Three report series from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and partners shine a light on the justice system in Harris County. Reports on pretrial detention highlight the number of legally innocent people who are jailed every week in the county, while individualized judicial scorecards show the percentages of Black, Hispanic white, and non-Hispanic white people jailed by each judge. Both report series are part of our Harris County team's advocacy for bail reform, which also includes support for ongoing litigation against the city and county. A third series explores indigent defense appointment rates to evaluate the use of the Harris County Public Defender's Office.
Harris County Pretrial Detention Report Series
A weekly report series from TCJC and the Texas Organizing Project reveals that Harris County’s felony judges are illegally jailing thousands of people prior to trial simply because they cannot afford the money bail required for their release. The reports rely on jail population data provided by Harris County to rank each judge by the daily average number of people detained prior to trial on their docket. The reports also highlight the hefty cost of pretrial detention to Harris County’s taxpayers.
Harris County Judicial Accountability Scorecards
In September 2020, TCJC and researchers at Harvard University began producing individualized scorecards for some of Harris County’s felony judges. The scorecards include the percentages of Black, Hispanic white, and non-Hispanic white defendants each judge detained prior to trial on their docket. The scorecards also compare each judge to other Harris County felony judges in terms of racial and ethnic disparities in detention rates and bond amounts. The reports rely on jail population data provided by Harris County.
Harris County Indigent Appointments Report Series
TCJC is partnering with Restoring Justice on a monthly report series showing the rates at which Harris County district judges are assigning indigent defendants to the Public Defender’s Office (PDO), which has the capacity to receive up to 20% of all district court indigent defendants. Ultimately, many judges are opting to appoint private attorneys to such cases – despite research showing that such attorneys are less effective than the PDO, and that they exceed maximum recommended caseload limits. The reports draw from Harris County’s New Indigent Defense dashboard.