Protecting Public Safety in Harris County

In this memorandum, presented to the Harris County Commissioners Court on February 26, 2021, I lead a team of analysts in the Harris County Justice Administration Department to show that bail reform in Harris County has not caused an increase in crime in the county.

We trace evidence from years of data on bond issuance in Harris County, Harris County criminal cases, incidents in the City of Houston, coupled with evidence from Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles. These data show us that some forms of violent crime (but not others) have increased in similar, uneven ways in each jurisdiction.

The memo presents additional evidence that those increases cannot be attributed to misdemeanor bail reform, for several reasons.

  • First, bail reform has exclusively changed how Harris County treats low-level, non-violent misdemeanor defendants.
  • Second, as shown above, crime rose in Harris County identically to several other jurisdictions that didn’t implement bail reform, showing a lack of correlation between the events.
  • Last, time-series analysis presents evidence that monthly increases in murders are, ceteris paribus, positively associated with socioeconomic and public health pressures, as well as use of money bail.

Impact

  • This memorandum was submitted to the public for the February 26 Harris County Commissioners Court.
  • Commissioners Court staff, members of Commissioners Court, and the Mayor of Houston each received a version of this report and/or a briefing on it.
  • The report is part of a broader effort to support Harris County ending wealth-based detention, and to show the benefits to public safety gained by doing so.

The Report

You can find a copy of the report here and you can see a copy of the presentation I gave to Commissioners Court here.

Press

You can listen to a radio interview I gave to KPFT Radio in Houston about bail reform in Harris County here.

I discuss this report in an interview with the Community Impact Newspaper, which you can read here.

Texas Criminal Justice Blog Grits for Breakfast wrote up our findings here.

I discussed our findings, in part, on the Harris County Commissioner Precinct One Podcast All For One. You can listen here.

Above

An examination of the timing, key events, and patterns of misdemeanor bail reform in Harris County.

Colin Cepuran Written by:

Colin Cepuran is a political scientist and a policy analyst working in Houston, TX.