Criminal & Juvenile Justice Reform

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has taken an evidence-based approach toward meaningful changes in the criminal justice system, seeking sustainable solutions that benefit all members of society. In the country’s third-largest criminal justice system, Judge Hidalgo’s efforts focus on investing County funds more effectively, promoting options that reduce recidivism while supporting successful reintegration. The County’s work to protect the constitutional rights of defendants while protecting public safety is now recognized as a national model for other communities facing unfair bail practices.

Key Accomplishments

  • Fixing our broken cash-bail system. By taking action to settle an expensive, three-year old lawsuit under which federal courts had deemed the County’s bail system unconstitutional, the County eliminated practices that often made wealth the sole basis for how someone accused of a misdemeanor crime was treated. The County’s work to protect the constitutional rights of defendants while protecting public safety is now recognized as a national model for other communities facing unfair bail practices.
  • Increased funding for the Public Defender's Office. The budding office, first established in 2015, received a 91% increase in funding this year. It can now represent around 20% of the County’s indigent criminal defendant population, significantly enhancing fair representation within our judicial system and moving us toward the best practice of a robust public defender’s office that represents the majority of indigent criminal defendants.
  • Adopted a Managed Assigned Counsel Program for indigent defense. The Court approved the adoption of this new indigent defense delivery model in our County Criminal Courts at Law. It will serve to oversee and enhance the independence, quality, and accountability of attorney appointments for indigent misdemeanor arrestees.
  • Stopped the construction of a new juvenile detention facility. Instead of focusing resources on mass incarceration, the County is working to direct funds at evidence-based criminal justice reforms.
  • Established the Justice Administration Department. The new department will coordinate and serve as the hub for criminal justice reform in Harris County. Just three weeks after opening, it is already working to re-envision our Criminal Justice Coordinating Council as a vehicle for collaboration in a traditionally siloed system. It will also oversee the implementation of misdemeanor bail reform and prioritize collection and analysis of criminal justice data to find ways to address inequities, reduce recidivism, lower crime, and save taxpayer dollars.
  • Passed package of criminal justice reform measures in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, including steps to create independent civilian oversight of police, humane use-of-force policies, the establishment of a violence interruption program, and public disclosure of use of force data and video footage. Additionally, the county is driving toward assigning at least 50% of indigent cases to public defenders within the next two years and is undergoing a deep, community-centered, examination of budgeting practices in the criminal justice system.
  • Created a package of initiatives to help the judicial branch of our government move through a backlog of criminal cases and address the violent crime rate,including:
    • The addition of six additional associate judges to assist the 22 Criminal District Courts to process more cases simultaneously.
    • Passed Emergency Docket Funding for $2.5 million to fund three visiting judges and necessary support staff.
    • The approval of $600,000 dollars in funds to expand jury operations at NRG, making more jurors available to hear cases.
    • A major and historic $15 million investment in technology for law enforcement which will make body cam systems more efficient -- consequently make video evidence available more quickly and speeding up processing of court cases.
    • Allocated additional overtime funding for detectives in the Harris County Sheriff's Office’s Violent Crimes, Adult Special Crimes, and Child Abuse Units to work the most serious, violent cases with improved information sharing, expedited investigations, and targeted investigations focusing on repeat offenders and organized criminal activity in known hotspots.
    • Funded seven temporary positions to assist with court evidence processing and accelerate processing of the 9-1-1 audio requests backlog.
    • Expanded the Jail Competency Program by $646,000 to provide the services needed to more than double the number of individuals annually restored to competency, which will help reduce the jail population and overcrowding, and cut the case court backlog
  • Implemented much-needed reforms to our jury system to promote increased participation in jury duty, including providing meal vouchers, free parking, distinct parking signage to help jurors find their way, free coffee and water, and an awareness campaign to draw attention to the changes.
  • Created a model policy to streamline the application process for a U visa that helps make the visa certification process more consistent and easier to navigate for agencies and survivors.
  • Passed a resolution supporting the posthumous pardon of George Floyd for a 2004 drug conviction based on invalid testimony.
  • Declared June 9th George Floyd Day in Harris County in honor of Mr. Floyd and the movement against racial discrimination and police brutality sparked by his tragic death.
  • Began tracking catalytic converter serial numbers to prevent thefts. Catalytic converters contain precious metals, including platinum and rhodium, and theft of the car part had gone up by as much as 400%. New regulations requiring metal recyclers to verify the origin of the converter and upload serial numbers to a law enforcement database now make it much more difficult for thieves to profit by selling the stolen converters to metal recyclers in the unincorporated areas of Harris County.
  • Launched Harris County Law Library LAWPod Initiativeto connect residents with more legal resources. The initiative will install six self-contained, internet-connected meeting pods and connect residents to online legal resources and legal aid providers.
  • Established a $4 million Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund that invests in community-based programs that reduce youth violence and detention and address racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. In 2021, following the implementation of a new Detention Screening Instrument, the likelihood of Black and Hispanic youth being screened as eligible for detention dropped from 20% more likely than white youth to about equal across races.
  • Established 10% minimum bond payment by defendants to help keep our community safe.
  • Developed a dashboard to collect bail bond data to encourage more transparency around bond amounts and the amounts defendants actually pay to bondsmen. This is a first step in determining what can be done at the County or state level to increase transparency around bond contracts and their effect on justice and crime.