DA Ogg believes in order to create a safer community, it is important that we help individuals become productive members of society. Sometimes, this means a chance to address problem behavior without a permanent criminal record. Pretrial interventions are not limited to special courts. In fact, DA Ogg’s Administration has instituted reforms and strengthened programs that worked.
Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program
During the past decade, the HCDAO prosecuted more than 100,000 cases of misdemeanor possession of marijuana at a cost in excess of $200 million dollars. This previous approach produced no tangible public safety benefit for the people of Harris County and deprived communities of valuable criminal justice resources.
MMDP is a precharge program offered by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to Offenders who would otherwise be arrested and charged with possession of misdemeanor marijuana, regardless of criminal history.
It is a voluntary program which gives the Offender an opportunity to avoid arrest, jail booking, and the filing of a criminal charge – no record. And it saves $18 million annually in prosecutorial and law enforcement budgets.
Mental Health Diversion Program
In 2018 county and local leaders opened the Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center to address the needs of mentally ill residents committing “nuisance” crimes.
The Mental Health Diversion Program successfully reduced the number of mentally ill people languishing in our county jail for low-level offenses by more than 3,000 people, saving taxpayer dollars in the process. Accordingly, the District Attorney and law enforcement partners recently expanded the offenses eligible for diversion, potentially doubling the number of Harris County residents who receive the treatment they need instead of cycling in and out of our jail.
Driving While License Invalid or Suspended Intervention
When someone is arrested for Class B Driving While License Invalid or Suspended (DWLS), it is frequently the result of unpaid fines or fees. We work with defense attorneys and the court to reset cases until the client is able to get their license restored.
The number of Dismissals and Deferred Adjudications for DWLS averaged 45% in 2015 and 2016, trending up to 59% in 2017 and 2018. As of early 2019, that non-conviction rate is 77% and climbing.
Clean & Green
This program offers criminal offenders the opportunity to keep their criminal records clean by cleaning up our bayous and waterways. This is a public-private partnership with the HCDAO and American YouthWorks’ Texas Conservation Corps.
Offenders charged with non-violent low level offenses can apply for the program when they first appear in court. In return, they will avoid a permanent criminal record that can limit job, housing and education opportunities.
In the first year, 1,049 participants have cleaned their records through this program, collecting 63,222 bags of trash, 258 tires, 12,800 tree branches, and cleaning 4,875 miles of waterways and roads this year. They have planted 44 trees and 5,609 native/other plants.
DWI Pretrial Intervention
This program provides probation supervision for a one-year term for first-time DWI offenders. Participants are required to meet with a probation officer once a month, complete 16 hours of community service, complete a nine hour drug and alcohol course, as well as install an alcohol monitoring device in their vehicles as conditions of their contract. Other stipulations may be required if their assessment recommends.
Retail Theft Pretrial Intervention
This program is offered to first time offenders charged with misdemeanor Class B –Theft (Retail Only -$100-$750). It is a voluntary program which gives the offender a one-time opportunity to keep their record clean.
The program recognizes the principle that first offenders with low level, non-violent offenses are often self-correcting without the need for more formalized and costly criminal justice intervention. First-time offenders who elect to participate in the program will sign an agreement to do so for a period of 90 days. Upon successful completion of the Retail Theft Pretrial Intervention Program the offender’s case will be dismissed.
Make it Right!
This program gives people with open warrants or pending Class C tickets the chance to clear up their records for free, and without being arrested or going to court.
This program, held in conjunction with different precincts across Harris County, will help clean records so they can stop looking over their shoulder, and start looking ahead. Our office works to hold multiple “Make it Right!” programs during the year.
Volunteers from The Beacon, Public Defender and HCDAO volunteer their time to help expunge records and provide free legal advice.
Specialty Court Programs
Responsive Interventions for Change Docket: Controlled Substance Intervention
Through pretrial interventions and/or deferred adjudication, Responsive Interventions for Change (RIC) prosecutors give people accused of possessing up to 4 grams of controlled substances a second chance to get drug treatment in the community or in a treatment facility, instead of sending them to jail.
Cases are filed directly into RIC. Of the nearly 7,863 cases handled by the RIC court in 2017 and 2018, only 8% resulted in a criminal conviction; the rest resulted in dismissal or treatment and the opportunity for a clean record.
The RIC approach to drug possession has significantly reduced state jail recidivism, from an approximate 60% re-arrest rate to an approximate 26% re-arrest rate, and was recently praised as a promising court model by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
Mental Health Court
The Mental Health Court serves felony defendants with serious mental health needs as a sentencing alternative to incarceration. The Mental Health Court program follows a progressive sanctions model that involves frequent interactions with the court, and includes a full treatment team that includes the judge, specially assigned prosecutors and defense attorneys, the community supervision officers (CSO) and relevant treatment providers.
Many veterans face significant barriers when they return to the community. The Veteran’s Court is designed to help participants successfully transition. The court, which works in direct connection with the Veterans Administration, is staffed with volunteer prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office.
STAR Drug Court
STAR uses a combination of early identification of clients with substance abuse issues, supervised treatment, and judicial monitoring. Participants work through a phase system, which includes a highly structured treatment program that progresses to less frequent contact and eventually an aftercare program.
Victim Services Programs
Since January 2017, the Victim Services staff has doubled, a team that works across divisions in our office in order to coordinate services and care. About 1/3 of this staff are social workers. In total, this staff speaks 14 different languages.
Cultural Outreach Program
In response to the overwhelming number of domestic violence cases within Harris County, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office – Family Criminal Law Division set out to develop and implement new programs to increase education, outreach, and accessibility of our services to all communities within Harris County. One of these new programs is the Cultural Outreach Program, which provides victim services to culturally specific immigrant and minority communities.
The program will increase victim safety by assessing, filing, and obtaining protective orders for victims. This will be facilitated by collaborating with community agencies already involved in the counseling and support of these victims.
The community agencies involved in this program include: DAYA, Boat People SOS, Mexican Consulate, Casa Juan Diego, An-Nisa Hope Center, and Houston Area Women’s Center, Harris County Constable Precinct 7, and Northwest Assistance Ministries (8).
The Restitution Center has collected more than $29 million in repayments from offenders on behalf of crime victims since 2017.
100% of the money collected has been distributed to victims.
Special Prosecution Programs & Task Forces
Animal Cruelty Task Force
Following Hurricane Harvey, the Harris County Animal Cruelty Taskforce was formed with the primary goal of streamlining the process of where and how animal cruelty can be reported in the Greater Houston Area.
Partner agencies of the Taskforce include:
- Harris County Constable Precinct 5
- Harris County District Attorney’s Office
- Harris County Sheriff’s Office
- Houston Police Department
- City of Houston Animal Control
- Crime Stoppers of Houston
- Harris County Public Health Veterinary Public Health
- Houston Humane Society
- Houston PetSet
Call 832-927-PAWS or visit https://927paws.org/ to report animal cruelty in Harris County.
Project 180 - Human Trafficking Intervention and Prosecution of Exploiters
Project 180 seeks to redefine our approach to human trafficking utilizing a multi-disciplinary team to identify victims while aggressively prosecuting their exploiters. Project 180 was originally an 18-month program, funded by a grant from the Governor’s Office which has been renewed, and has four major goals in mind:
- Reduce the harm of a criminal conviction for young offenders, aged 17 to 24, charged with prostitution-selling who likely entered into this life as adolescents and trafficking victims;
- Bridge this same population with a community agency (Houston Area Women’s Center) for services with an eye toward leaving the life;
- Increase accountability of exploiters (sex buyers and traffickers) through increased prosecution and sentencing; and
- Gather data and research to inform future policy regarding this population.
This approach lead to a record number of human trafficking prosecutions in its first year while more than 170 sex workers were connected to the Houston Area Women’s Center for rehabilitation and re-entry services.
After-Hours Task Force
The After-Hours Task Force begins its work at the scenes of drunk-driving crashes and works its way backward to determine when and where alcohol was obtained. Our team works with law enforcement agencies across Harris County, but we also need your help to ensure that nuisance bars and night clubs are not contributing to the carnage on our roads.
We consider a bar or club a nuisance if it:
- Serves alcohol to underage individuals;
- Serves alcohol to drunk individuals;
- Serves alcohol after hours; or
- Acts as a driver of crime.
To report a nuisance bar or night club, email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 713-274-1500.
Harris County Strangulation Taskforce
HCDAO founded and operates Harris County Strangulation Taskforce to develop a strangulation protocol. Strangulation is a high lethality crime and the presence of strangulation in a domestic abuse situation increases the chances of homicide sevenfold. Getting officers and prosecutors trained on strangulation is one of our premier efforts to begin to reduce the domestic violence homicide rate.