Last week, Harris County officials announced a number of new sweeping reforms
to our local criminal justice system. The measures, which will potentially
be grant funded, are aimed at improving the efficiency of the court system,
reducing prison populations, and addressing racial and economic disparities.
Houston Chronicle reports, the proposed measures have been outlined after extensive research conducted
by local officials. That research was funded by the MacArthur Foundation,
who may continue to bankroll the reforms once they are established.
Perhaps most dramatic of the reforms is the expansion of pretrial and pre-arrest
diversion programs for the homeless and certain non-violent offenders.
This would allow these suspects to forgo incarceration and, instead, submit
to other penalties and treatment for addiction or mental health issues
Other measures include two new dockets for speedier violent offender trials,
new racial bias training for officials in the criminal justice system,
and the long-fought-for bail reform. Personal recognizance will now be
accepted in some cases instead of a cash bond in an attempt to combat
the economic hardships many minor offenders face.
"We Are Going to Do These Things"
The reforms may result in an additional push in funding from the MacArthur
Foundation: $4 million over the next two years. Officials, however, were
adamant that changes aren't being implemented in the pursuit of money.
"The pursuit of this grant has broken down the silos that we've
been working in, independent of each other," said District Attorney
Devon Anderson at a press conference. "Whether we win this grant
or not, we are going to do these things."
The changes are similar to what many jurisdictions are implementing or
considering in other places around the U.S. struggling with similar issues.
In 2015, California implemented Proposition 47, which "downgraded"
a number of non-violent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors in an attempt
to reduce the local prison populations. "What we found is that not
one group is responsible for who is in the jail," Anderson added,
referring to the arrest and incarceration trends that the recent research
yielded. "We all are."
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