HARRIS COUNTY– (March 2, 2021) – Yesterday, the Justice Administration Department (JAD) presented a memo to Commissioners Court providing findings on trends in crime statistics for 2020. During the recent Commissioners Court hearings, commissioners and the public have brought up crime statistics, bail reform, and violence prevention have been discussed in detail over the last year. Based on the Commissioners' request, JAD's policy team began researching crime data within Harris County to observe any crime patterns and possible solutions.
Harris County, Texas’ most populous county, changed its bail practices for misdemeanor defendants between 2017 and 2019 following a lawsuit challenging cash bail. This memo provides an overview of the implementation of the ODonnell Consent Decree, general trends in violent crime across the country, in the city of Houston, and Harris County. The report also describes the Justice Administration Department’s approach to addressing violence and supporting crime survivors.
• Across the United States in 2020, we saw an increase over 2019 levels in homicides, aggravated assaults, and gun violence. Some forms of violent crime are also increasing in Harris County. These increases are unacceptable and necessitate a strong policy response. However, some connect recent increases in crime in Harris County to misdemeanor bail reform. The memo presents three overarching pieces of evidence against a link between crime statistics and bail reform: the who, where, and when.
• The who: Misdemeanor bail reform exclusively changed how Harris County treats low-level, non-violent misdemeanor defendants.
• The where: Violent crime rose during 2020 in large metro areas across the United States. Those increases occurred in areas that implemented bail reform and those that did not, providing further evidence of a non-relationship.
• Finally, the when: Month-by-month analysis shows that monthly rates of unemployment and COVID cases are more closely correlated with increases in murders the next month. Reduced use of cash ball was actually associated with reduced murders the next month, suggesting that bail reform protected public safety.
This report concludes by discussing the numerous policy initiatives JAD is pursuing to reduce violence in Harris County. Thus, this memo concludes that other policy initiatives-not renewed reliance on cash ball-will be required to halt the increase in violence.