The Commissioner Court’s Analyst’s Office and the Office of Justice and Safety welcome 2024 as the Research and Analysis Division (RAD) under the Office of County Administration! The Office of County Administration formally merged the two previously independent departments (The Analyst’s Office and the Office of Justice and Safety) in October 2023 with a press release. The newly formed RAD includes a General Research Team, a Criminal Justice Research Team, and a Data Team, and will focus on key objectives of streamlined decision-making, enhanced collaboration, improved resource utilization, and better service to the community. The Data Team will support both the General and Criminal Justice Research Teams.
Amid all the exciting changes, RAD continued its ongoing commitment to supporting the Commissioners Court, the OCA, and County Departments through the publication of policy memos, technical assistance projects, and participating in various conferences and events in 2023. Staff from RAD served on a Request for Proposals (RFP) committee for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity’s Revolving Loan Fund, applied for grant funding for the evaluation and expansion of language access services in Harris County, and provided feedback and recommendations to ACCESS Harris, a care coordination model focused on improving outcomes for vulnerable individuals through cross-departmental and community collaboration.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the tenacity of our team members! RAD extended congratulations to Will Janowski on his promotion to Assistant Director and AJ Roy on his promotion to Deputy Director-Data Analytics. On the General Research Team, Laila Elimam was promoted to Manager – General Research and Aresha Davwa to Senior Research Analyst – Data Lead, while on the Criminal Justice Research Team, RAD congratulated Lindsey Geramifar on her promotion to Manager – Criminal Justice Research.
The team was also fortunate to welcome five new members, including Deana Hernandez, Ph.D. as project coordinator to support the RAD division; Kate Ranachan, Ph.D. on the General Research team; and Letitia Monreal and Denise Upshaw on the Criminal Justice team. Ishana Batta joined as a data analyst on the Data Team.
Finally, three dedicated interns supported RAD this year: Johnson Nicolas from Rice University (Spring 2023), Lauren Defrance from the Harris Fellows Program at the University of Houston (Summer 2023), and Ariana Phillips from Rice University (Fall 2023).
Read on to learn about the achievements RAD is most proud of in 2023!
Research and Analysis – General Research
In January 2023, RAD released a memo outlining best practices for the expansion and promotion of family planning services. As a result of the memo’s findings, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court directed the County’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Steering Committee to invest in family planning and reproductive health services. In March 2023, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Precinct One, Rodney Ellis, held a press conference to announce the $6 million Reproductive Health Care Access Fund to increase access to and knowledge of reproductive health services. In May 2023, RAD released an addendum to the January 2023 Family Planning memo.
In April 2023, RAD released a report examining youth firearm-related deaths and offenses in the County, which found an increase in firearm-related incidents among youth nationally. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Precinct One, Rodney Ellis, held a press conference discussing the report findings, while RAD staff spoke on the City Cast Houston podcast to discuss the report.
Also in April 2023, RAD published a memo on the management of Boards and Commissions in Harris County. The assessment found that Harris County is the only county of the five most populous counties in Texas to have dedicated staff responsible for the management of boards and commissions. In addition, Harris County appoints the entirety of the voting members for 27 boards and commissions out of the 68 under the County’s appointment authority. To learn more about Harris County boards and commissions and the application process, check out the RAD blog on boards and commissions here.
The RAD General Research Team also had a busy summer completing technical assistance projects for County partners, including an assessment of evaluations for county administrators from other jurisdictions, research on the development of Artificial Intelligence guidance for governments, and an overview of various supplier diversity programs at the federal, state, and local levels.
In the fall, RAD published a memo on uses for Harris County’s remaining $20.7 million in Hotel Occupancy Funds. During budget hearings, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved $1 million in HOT Funds for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) for staffing of special events, such as the annual Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show at NRG Park.
RAD finished out the year with the publication of the Harris County Snapshot, a project that reports comparison data for economic, housing, transportation, health, and environmental indicators for Harris County and six other counties. Notably, there has been a 50.9% decrease in homelessness within the continuum of care for Harris County and surrounding areas from 2010 to 2022. Despite this improvement, Harris County maintains the highest poverty rate among the counties analyzed in the report.
Research and Analysis – Criminal Justice Research
In January 2023, RAD updated the Survivor of Crime Resource Guide to include additional resources for trafficking survivors in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
In February 2023, the RAD team hosted community and County partners, including members from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Harris County Public Health, Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, Houston Police Department, Houston Area Women’s Center, and the Children’s Assessment Center, for a Valentine’s luncheon to observe Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
RAD’s Criminal Justice Research staff had a busy Spring and Fall as they attended and participated in various symposiums, conferences, and trainings. Members of the RAD team attended the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Policy’s Prison and Jail Innovation Lab symposium and the 36th Annual Juvenile Law Conference in February 2023. In March 2023, RAD presented at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Conference and attended the Survivors Speak Texas Conference at the State Capitol in Austin, where survivors of crime shared their stories and discussed the legislative bills in the 88th Texas Legislative Session.
RAD presented on criminal justice legislation and shared updates on Harris County’s violence prevention efforts during the Executive Forum for the Criminal Justice Planning and Justice Administration hosted by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) at Sam Houston State University in April 2023. Trainings that RAD staff attended last year included a training on stalking awareness and support for victims of stalking and a training on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In June 2023, the RAD team announced the six grassroots organizations that were funded through the Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund to provide direct support to juvenile justice-involved youth. The Fund is a multi-million-dollar fund created by Commissioners Court to invest in and enhance community-based support for justice-impacted families. The selected organizations are located throughout the County. While the organizations have different programmatic approaches, they all share the same goal of bringing community-based support to impacted families.
In September 2023, RAD collaborated with Harris County Public Health, to host the second annual violence prevention conference, with the theme of “Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Rising Against Community Violence.” Participants explored violence prevention strategies and innovative approaches to addressing violence in Harris County.
In response to emerging trends and challenges associated with the Harris County jail population, the RAD Data Team continues to update and maintain the monthly Jail Population Dashboard, a dynamic tool that allows partners to identify evolving trends and primary drivers of fluctuations in the jail population. Through close collaboration with the RAD Criminal Justice Research Team, the RAD Data Team conducted analyses to explore interactions between court performance indicators and key factors influencing the jail population.
The RAD Data Team also leveraged criminal justice datasets to provide analyses and solutions in the Sixth Report of the Court-Appointed Monitor for the ODonnell Consent Decree, released in March 2023.
In September 2023, RAD worked with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to unveil a comprehensive, public-facing U visa dashboard to inform the public about current certification processes in the County. The U visa program, created in 2000, was intended to encourage immigrant victims of domestic violence, trafficking, sexual assault, and other crimes where they suffered substantial mental or physical harm to report this victimization to authorities. The dashboard offers detailed insights into the processing of Form I-918B (U visa certification) requests, empowering stakeholders to make well-informed decisions based on trends since January 2019.
Finally, the RAD Data Team created a Local Rule 9 Monitoring Solution for the County Criminal Courts in 2023. The Monitoring Solution assists the County Criminal Courts with addressing potential exceptions to Local Rule 9 implementation and ensuring regulatory compliance.
The OCA Research and Analysis Division looks forward to continuing to support the Commissioners Court, OCA, and County departments in 2024. The Research and Analysis Division is excited to engage more with audiences within the County and the public. Make sure to follow the Office of County Administration’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages to stay updated!