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UH Law Center Professor Thompson credits community engagement for early success of Harris County bail reform

University of Houston Law Center Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson is working as a deputy monitor for the Duke University School of Law's ODonnell Monitor project.

University of Houston Law Center Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson is working as a deputy monitor for the Duke University School of Law's ODonnell Monitor project.

Sept. 3, 2020 - Measures taken after Harris County's historic bail reform have been successful, according to a six-month report recently filed in federal court with contributions from University of Houston Law Center Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson.

The success of the bail reform is attributed to the implementation of the ODonnell Consent Decree, a seven-year monitoring project conducted by Duke Law professor Brandon Garrett. Thompson, the Newell H. Blakely Chair and director of the Criminal Justice Institute, serves as a deputy monitor. Dr. Dottie Carmichael of the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University is also a participant.

The initiative includes ongoing analysis of Harris County data and intensive engagement with stakeholders. The report's first six months indicate an increase in releases in misdemeanor cases, a reduction in the use of cash bail and race disparities in imposition of cash bail and a decline in pretrial jail for most misdemeanor defendants.

"An important part of the success of the Consent Decree is due to our team’s 'Community Working Group,’" Guerra Thompson said. "The group is comprised of community leaders with experience in providing services for the homeless, survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking, foster kids, immigrants, and others. We also have civil rights leaders, and representatives of the downtown business community as well as law enforcement.

"The group has met with county officials to discuss such critically important issues as racial and ethnic diversity, law enforcement data collection on ethnicity, preventing homelessness and unemployment by providing services for people who are released from jail, and community outreach strategies. I cannot overstate the importance of this ongoing dialogue between this diverse group of local leaders and county officials."

Click here for more information on the ODonnell Consent Decree and pretrial justice in Harris County.

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