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.