funds, over 9 million dollars are earmarked for the Diversion Center. Once a young person is placed at the Diversion Center, the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD (the Harris Center) and the Department of Juvenile Probation work expeditiously to identify and implement services and supports with the intent to facilitate successful family unification. Young people can stay at the Diversion Center up to 30 days while services and supports are implemented so families feel supported in caring for their children.
Judge Lina Hidalgo, Kim Ogg, District Attorney for Harris County, Joel Levine, Executive Director, Harris County Resources for Children and Adults, Wayne Young, Executive Director of the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Henry Gonzales, Executive Director of the Harris County Department of Juvenile Probation, and Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones spoke about the importance of this program. Mr. Levine commented that the County needs a place for young people besides “locking them up” and that the idea of a Diversion Center was born out of this need. Commissioner Briones remarked the Diversion Center is “about families in crisis and youth in crisis who can get the mental health services they need and return to their families, return to their schools, and lead productive lives.” District Attorney Kim Ogg stated that programs like the Diversion Center offer a “better future for young people with mental illness who intercept with the criminal justice system.”
Harris County, through District Attorney-initiated diversion programs, Harris County Department of Juvenile Probation practice and program implementation, and law enforcement and judiciary support, have already made tremendous progress to lessen reliance on secured detention. Director Gonzales remarked that in 2017 there were 264 young people incarcerated on a given day at the local detention facility. In 2023, that number dropped to 120 young people on an average day. Justice partners are still looking for additional ways to further lessen reliance on detention with investment in community-based supports, partnerships with national organizations promoting best practices, and innovative programs that focus on trauma and mental health. Harris County will continue towards its vision of making secured confinement rare and only used when needed to protect the community, thereby creating a safer and fairer Harris County for all. You can view the ribbon cutting here.

*Images Courtesy of Harris County Juvenile Probation Department
OJS Press
Houston Public Media: Michael Eric Dyson on seeking fairness in the Harris County criminal justice system

Houston Public Media: Author and professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson discusses ways to address racial and ethnic disparities in Harris County’s criminal justice system.
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