Vol. 14 | December 2021

Sexual assault is considered by many to be the least reported of all crimes. There are many reasons why survivors may choose not to report their victimization, including but not limited to: fear of retaliation, fear of being blamed, or a belief that criminal justice systems will either not help or be harmful. Nationwide, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), only approximately 23% of survivors reported their victimization to law enforcement in 2020.
According to the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), in 2019, there were 139,815 rapes reported to law enforcement nationwide. There were 319,950 rape/sexual assaults nationwide in 2020 according to the NCVS. In 2020, in Texas, there were 13,327 rapes reported. However, since sexual assault is an underreported crime, this only captures crimes reported to law enforcement, underestimating the actual extent of sexual assault in Texas. Even though there was a 3.5% decline in reported rapes in 2020 when compared to 2019, there were still approximately 2,495 reported rapes in Harris County in 2020.
In addition to being underreported, traditionally, survivors of sexual assault have not received the best treatment by the criminal justice system. To help improve the treatment of sexual assault survivors, Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) were developed in the 1970s. SARTs are community-level interventions that provide a holistic and collaborative approach to responding to and treating survivors of sexual violence. These teams include individuals from different disciplines, community organizations, and criminal justice system agencies such as forensic nurse examiners, victim advocates, prosecutors, and law enforcement. There are variations in the way SARTs work and their organizational structure. However, their core mission is the same: to prioritize survivors’ needs and improve community response to sexual assault.
Recently, Senate Bill 476 by Senator Jane Nelson was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Abbott to create systems that are sensitive and responsive to the needs of survivors. SB 476 mandates the creation of county-based sexual assault response teams (SARTs) and outlines the minimum composition, duties, and responsibilities of these teams. The team is charged with creating a written protocol that establishes their community processes for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault, as well as maintaining data on the number of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement, investigations, and prosecution of such offenses.
Harris County officials began the process of building a SART team for the community. On October 12, 2021, Commissioners Court approved a motion made by Commissioner Adrian Garcia which instructed the Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) to coordinate with all relevant stakeholders necessary to form a Harris County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in full compliance with SB 476. JAD was also instructed to return to Court on November 9, 2021, to present a list of candidates for Commissioners Court to appoint for the inaugural SART and for the team to call their first meeting before December 1, 2021, to comply with the law.
JAD met with representatives from the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) to help write the report and provide suggestions for members who should serve on the SART to Commissioners Court for approval. Since Harris County currently has a Sexual Assault Steering Committee, formed in 2014, which fulfills requirements of SB 476, many of those who serve on this Committee are recommended to be members of the inaugural SART. TAASA was consulted for feedback on the report due to their experience in advocating for SB 476. After consulting with TAASA, they reached out and requested using JAD’s report to share with counties struggling to put together their respective SARTs and those who have questions about SB 476 and how to create a county SART.
JAD submitted their report discussing SB 476 and its requirements and presented the candidates for the inaugural Harris County SART to Commissioners Court on November 9, 2021. The candidates proposed for the inaugural SART are (in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Barbie Brashear, Executive Director, Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council
  • Dr. Khara Breeden, Chief Executive Officer, The Forensic Center of Excellence
  • Jamie Burro (back-up), Felony Chief Adult Sex Crimes and Trafficking Division, Harris County District Attorney’s Office
  • Celeste Byrom (back-up), Division Chief and Director of Victim Services Division, Harris County District Attorney’s Office
  • Dr. Amy Castillo, Chief Operating Officer, Harris Forensic Science Center
  • Deputy Oscar Cisneros, Deputy Investigator, Criminal Investigations Bureau, Adult Special Crimes Section, Adult Sex Crimes Unit, Harris County Sheriff’s Office
  • Micala Clark, Legal Counsel, The Forensic Center of Excellence
  • Commander Hong-Le. Conn, Special Victims Division, Houston Police Department
  • Sonia Corrales, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC)
  • Wykesha Dixon, Program Director Bay Area Turning Point
  • Jamie Ferrell, Clinical Director, Memorial Hermann Health System, Forensic Nursing Services
  • Monica Gonzales, Senior Litigator, Felony Trial Division, Harris County Public Defender’s Office
  • Lieutenant Jacinda J. Gunter, Special Victims Division, Adult Sex Crimes Unit, Houston Police Department
  •  Commander Harlan Daniel Harris, Victim Services, Houston Police Department
  • Courtney Head, Manager of Forensic Biology, Houston Forensic Science Center
  • Dr. Sally Henin, Chief of Medical Operations, Memorial Hermann Health Systems, Forensic Nursing Operations
  • Lieutenant Gale Johnson, Adult Special Crimes Section, Harris County Sheriff’s Office
  • Olivia Rivers, CEO/Executive Director, The Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Inc.
  •  Sandra Sanchez, Program Director, Forensic Nursing Harris Health System
  • Sergeant Tommy Smith, Adult Special Crimes Section, Harris County Sheriff’s Office
  • Johna Stallings, Division Chief of Adult Sex Crimes & Trafficking Division, Harris County District Attorney’s Office
  • Brenda Sykes, Executive Director, Bay Area Turning Point
  • Emilee Whitehurst, President & CEO, Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC)
  • Wayne Young, Chief Executive Officer, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD
These candidates were unanimously approved by Commissioners Court. Following this unanimous approval, the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) scheduled the first SART meeting on November 19, 2021, which complies with SB 476. During this first meeting, HAWC was elected the presiding officer and the SART will begin working on infrastructure starting in January 2022.
For more information, you can click on the report here
Harris County Commissioners Court Approves JAD’s Candidate Recommendations to Serve on the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). Read the full press release here.

Wrapping up 2021 - A Year in Review
January - Access to an attorney means very little if an individual lacks the resources to attain representation. Across the County, public defenders or assigned counsel find that they have to juggle numerous cases at once with sometimes a lack of resources as well. The beginning of the New Year brought a report by JAD outlining options to help to develop a plan for the PDO to increase its capacity to handle indigent defense case appointments over the next few years. Here is the article from our January newsletter discussing the report:

During the June 9, 2020, Commissioners Court meeting, the Court approved a motion made by Commissioner Rodney Ellis instructing the Public Defender’s Office (PDO), in collaboration with the Justice Administration Department (JAD) and the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC), to develop a plan for the PDO to increase its capacity to handle fifty percent (50%) of indigent defense case appointments within the next two years for Commissioners Court to consider for incorporation in the next budget cycle.

JAD published a report in December 2020, outlining the potential for growing the PDO into a robust, full-service defense program suitable for the third-largest county in the nation. The expansion would increase the number of individuals served, increase accessibility to services, increase funding for additional personnel, meet space requirements, cover costs, and much more. The report also addressed other needed reforms to the County’s indigent defense system, including the expansion of the Managed Assigned Counsel program (MAC), instituting a centralized indigency determination and appointment of counsel process.
It is a fundamental principle of public defense that the defense function is included as an equal partner in the justice system and an equal partner in advancing necessary improvements. PDO lawyers consistently get better results for their clients, which reduces incarceration costs to the County and ultimately leads to lower recidivism. Lower recidivism not only reduces those direct incarceration costs to the criminal legal system but makes those persons who are released available and eligible for opportunities in education, employment, and other aspects of productive citizenship. Additional reforms that would improve the County’s indigent defense system are included in the report, including expanding the MAC, creating a centralized and uniform indigency determination process, and expanding the County’s indigent defense research capabilities.

To learn more and to see our detailed recommendations, check out the report here
February: The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, paired with a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases, guarantees that, in criminal prosecutions, a person accused of a crime who lacks the resources to hire a lawyer without suffering undue hardship is entitled to the assistance of defense counsel at state expense. In order to enhance transparency and build public trust with Harris County court appointment practices, JAD was asked to create an Indigent Defense Dashboard that includes: attorney selection, attorney payments, attorney caseloads, appointment rates, type of counsel, use of experts and investigators, case outcomes, time to disposition, number of court settings, percent of cases resulting in alternative to incarceration, and percent of cases resulting in dismissal. For clarity and efficiency, JAD has developed two separate dashboards to accomplish this charge: 1) The Court Appointments Dashboard, and 2) The Harris County Indigent Defense Dashboard featured in our February newsletter.

In addition, the holiday season traditionally sees an increase in the jail population across America. During pandemic times, there is an additional concern about inmates' health and the spreading of COVID-19 within the jail. Harris County implemented a program to aid in avoiding a mass COVID-19 breakout in the jail system. Read more about the health initiatives that Harris County implemented that was featured in our February edition:
A person who has been accused of a crime and lacks the resources to hire a lawyer has a constitutional right to legal representation at government expense—this is known as “indigent defense.” Providing criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney with effective legal counsel is critical to ensuring due process. Still, Harris County has not always done enough to ensure indigent defendants receive quality legal representation.

To help enhance transparency and build public trust in Harris County’s indigent defense and court appointment practices, JAD has launched two data dashboards for the public: 1) The Court Appointments Dashboard, and 2) The Indigent Defense Dashboard. The Court Appointments Dashboard looks at indigent defense case appointments between private attorneys and public defenders from 2017 to the present.

The data on this dashboard is separated by calendar year and refreshed daily. The Indigent Defense Dashboard provides data on indigent defense caseloads and fees for private attorneys and public defenders. The data on this dashboard is separated by fiscal year (October 1st – September 30th) from 2014-2019.

To help the public interact with and interpret data from these data dashboards, JAD has created the Indigent Defense Dashboards User Guide. This guide includes step-by-step instructions for navigating the court appointments and indigent defense dashboards, and other helpful information that will help maximize the dashboards’ usefulness for the public (including definitions of common terms and underlying assumptions of the data).
If you have any questions about the dashboards or guide, please contact the Harris County Justice Administration Department by email at [email protected]

Download the User Guide here.
Harris County Sheriff's Office
Ericka Brown, MD, MBA,FACHE
Program Manager, Public Health and Safety
Harris County Sheriff’s Office
Early during the pandemic, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez hired Dr. Ericka Brown to oversee efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in the state’s largest jail.

Dr. Brown implemented an aggressive testing program that has administered over 25,000 tests to people housed in the jail. The positivity rate ranges between 2-3%. The testing program combined with stringent quarantines upon entry into the jail, mandatory mask-wearing, and hygiene practices, has prevented the jail from becoming a COVID-19 hotspot. 

In concert with this effort, strict employee COVID-19 surveillance guidelines have also been implemented. Seven people housed in the jail have died from COVID-19 (as of January 2021. The number has increased to approx 8 in total as of the end of the year), which places the jail COVID-19 death rate far below that of the County’s free-world population. Dr. Brown has recently collaborated with the Harris County Department of Health to administer COVID-19 vaccines to over 400 frontline healthcare and detention employees. She has also worked with the Texas Department of State Health Services to become a vaccine provider for the jail population.
The Harris County jail is running out of space and is fluctuating in numbers with almost being at capacity. Concerns of overcrowding are coupled with concerns and strategies being put into place to aid in keeping a COVID outbreak at bay and keeping people out of danger.
As the jail continues to hold a high census of about 9000 inmates daily, they work closely with the Harris County Justice Administration DepartmentHarris County Public Health Department, and Houston Public Health Department to provide necessary support and resources to maintain a low COVID -19 positivity rate. Through weekly, now monthly meetings, all stakeholders are kept abreast of the needs of the jail and work collaboratively to address them. 
One way Harris County is working to alleviate the jail population rise and protect the health of those in the jail or working in the jail system is by collaborating with  PreTrial Services.

As Harris County departments work together to aid in decreasing the jail population, Pretrial Services (PTS) collaborated with the Emergency COVID-19 Release (ECR) project, (a project created to assist the HCSO and DAO) to help run and review criminal histories.
To identify potential defendants eligible for release and therefore decrease the jail population, members of Pretrial Services reviewed the criminal histories of 1,543 defendants in an emergency session over the MLK Jr. holiday weekend.
Working around the clock, PTS team members successfully identified 364 detainees with nonviolent charges and 1,151 detainees with bonds below $10,000 who were being held solely on those charges.
The findings were forwarded to the DAO for review and recommendations. Harris County is working with the courts to help alleviate the jail population concern, which will help keep down COVID cases. Included in collaborating with Jail population control is Virginia Ryan.

As part of our work with the Safety + Justice Challenge Grant, an In Custody Jail Population Manager position was created in the Sheriff’s Office. In November 2018, Virginia Ryan took over this role here in Harris County after a similar role in New Orleans, where she was the Justice System Administrator (JSA).  As JSA, Ryan helped reduce the jail population by 32.9%. To accomplish this impressive goal, she addressed inefficiencies in the booking, processing, and release of inmates; reduced over detention through inmate grievances; and corrected processing deficiencies. Ryan was a member of the Jail Population Management Subcommittee of the Mayor’s Office and was the Coordinator for the Vera Institute Bond Review Project.
In January, she represented Harris County on a webinar presented by the Urban Institute and JMI through the SJC. The webinar discussed the role and the value of jail population managers and jail population review boards throughout the SJC Network. As one of the three presenters,  Ryan described how she uses data from a jail population dashboard to create specialized lists to provide to judges to better inform pre-trial decisions.  The lists contain detailed information such as who is in custody, how long a person has been in custody, type of charge, bond amount, and PSA Score, as well as other relevant information.  

The judges use this information to determine whom they want to schedule for a bail review hearing or have Pretrial Services meet with them.  Ryan also set up a process in a Joint Processing Center Courtroom for pre-trial arrestees who are being released on a personal bond to meet with a Pretrial Services Officer to sign the bond paperwork. In addition, she has set up a process for the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole (BOPP) to have access to individuals in custody on parole holds. BOPP sends her a list of individuals to be pulled daily to meet with a parole officer to decide if they want a hearing or wait to resolve the Harris County charge. This has cut the parole hold jail population in half since March. These processes have been crucial to use every day during the pandemic to expedite the release process and will likely continue after the pandemic.  

Here is a link to the Jail Population Dashboard.
March - ODonnell et al. v. Harris County et al. is a class-action lawsuit that was filed in federal court in 2016 claiming that the bail practices for misdemeanor arrestees in Harris County were unconstitutional. The parties reached a settlement that they believe was fair to both sides on November 21, 2019. The consent decree represents the first federal court-supervised remedy governing bail. Harris County is collaboratively working to implement all aspects of the consent decree. The Monitors serve the role of overseeing and supporting work, advancing a holistic, evidence-based approach to pretrial reform. They follow nine guiding principles from the Consent Decree that include: Transparency; Accountability; Permanency; Protecting constitutional rights; Racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic fairness; Public safety & effective law enforcement; Maximizing liberty; Cost and process efficiency; and Evidence-based, demonstrated effectiveness. In March the monitors released their first full-year report.

The independent monitors overseeing Harris County’s historic bail reform agreement filed their one-year report describing their work and Harris County’s implementation of the ODonnell Consent Decree on March 3rd, 2021. The one-year report can be found at https://sites.law.duke.edu/odonnellmonitor/.  
The key findings found in the report include:  

  • A gradual decline in repeat offending across the entire 2015-2019 time period.  
  • A steady reduction in the numbers of misdemeanor filings.  
  • A large reduction in the use of cash bail in misdemeanor cases.  
  • A reduction in race, ethnicity, and sex disparities in imposition of cash bail.  
  • A large reduction in the premiums that misdemeanor arrestees have paid in bond fees.  
  • An overall decline in pretrial jail days for most misdemeanor defendants.  
  • Increasing numbers of carve-out misdemeanor cases, including domestic violence misdemeanors.  
The independent monitors serve a key role in overseeing and supporting this work advancing a holistic, evidence-based approach to pretrial reform that has been missing in other jurisdictions in the past. Duke Law professor Brandon Garrettwas appointed independent monitor last March and leads the seven-year monitoring project of the ODonnell Consent Decree. 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, with the intensive engagement of stakeholders, and Dr. Dottie Carmichael of the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, whose work includes analysis of Harris County data. 
Additionally, per the ODonnell Consent Decree, all parties recognize that the input and involvement of the residents of Harris County will be essential to meaningful and lasting reform and to encourage effective ongoing monitoring, and evaluation of the system. The Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) is committed to involving community members in the implementation and monitoring process. JAD began hosting semiannual meetings, virtually until further notice, in October 2020. At each meeting, a representative of each Defendant group and the Court Monitor must report on the implementation of the Consent Decree, including explicitly identifying areas of success and areas for improvement.  

Further information can be found at
APRIL - As part of JAD’s commitment to survivors of crime, this edition of the newsletter featured an update on a proposed Survivor of Crime Standing Committee. The Committee will use the County’s vision and goals of safety and justice to promote safe, healthy, thriving communities, and prevent violence and trauma. Additionally, JAD announced its collaboration with County Partners and community leaders created a mapping of the Harris County juvenile justice system, in hopes of developing best practices to aid in improving mental health services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. To learn more, read this article from our APRIL newsletter.

On March 11, 2021, during the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) meeting, JAD proposed the Survivors of Crime Standing Committee's framework and composition.

The development of the structure for this Standing Committee came from the County’s vision of Justice and Safety, "to promote safe, healthy, thriving communities through restorative justice and evidence-based strategies that foster public trust, prevent violence and trauma, reduce racial and economic disparities, and minimize criminal justice exposure where at all possible.”

The Standing Committee members would serve as ambassadors for survivors of crime in Harris County. They will be charged with capturing all survivors' voices, providing their perspectives, and conducting outreach. Additionally, this Committee would recommend improvements to service delivery for survivors of crime, identify challenges they face, and propose practical and equitable solutions.  
The approved committee composition is nine (9) voting members, comprising of the following:  
  • Kathryn Griffin-Townsend 
  • Three vacancies for survivors of crime, through an open application process
  • Four vacancies for subject matter experts/criminal justice stakeholders, through an open application process 
  • Expert on trauma/mental health 
  • Restorative justice expert 
  • A representative from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office 
  • Expert on housing/public services 
  • A member from JAD 
We will be reaching out to service providers who serve survivors of crime and ask them to share information with individuals interested in applying. We also plan to hold a community event explaining the Committee’s purpose and inviting community members to apply.

The CJCC presentation explains the purpose of this Standing Committee and its composition can be found here.
If you or anyone you know is interested, please keep checking our website for updates and the application.  

To download and view the presentation, click here.
The Harris County Judge’s Office, Harris County Juvenile Probation, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, the Harris County Justice Administration Department, and other community stakeholders have recently completed a Critical Intervention Mapping of the Harris County juvenile justice system. The Critical Intervention Map serves as a framework for juvenile justice and mental health systems to use when developing strategies to improve mental health services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

Representatives from 33 different community organizations established priority areas and developed an action plan. The action items include building or increasing community supports for youth and families; increasing behavioral health capacity to support a continuum of care for youth and families; increasing access of information to youth and families at all points of contact; and examining the re-entry process with an emphasis on housing, employment, and education. 
The Mental Health Standing Committee of the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will act as the lead in implementing the action plan. 
These strategies may also help other vulnerable populations, such as children and families involved in the child protective services system and victims of human trafficking. 
Harris County Commissioners Approve First of its Kind Community-Led Multi-Million Dollar Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund. Read the full press release here.
Community Stakeholders Announce a New Strategy to Reform the Juvenile Justice System in Harris County. For the full press release click here.
MAY - After months of work and outreach, three community engagement awards were announced by JAD in this edition! The community engagement grants are awarded to groups that will aid in creating the opportunity for the underrepresented to engage in a community dialogue on criminal justice; creating paths to avoid system re-involvement and advocacy support for survivors of crime. Also In May JAD announced that Harris County was awarded additional funding from the MacArthur Foundation Safety + Justice Challenge. The Safety and Justice Challenge, invests in local reform, research, experimentation, and communications to create national demand for local justice reforms that will safely reduce jail populations and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities. Read about it below:

JAD is excited to announce the award of the community engagement grants to The Beacon of Downtown HoustonCenter for Urban Transformation, and Tahirih Justice Center

Last Fall, JAD requested proposals from organizations working to address racial and ethnic disparities within our criminal justice system, improve safety in communities across the County and contribute to positive outcomes for program participants by decreasing an individual’s engagement with the justice system. Organizations were invited to apply for work that addressed one or more of the following target areas:

  • Build the capacity for underrepresented populations to engage in community dialogues and criminal justice-focused education. Applicable services include but are not limited to community advocacy trainings, restorative justice practices, and the development of educational materials for the community about racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

  • Barrier removal to create paths to avoid system re-involvement. Applicable services include, but are not limited to, support justice-involved individuals in ascertaining employment, expungement services, identification (ID) restoration services, and/or housing support.

  • Barrier removal for survivors of crime, victims, and victims’ advocacy addressing the needs of those affected by crime. Applicable services include, but are not limited to, housing support, connections to legal services, and restorative justice practices.

The grantees will deliver direct services across all of the target areas. The Beacon of Downtown Houston will work to expand its existing work to restore identification for individuals. The Center for Urban Transformation will expand its support of juvenile diversion and restorative justice practices. Tahirih Justice Center will initiate new work to support survivors of violence. Implementation of the grants is expected by summer 2021.

As each grant moves into implementation, regular reporting on progress and performs will occur through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee
The Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) Launches RFP to Conduct a Racial and Ethnic Disparity Study. Read the full press release here.
In 2016, Harris County was one of 11 sites selected to participate in the Safety + Justice Challenge (SJC); to implement reforms to safely reduce Harris County’s jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.  This SJC grant is part of a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and advance racial equity in local criminal justice systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.   

The Justice Administration Department is pleased to announce that Harris County has been awarded an additional $500,000 by the MacArthur Foundation Safety + Justice Challenge in funding over the next two years. This is the 5th year that Harris County has participated and brings the Foundation’s total investment in Harris County to $4.6 million to date.  
Since the launch of this initiative, the MacArthur Foundation has expanded to include 51 jurisdictions in 32 states supporting efforts with the local leaders and the community to rethink the criminal justice system, safely reduce the jail population, and eliminate racial inequities. 
The MacArthur Foundation has been a great partner and we are honored to participate in the final round.  

The SJC grant award will fund the following strategies: Collaborating with a consultant to conduct comprehensive reporting of racial and ethnic disparities across all criminal justice system decision points, including identifying the root causes of the disparities and policy recommendations to reduce and eliminate disparities; Increase funding for micro-grants to fund community organizations to enhance their voice and capacity to provide direct services, and Expand supported pre-trial release opportunities for young adult felony offenders that connect them to community-based organizations and supportive services. 
Harris County Awarded Additional $500,00 by MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge to Rethink Local Justice System. Read the full press release here.
JUNE - A new Chair and Vice-Chair of the Harris County Coordinating Council officially are serving. And JAD publishes and new website! Read below on the official announcements from June's newsletter!

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) held its quarterly meeting virtually on May 20th.  The officer election was held and Commissioner Ellis was voted and confirmed as Chair and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez was voted and confirmed as Vice-Chair.   

We want to thank Judge Hidalgo again for leading the Council for the last year. 

The highlights from the meeting are:

Karen Evans, JAD Community Engagement Manager, presented on the proposed applicants for the Racial and Ethnic Equity (REE) Committee. All proposed applicants were approved by the Council. The Committee is composed of 13 community stakeholders, 2 alternates, a representative from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, a representative from the Houston Police Department, a representative from the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, and a JAD staff member. The Committee’s first activities will be Structural Well-Being Training (facilitated by the W. Haywood Burns Institute) in late June and July. The REE Committee plans to hold the first introductory meeting in June and have a standing item on each agenda to report on their work.

Suzanne Brown-McBride, Impossible6, LLC, presented on her initial survey of data, services, and needs for Survivors of Crime in Harris County.  Suzanne and Veronyka James, JAD Survivors Researcher and Specialist met with 27 agencies that provide direct services to survivors of crime to ask these key questions:
  • 1. What do victim service stakeholders think JAD can do to support survivors of crime in Harris County?
  • 2. What public data are available, or not available, that can help describe crime victimization in Harris County?
  • 3. How are victim services supported and funding in Harris County?
  • The Survivors of Crime in Harris County report is available here.

Vivian King, First Assistant/Chief of Staff, District Attorney’s Office, presented on the Felony/Misdemeanor Triage Program to address the criminal case backlog in the courts.  This plan reviews non-violent criminal cases that have created an unmanageable backlog of cases due to Harvey, the COVID19 pandemic, and a lack of trials.  Commissioners Court on May 11th approved over $3.5 million to fund overtime pay for prosecutors to review the cases for an appropriate resolution. 

Kenneth Hardin, Director for the Office of Managed Assigned Counsel (MAC), presented the status of the newly created MAC Office, the mission, vision, and values, and the services they will provide to the justice community.  
Thank you, everyone, that presented; it was a well-rounded informative meeting.  

The CJCC presentation and documents are available here.
You can view the CJCC meeting stream here.

JAD is excited to announce the launch of our newly designed website. Visit us at https://jad.harriscountytx.gov/.

After months of teamwork, dedication, and collaboration, we are delighted to make public the new website! Shout out to the Universal Services team for their collaboration and building of this new site.

Our goal with the updated website is to provide our visitors an easier way to navigate and learn about JAD's work that includes the ODonnell Consent Decree and Criminal Justice Coordination Council.

We endeavor to provide our website visitors with the most accurate, up-to-date information on the various projects and programs that JAD is currently tasked with by Commissioners Court.

This new website gives user-friendly access to Who We Are, How We Work, Projects & Reports, Press & Media, and a forthcoming Data & Analytics page. Amongst our new features, the site contains integrated social media buttons for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to foster improved communication with our visitors. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter, In Session, so you never have to miss an edition!

We would like to thank our amazing JAD team for the hard work, contribution, and time to make the site what it is and our development and activation county partner, Universal Services. Thank you!

You can view Universal Services' article on the JAD website here.
Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Selects Members for the Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee
JULY - Following months of resumes and interviews, the first Racial, Ethnic, and Equity Committee were chosen and officially announced in JAD's July edition.

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) is pleased to announce the community members recently selected to serve on the newly re-instated Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee. 
The 17-member Committee consists of 13 Community Stakeholders and four appointed Harris County agency representatives pIctured above from Left to Right:

Jarvis Williams, Jose Vega, Arelia Johnson, Caroleta Johnson (Houston Police Department (HPD), Karen Evans (JAD), Larry Brown Jr. (Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (JPD), Jessica Diaz, Monique Joseph, Brandi Ebanks Copes (JAD), Dianna Williams, Lubabah Abdullah, Liyah Brown, Gabriela Ventura (alternate), Kendrick White, Carrie Rai, Dav Lewis, Yvonne Mendoza (alternate), and Terrance Koontz.

Not pictured: Nasser MidambaChristopher RiveraKatrina Camacho (Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).

The Committee is also working with non-voting members, who have demonstrated a deep passion for advancing equity and who will be integral to what the Committee hopes to accomplish. 
The Committee will focus on identifying and addressing racial and ethnic disparities throughout the criminal justice system and facilitating community-driven strategies meant to advance equity.

The Council took great care to ensure geographic representation from parts of the County most impacted by the criminal justice system, including advocates/advocacy groups, subject-matter experts, community leaders with lived experience, and other individuals committed to advancing solutions to the racial and ethnic disparities that exist in our system.
To learn more about the Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee, please contact Karen Evans, Community Engagement Manager, via email at [email protected].

AUGUST - To increase public transparency of traffic stop demographics, JAD launched the Harris County Traffic Stop Demographic Dashboard. The dashboard provides visualizations of the traffic stop characteristics, outcomes, and demographics from all agencies that submit data to The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). To view the presentation given on TCOLE you can, Click here to view the presentation. Read about the dashboard and the presentation from our August newsletter below:
On June 9th, 2020, Commissioners Court passed a motion for the Harris County Justice Administration Department to analyze existing racial profiling data produced by law enforcement (Supplemental Item 18). JAD received data from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), which resulted in two efforts to address the motion: a report presented to Commissioners Court and the Harris County Traffic Stop Demographics Dashboard.

The dashboard’s purpose is to allow users to see various metrics of the different outcomes and possibilities during a traffic stop. While the dashboard’s focus is Harris County, data across Texas can be seen as well from the TCOLE data.

This dashboard provides a summary, comparison, and details in the following visuals:
  • County Summary – shows metrics on a selected county and category; it provides interactive filter options on departments, categories, subcategories, and race where applicable
  • County Comparison – compares Traffic Stop, Search Reasons and Search Results for Harris County compared to Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant, and Travis Counties
  • TCOLE Details – allows the viewer to see totals and counts at the lowest, granular level on data received from TCOLE
  • Guide - The Harris County Traffic Stop Dashboard Guide walks the viewer through the dashboard elements and how to understand their purpose
JAD Unveils Statewide Traffic Stop Data Dashboard in Response to Study Revealing Need for System and Data Improvements. Read the full press release here.
JAD Working with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement
to Showcase Traffic Stop Data
On June 9th, 2020, the Harris County Commissioners Court passed a motion made by Commissioner Garcia for JAD to analyze existing racial profiling data produced by law enforcement. JAD collected data from Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) on traffic stops in 2020 as the only available source of existing public traffic stop data in Harris County. JAD examined the gender and racial demographics of traffic stops in Harris County, including disaggregated statistics on search rates, contraband discovery, stop results including arrest, citations, and warnings, and the use of force rates for each Constable Precinct and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
In total, Harris County Departments did not have many disparate results. However, the data shows some disparate results related to driver gender, the racial distribution of citations, and the racial distribution of force resulting in bodily injury. Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies are two times more likely to stop males compared to females. This result is consistent across all Departments and other Texas Counties. In 66% of Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, Hispanic drivers, relative to the overall number of stops, receive a larger proportion of citations than other racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, in 62.5% of Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, Black Drivers are more likely to experience force that results in bodily injury than other racial and ethnic groups. Finally, in 37.5% of Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, White drivers are more likely to experience force that results in bodily injury.
While we did find disparities in traffic stops, the data is extremely limited based on the legislative requirements. There are significant gaps in traffic stop characteristics. For example, we do not know when a peace officer requests to search, but the driver declines. Similarly, some data is missing for racial and ethnic demographics, likely due to the Agency’s system not requiring a peace officer to collect the information on every traffic stop.
JAD made several recommendations focused on public education and improving data sharing and collection. The Agencies should provide complaint information in multiple languages and accessible online methods to submit complaints. Additionally, Agencies should develop and issue informational cards on complaint and compliment processes that can give specific information on where and how to file a complaint or compliment after a formal interaction between a peace officer and a subject. Constable Garcia, Precinct Two, has recently implemented an online complaint and commendation form on his new website and developed complaint and commendation business cards in three languages. The data component will need significant County investment. After meeting with Harris County Law Enforcement Agencies, JAD suggested that Harris County consider updating law enforcement systems to mandate data collection, expand the data departments collect, and generate automated analysis. If Harris County can achieve these recommendations, we would have the fastest and most accurate data collection and reporting in Texas.
To increase public transparency of traffic stop demographics, JAD launched the Harris County Traffic Stop Demographic Dashboard. The dashboard provides visualizations of the traffic stop characteristics, outcomes, and demographics from all agencies that submit data to TCOLE. The dashboard provides visualizations of individual departments, comparisons between Bexar County, Dallas County, Harris County, Tarrant County, and Travis County. Users can further inspect the raw data and view a relative rate index of how racial and ethnic group outcomes compare to a reference group of White drivers. This dashboard is unique in Texas and the public will have direct and easy access to examining the traffic stop characteristics, outcomes, and racial and ethnic composition of any reporting agency in the state.

SEPTEMBER - Everyone wants to live in a safe and healthy community. Harris County is committed to promoting a safe, healthy, and thriving community through restorative and evidence-based strategies that help prevent violence and trauma and reduce racial and economic disparities. One way Harris County is meeting this commitment is through research and activation of a Violence Interruption Program. Read more about this research featured in our September newsletter, which JAD was asked to take on by Commissioners Court and that will be implemented by Harris County's Public Health Department.

At the August 10th Commissioners Court, a slate of programs to apply a public health approach to protect public safety in Harris County was approved. These programs will be implemented by Harris County Public Health, under the new Office of Community Health and Violence Prevention Services. These programs are:

  • A community violence prevention program, which will connect individuals at risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence to community and peer resources which will reduce their long-term risk, which was shown to reduce homicides by 63% in other jurisdictions,
  • A hospital-based violence prevention program, which will connect individuals who have just been hospitalized after a violent injury (and are at risk of re-offense or reinjury) to peer support, case management, and community resources to help break the cycle of violence, and,
  • The Holistic Assitance Response Teams (HART), a first responder program, will dispatch trained, uniformed first-responders to low-risk 9-1-1 calls related to social welfare, substance abuse, or mental heal in Harris County. This program will ensure that our neighbors in Harris County receive the right support at the right time, and that law enforcement is able to prioritize responding to and solving violent crimes in Harris County.

The Justice Administration Department produced a memo outlining the best practices for the implementation of these programs, which have reduced homicides, in some jurisdictions, the evidence that undergirds these programs, and the theories upon which these initiatives are premised. The memo also introduced the findings of two Technical Assistance Providers, who provided additional best practices and insight on implementation and evaluation. The Hospital Alliance for Violence Intervention provided technical assistance for the implementation of hospital-based violence prevention programs, and Tillmon Training and Consulting provided insight on community violence prevention programs.

Together, these programs demonstrate Harris County’s commitment to developing a pioneering, data-driven public health approach to community violence prevention, which protects public safety in our community while reducing racial and ethnic inequality.

OCTOBER - This month was met with joy and a splash of bittersweetness. JAD celebrated its second anniversary following unanimous approval of its creation by the Commissioners Court in 2019. October also saw the original Director of JAD, Jim Bethke retire and the new Interim Director announced. This is the month that JAD is welcoming in a new era!

Director of JAD Retiring After Twenty
Plus Years of Service to the Criminal Justice System
The Harris County Justice Administration Department is extending best wishes to its Director, Jim Bethke, who retires on October 1.
Bethke began serving as Director of JAD in October of 2019 upon its creation. Under his leadership, JAD has experienced growth and navigated changes and advancements. In November 2020, Bethke served Harris County in dual roles upon being appointed as Interim Director of Pretrial Services.
Bethke came to Harris County after serving as Executive Director and Chief Defender for the Lubbock Private Defender and Executive Director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. His thoughtful style of leadership has helped our department become more of a supportive family.

We know that you all join us in wishing Jim well as he embarks on more quality family time, traveling, and maybe a few rounds of golf! - Cheers to you, Jim!
JAD's Interim Director Announced.
Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, Appointed Interim
Director of JAD

The Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, as Interim Director, following the departure of Director Jim Bethke.

Dr. Yáñez Correa joined JAD in June of 2020 as Deputy Director. In this role, she helped manage a team made of talented professionals, assisted the Director in developing and implementing the Department's strategic direction, maintained and managed the relationships with internal and external stakeholders, and helped oversee the public education, outreach, and policy research effort of the Department.
Dr. Yáñez-Correa brings over 25 years of service and experience to the role of Interim Director. Before joining the JAD team as policy director in 2020, she served as the Community Engagement Director and Policy Director for Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

Before making Harris County her home, Dr. Yáñez-Correa served as the Criminal Justice Program Director at the Public Welfare Foundation, where she developed and oversaw organizations in nine states that were seeking to tackle justice system-related challenges and to address the needs of crime survivors, individuals reintegrating back into their communities, and supporting other justice-system stakeholders striving to improve their policies and practices. Prior to that, she served for ten years as Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on advancing bipartisan justice improvements in Texas. During her time as ' 'TCJC's Executive Director, Ana successfully fostered relationships among a wide range of legislators, criminal and youth justice practitioners, law enforcement groups, civil rights organizations, and other community members, allowing TCJC to promote policies that foster public safety and community wellness while saving Texas billions in taxpayer dollars.

In 2014, she helped launch the Smart-on-Crime Coalition, a bipartisan effort that includes business, public policy, and civil rights groups in Texas, and her leadership helped ensure the passage of more than 150 smart-on-crime policies at the Texas Legislature that have positively improved the justice system outcomes in Texas.
Welcome Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa to her new role.
NOVEMBER - This month's edition saw a new look and new name, In Progress for JAD's monthly newsletter! Two articles from this edition received some extra attention. Continuing the mission of transparency and increasing public safety, JAD developed and made LIVE an Index Crime Rates Dashboard. In addition, JAD created and announced a new best practice policy to help both survivors of crime and law enforcement agencies and partners aid in standardizing the U visa process. Read about both topics from our November newsletter below:

JAD strives to be a resource to the public by providing timely and relevant information via our website. Increasing public safety and reducing violent crime is front and center to everything we do. To that end, we are thrilled to announce the launching of a new dashboard showing Index-Crime Rates statistics in Harris County. This dashboard shows crime trends over time in Harris County and compares crime rates between Harris County and other counties in Texas and between Harris County and large counties in the US.
The crime rate data for Harris County and other counties in Texas are sourced from the Texas Department of Public Safety Website, which is available for public use. Law enforcement agencies submit this data to the DPS, and this is made readily accessible on their website hereThe data for large counties in the US are sourced from various public websites, which are also available for public view/use.
The dashboard shows counts of index crimes as reported annually; the counts are normalized by population to show counts per 100,000 residents and year-on-year percentage change. The trend is shown from 2015 through 2020 for Harris County and counties in Texas, and from 2018 through 2020 is shown for counties in the US. 


Imagine being a survivor of a sexual assault or domestic violence, but you are too afraid to contact the police and report the crime due to your immigration status and the possibility of being deported. Imagine that you do report, but, in addition to the trauma you face, you now face additional hurdles in getting certification to apply for a visa so you no longer have to worry about your immigration status. This can be the reality for the approximately 412,000 undocumented immigrants in Harris County.
Congress created the U visa with the dual role of assisting law enforcement agencies in detecting and investigating crimes and encouraging reporting by those who might be fearful of law enforcement due to immigration status. To qualify, an applicant must have been a survivor of certain qualifying crimes (e.g., domestic violence, trafficking) and help authorities in the investigation and/or prosecution of this crime. The U visa awards lawful status (and thus the ability to obtain a work permit) and a path to a green card and citizenship for immigrant survivors and their families. However, only 10, 000 primary U visas can be issued per fiscal year (October to September). 
In fiscal year 2020, there were 36,448 total U visa applications filed across the entire United States. Of these, 5,165 applications, or 14 percent, were denied. As a result of the cap on the number of U visas issued there were still 270,074 applications pending from 2020 and previous years. Due to this large backlog, those who apply for a U visa wait on average seven years for a decision. This can take a toll on survivors since while waiting on a decision, they can still potentially be deported due to their immigration status. Using data from the Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and Harris County District Attorney’s Office, there were 2,193 certification requests in Harris County in 2020.
One required part of the U visa application is a completed Form 1-918B (i.e., U visa certification) which must be completed by a certifying agency. However, there is no standard certification process for this form either nationwide or locally. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not require law enforcement to certify U visa applicants, even if they are survivors of crime or singular witnesses of serious criminal activity, and are helpful in the investigation or prosecution of these crimes. This creates additional hurdles for survivors to apply for a U visa, adding to their trauma and undermining the purpose of the U visa.

To address these challenges in the U visa process, on November 10, 2020, Commissioners Court approved a motion made by Commissioner Adrian Garcia instructing the Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD) to produce a Model U visa Policy for law enforcement agencies to use when processing Form I-918B requests and to promote this procedure to local law enforcement agencies.
On March 30, 2021, JAD presented a Model Policy and report to Commissioners Court. During that Court, JAD was instructed to meet with advocates to get their feedback on the policy and make changes incorporating this feedback. The JAD team met with County partners to help build a U visa Model Policy composed of best practices. As a result of these meetings, JAD updated the report and Model U visa Policy to ensure Harris County’s approach is survivor-centered. The Model Policy was also reviewed and approved by the County Attorney’s Office.
JAD submitted the updated report and the Model Policy to Commissioners Court on October 12, 2021. Commissioners Court unanimously approved this Model Policy during this meeting.  This Model Policy is advisory for certifying agencies to use when they receive the U visa certification requests by immigrant survivors of crime or their legal counsel. By choosing to implement this policy, certifying agencies can make the U visa certification process easier and more uniform for survivors of crime without creating more barriers or hurdles for them in addition to the trauma they have experienced. This can also be used as a template for other counties in Texas and nationwide to implement more survivor-centered policies for U visa certification.

Following this unanimous approval, JAD is working with local law enforcement agencies and other certifiers to educate them on the U visa and the Model Policy. Additionally, JAD has been producing a social media campaign that helps to inform and educate the public on the value of the U visa and break down the Model Policy and the certification process.
JAD is grateful to Commissioners Court for giving us the opportunity to work on this important topic that impacts survivors of crime.
Harris County Commissioners Court Approves JAD’s Advisory Model Policy That Strengthens The U visa Certification Process. Read the full press release here.
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CW39: Harris County Justice Administration releases local crime trends and comparisons.
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