Harris County receives $2 million grant to reform criminal justice system

Harris County is receiving a $2 million grant to reform and improve its criminal justice system. The Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is unveiling the plan for the funds at a news conference.

As described by the Foundation, the grant is "part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative supported by the Foundation with an initial $75 million to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails" and reducing racial and ethnic disparities.

Harris County operates the third largest jail in the country.  As research continues to mount on the negative impact that jail and prison can have on low-level offenders, the mentally ill, and communities of color, it can no longer afford to operate with a “business-as-usual” mentality.  As in most jurisdictions, people of color are overrepresented in the Harris County jail.  Harris County must find new, innovative solutions that do not unnecessarily criminalize its residents, assure justice, and make wise use of limited criminal justice resources – without compromising public safety.

That is why Harris County, Texas is proud to announce that, over the next two years it will implement a mix of innovative and common-sense strategies to reduce the average daily jail population and to address racial and ethnic disparities. This will be made possible by a $2 million grant announced tomorrow from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. The Challenge is a national initiative supported by the Foundation to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

Last May, Harris County was one of the 20 jurisdictions chosen by the Foundation for initial grants and expert counsel to develop plans for reform after a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states and territories.  With a strong coalition and a set of forward-thinking leaders, the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has taken significant steps to identifying, assessing, and targeting its efforts to address the ongoing challenges of managing one of the nation’s largest criminal justice systems.   Thanks to this generous grant, Harris County will implement meaningful reform to reshape the main drivers of Harris County’s jail population including creating a new “Reintegration Impact Court.” This court, which will handle about 8,000 low-level, non-violent felony cases a year and reduce jail usage and maximize diversion, will work to reduce disparities for communities of color.

2016 Click2Houston/KPRC2