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Harris County DA Holds Seminar To Advance Criminal Justice Reform Plan

One goal is to give prosecutors the discretion to offer first time offenders and non-violent criminals the opportunity to avoid jail time.


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Harris County prosecutors, defense attorneys and others in the criminal justice system met for two-days in Houston on Thursday and Friday.

The focus of the seminar at the South Texas College of Law was District Attorney Devon Anderson's plan to reform the criminal justice system and make it more effective.

Anderson explained that, starting February 1st,there will be new diversion programs. One goal will be to offer first time offenders and those who have committed non-violent crimes the opportunity to avoid going to jail.

"I think we are recognizing the low risk offenders charged with non-violent offenses need to be dealt with in a different way,” the district attorney said. “We need to keep the dangerous, bad guys locked up, but these people we can work with and try to get back on the right path."

The state of Texas has agreed to send Harris County $5 million to help stop the warehousing of mentally ill people inside the county jail. It's part of the new state budget, which includes more spending on mental health treatment for the next two years.
The Harris County Jail.

The pre-trial risk assessment system that Harris County judges currently use will be modified because Anderson says it's outdated.

One example of an outdated criteria is whether or not the person has a telephone connected to a landline.

If they do not have one and instead have a cell phone, that scores against him or her.

"Who has a landline anymore?" Anderson asks.

A new approach to probation is another component of the plan. The goal is to make it more pragmatic.

"Probation will be individualized based on the specific needs of a person, what brought them to the situation to start with, what would keep them in the situation," explains Teresa May, Phd, who is the Director of the Harris County Community Supervision & Corrections Department.

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