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 include:

  • 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.

  • Passed Historic Bail Agreement, Hailed as a ‘Model for the Nation’. 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. So far, the average daily population in our pre-adjudicated detention facility has decreased by 18% as compared with last year. The County is also working to turn Burnett-Bayland Rehabilitation Center from a facility that housed youth full-time into a more rehabilitative day facility that will allow youth to stay with their families.

  • 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.

  • Stood up against the Trump administration’s effort to instill fear in our immigrant communities. Judge Hidalgo has worked to fight against family separation policies, planned immigration raids in the County, and the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Additionally, the County filed a successful amicus brief against the Federal Government’s proposed “public charge rule” designed to threaten safety net services for immigrants and which would also overburden our county safety net systems.