Programs & Diversion
Helping individuals become productive members of society creates a safer community. Sometimes, this means a chance to address problem behavior without a permanent criminal record. A rehabilitative approach benefits not only early, often young offenders but helps reserve prosecutorial resources and prison space for violent, repeat offenders. Pretrial interventions are administered in specialty courts as well as via the Harris County District Attorney’s Office’s strengthened, proven programs.
From 2006–16, more than 100,000 misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases cost taxpayers in excess of $250 million. This approach produced no tangible public safety benefit.
The war on drugs resulted in overcrowded jails and left generations of ordinary people with criminal records. That’s why the District Attorney’s Office decided to take a different approach. In Harris County, those in possession of a small amount of marijuana are not arrested. If it’s less than 4 ounces of contraband, police seize the marijuana and advise offenders to attend a diversion class called the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program. Because there’s no arrest, there’s no criminal record and that means you’ll still be eligible to find a job, rent an apartment, and apply for federal financial aid. The program doesn’t discriminate against those with criminal histories, and you can take the class more than once.
Our Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program is keeping thousands of people out of jail, while keeping police officers on the street to handle serious crimes.
Mental Health Diversion Program
In 2018, District Attorney Kim Ogg and other leaders worked together to fund the Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center to address the needs of mentally ill individuals arrested for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes. Historically, these low-level offenders spent months in jail and when released, returned to the streets without treatment. They often were injured or declined further while jailed.
The Mental Health Diversion Program has successfully reduced the number of mentally ill people languishing in our county jail for low-level offenses by several thousand, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in the process. More important, 87 law enforcement agencies now take those offenders to the Mental Health Diversion Center instead of jail. While at the center, they are assessed and connected with treatment providers. Stabilization of these mentally ill individuals has proved far more successful then jailing them, as evidenced by the significant reduction in recidivism.
Number of diversions since program inception on 9/4/2018 – 12/31/2021: 4,316
*Statistics from The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD
Clean & Green
This program offers offenders the opportunity to keep their criminal records clean by cleaning up our neighborhoods, bayous, and waterways. This is a public-private partnership with the District Attorney’s Office and American Youth Works’ Texas Conservation Corps.
Those charged with nonviolent, low-level offenses can avoid a permanent criminal record that could limit job, housing and education opportunities, all while giving back to the community. Clean & Green contributes approximately 600 volunteer hours per month to remediating illegally dumped trash.
In the first year of the program, 1,049 participants 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. They have planted 44 trees and 5,609 native/other plants.
Driving While Intoxicated Pre-Trial Intervention Program
The Driving While Intoxicated Pre-Trial Intervention Program is a post-charge diversion program dedicated to giving a second chance to those charged with DWI. Most participants are charged with their first DWI and have minimal or no criminal history. Potential clients undergo assessments and participate in the development of an individualized treatment plan based on their unique needs.
To participate, applicants must complete an application along with submitting to a Texas Risk Assessment System (TRAS), which assesses the risk and needs of offenders placed in the program. In addition, several participants engage in a one-on-one meeting with their attorney and the Misdemeanor Bureau Chief to further understand the events that led to their criminal case. Participants at times are required to complete a research essay in which they are to explain how much alcohol it would take to reach the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tested at the date of their arrest for their height and weight, and what physiological effects that BAC would have on their body. Participants have demonstrated greater understanding of the seriousness of the offense they have committed.
Retail Theft Intervention Program
This program is offered to first-time offenders charged with misdemeanor Class B–Theft (Retail only–$100-$750). It is a voluntary program that gives the offender a one-time opportunity to keep their record clean.
The program recognizes the principle that first offenders with low-level, nonviolent offenses are often self-correcting without the need for more formalized and costly criminal justice intervention. Those who elect to participate sign an agreement to do so for 90 days. Upon successful completion, the offender’s case is dismissed.
- Is an adult, older than 17 at time of offense
- No criminal history out of county or state
- No additional charges arising from the instant detention/arrest (other than Class C tickets)
- No outstanding warrants or holds at the time of arrest for theft (excluding Class C warrants) out of county or state
- Has never received probation or deferred adjudication as an adult (Class B offense or above) out of county or state
- Not currently on bond, deferred adjudication or probation as an adult (Class B offense or above) out of county or state
- Has not previously participated in this program or another pretrial intervention program as an adult out of county or state
Specialty Court Programs
Responsive Interventions for Change Docket: Controlled Substance Pre-Trial Intervention
Responsive Interventions for Change (RIC) prosecutors help people accused of simple possession of a controlled substance and certain prostitution cases by facilitating substance abuse treatment in our community or in residential treatment facilities through pre-trial intervention and deferred adjudication. Both pre-trial intervention and deferred adjudication serve as an alternative to incarceration—keeping people out of prison and facilitating meaningful change in the lives of thousands of families affected by drug addiction.
Simple drug possession cases are filed directly into RIC Court. Since RIC’s inception, 85% of RIC-eligible cases have resulted in treatment for drug-addicted defendants, whereas before about 80% of such cases resulted in taxpayer-funded conviction and incarceration.
Diversion of cases to RIC has also resulted in a 25–50% reduction in rearrest rates. Prior to RIC’s creation, defendants spent an average of 123 days in jail. Today, the average jail time spent on simple possession cases is 23 days. Before, approximately 900 defendants were sitting in jail at any given time for possession charges; that number is now closer to 60.
RIC works to intervene in the cycle of addiction by providing opportunities for people to get treatment and avoid convictions and prison sentences. The RIC program benefits defendants, their families, and our community.
Additionally, a partnership with the Public Defender’s and District Attorney’s offices assists individuals who have successfully completed a pre-trial intervention contract with obtaining an expunction and removing any record of arrest to allow defendants to avoid the lifelong collateral consequences of a felony record.
Felony 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: the judge, specially assigned prosecutors and defense attorneys, the community supervision officers and relevant treatment providers.
The District Attorney’s Office founded Veterans’ Court in 2009 to specifically address the gap between veterans involved with the criminal justice system and developing unique individualized treatment programs to get those veterans the services and support they need. Veterans’ Court is a partnership among the District Attorney’s Office, Harris County Criminal Justice System, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs designed to monitor misdemeanor and felony offenders, divert them into intensive treatment, and provide a healthy and successful re-entry into the community.
STAR Drug Court
STAR stands for Success Through Addiction Recovery. It is a substance abuse program for nonviolent, felony offenders who have substance abuse at the root of their criminal behavior. STAR Drug Court is unique because it is a collaborative effort among prosecutors, defense attorneys, adult probation, and the judiciary. Each team member plays a role in contributing to the ultimate success of defendants overcoming their substance abuse issues through the program. STAR Drug Court participants work through three phases of the program. Graduates receive constant support from the team. Each defendant’s treatment plan is unique to their individual needs.
Cultural Outreach Program
In response to the overwhelming number of domestic violence cases within Harris County, the District Attorney’s Office’s Domestic Violence Division set out to develop and implement programs to increase education, engagement, and accessibility of our services to all communities within Harris County. One of these initiatives is the Cultural Outreach Program, which provides victim services to culturally specific immigrant and minority communities.
The program increases victim safety by assessing, filing, and obtaining protective orders. This is facilitated by collaborating with community agencies already involved in the counseling and support of these victims.
The community agencies involved in this program include: An-Nisa Hope Center, Bay Area Turning Point, Boat People SOS, Casa Juan Diego, Daya, Family Time Crisis & Counseling Center, Katy Christian Ministries, Houston Area Women’s Center, Harris County Constable Precinct 7, Mexican Consulate, Northwest Assistance Ministries, Shifa Women’s Center, and The Bridge Over Troubled Waters.
The Restitution Center has collected more than $45 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
Following Hurricane Harvey, the Harris County Animal Cruelty Taskforce was formed with the primary goal of streamlining where and how animal cruelty can be reported in the Greater Houston area.
Partner agencies include:
- Harris County Constable Precinct 5
- Harris County District Attorney’s Office
- Harris County Sheriff’s Office
- Houston Police Department’s Major Offenders Division
- City of Houston Animal Control by BARC
- Harris County Public Health Veterinary Public Health
- Houston Humane Society
- Animal ER of Northwest Houston
Call 832-927-PAWS (7297) or visit 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 multidisciplinary team to identify victims while aggressively prosecuting their exploiters. Project 180 was funded by a grant from the Governor’s Office, which has been renewed, and has four major goals:
- Reduce the harm of a criminal conviction for young offenders, aged 17 to 24, and others charged with prostitution-selling who likely entered into this life as adolescents and are trafficking victims
- Bridge this same population with a community agency, such as Houston Area Women’s Center or TXFNE Center for Forensic Excellence, for services with an eye toward leaving the life
- Increase accountability of exploiters through increased prosecution and sentencing
- Gather data and research to inform future policy regarding this population
This approach led to a record number of human-trafficking prosecutions in its first year while sex workers continue to be connected to nonprofit agencies 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 nightclubs 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 nightclub, email our office at [email protected] or call 713-274-1500.
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