Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announces $4M initiative aimed at helping area’s youth

HOUSTON – Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s Office announced an initiative aimed at reducing crime across Harris County.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis and other local leaders joined her for the announcement.

Approved by Harris County Commissioners Court in April, Hidalgo’s office said the $4 million Youth Reinvestment Fund “will prevent crime, including violent gun crime, before it happens by supporting local organizations who engage at-risk youth and support strategies proven to divert young people away from the criminal justice system.”

Judge Hidalgo took a tour of Change Happens in Houston’s Third Ward Thursday where she met the director and some of the youth. Hidalgo said the non-profit organization will distribute $4M to local groups working with at-risk youth and steering them away from a life of crime through mentorship, summer programs, and drug education.

“The idea is today, these kids get involved, very young kids, many times, sometimes older kids are put in the justice system,” she said. “So, the ability to prevent crime before it happens will have an effect.”

In February, county commissioners approved a $1.4B budget for justice and safety programs.

“It includes increases for every law enforcement agent in Harris County, 400 vehicles for constables and sheriffs, and pay increases for police,” Hidalgo added.

Councilwoman Tarsha Jackson, who represents Houston’s District B, said it’s a new approach to curbing crime.

In February the city of Houston unveiled its $44M comprehensive “One Safe Houston” initiative, which includes youth outreach programs and funding more police overtime.

“Police do not stop crime. They respond to crime,” said Jackson. “We need the people that are in the community, that are working every day. We need them to have the tools so that they can respond and cure the violence that’s happening within our neighborhoods.”

Tomaro Bell, president of the MacGregor Super Neighborhood Alliance, said she applauds the county for investing in the youth, but does not think this program will directly impact today’s crime.

“You’re seeing kids as young as four and even younger getting shot. So, I think this may help in some way, but it’s not the solution for what we need at this time,” Bell said.

Bell said she believes more funding for officers, fixing the court process and giving youth a proactive place to go in the summer can all help with crime.

“I believe that we do need to do something about the perspective that youth have about officers,” she added. “So, I know Change Happens is a wonderful organization that will help them with the elementary kids and the junior high kids, but for the crimes we’re experiencing right now, that is not the age bracket that’s doing these terrible crimes. They’re older.”

Judge Hidalgo said the program will go into effect in a few months.

About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.