While the Harris County Jail population has declined by 25% since 2009, county leaders are actively working on long-term, data-driven strategies to sustain their recent successes in jail population reduction. To continue building on past reform efforts, Harris County was awarded $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge to invest in strategies that will further reduce the average daily jail population over the next three years.
To tackle these issues, the county will implement several reform strategies to divert offenders from the system. For example, the county will adopt and train stakeholders on an innovative pretrial risk assessment to ensure that low-risk offenders are diverted out of the system at the earliest opportunity. Additionally, a recent analysis showed that 20% of the felony pretrial detainee population were charged with low-level, non-violent offenses. Of these, 51% were African American, 21% Hispanic, and 26% White, compared to an adult county population that is approximately 18% African American, 42% Hispanic, and 32% White. In response, a new “Reintegration Impact Court” will handle about 8,000 low-level, non-violent felony cases a year and maximize diversion by increasing the use of pretrial bonds, pretrial interventions, and probation placements. Recognizing ethnic and racial disparities in the criminal justice system, a new position of racial and ethnic disparity coordinator is being created to facilitate community forums, greater transparency and training for criminal justice stakeholders on disparities that exist in the local justice system.
LEAD AGENCY -
Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, supported by the Office of Criminal Justice Coordination
In addition to members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (which includes two County Commissioners, the Mayor of Houston, District Attorney, Sheriff, District Clerk, County Attorney, Presiding Judges of the three Criminal Court Divisions, Administrative District Judge, Chief Public Defender, and others), Local Mental Health Authorities, Coalition for the Homeless, Council on Alcohol and Drugs, and Houston Center for Sobriety.
JAIL CAPACITY -
Expanding the First Chance Intervention Program will help more first-time misdemeanor marijuana and retail theft offenders avoid detention and charges by completing community service or an education class
A new racial and ethnic disparity coordinator will facilitate community forums, improve dialogue between communities and criminal justice stakeholders, and coordinate trainings for stakeholders and their departments on disparities that exist in the local justice system
A new “Reintegration Impact Court” will handle about 8,000 low-level, non-violent felony cases a year and maximize diversion by increasing the use of pretrial bonds, pretrial interventions, and probation placements
The adoption and training of stakeholders on a new pretrial risk assessment will divert more low-risk offenders from the system at the earliest opportunity
In addition to the $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, the county will invest $3.4 million over the next two years to reduce the average daily jail population by 21%.
29% of individuals held for a misdemeanor have a documented mental illness
When placed in detention, nearly 70% of offenders charged with a low-level, non-violent felony reoffended and cycled back through jail, but when diverted from jail with supervision and appropriate interventions, recidivism dropped to 28%