Citing the need for a criminal justice system that advances equal justice and protects our communities, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he plans to vote against District Attorney Kim Ogg’s request for a massive 31.7 percent budget increase that, if approved, will fund an additional 102 prosecutors.
“This is a significant expansion of the District Attorney’s Office, and it signals a commitment to doubling down on our system’s over reliance on arrest, prosecution and incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenses related to poverty, homelessness, mental health, prostitution and substance use,” Commissioner Ellis said. “Given the county’s finite resources, we should be investing in reforms like pre-arrest/pre-charge diversion programs that, unlike pre-trial diversion programs, will divert the person before they enter or re-enter the criminal justice system to services and treatments that can better address the root causes of these types of cases.”
Commissioners Court on Tuesday will consider the request—which is more than four times the increase recommended by the county’s Budget Management Department— during public hearings to approve the county’s 2019-20 budgets. The District Attorney’s Office budget calls for a substantial increase of over $25 million per year. So far, the District Attorney’s Office has not provided Commissioner Ellis with requested information regarding caseload backlog, its causes and what reform-minded solutions such a budget increase would provide.
“Without clear and convincing evidence of the underlying causes of the caseload backlog, there is no way to know whether this drastic budget increase will provide the most effective and fair solutions. Since we don’t know what the problems are or how to best solve them, it would be irresponsible to spend an additional $25 million a year in tax dollars without conducting a caseload study,” Commissioner Ellis said. “At this point, I cannot commit to approving any budget increase above the 7 percent recommended by the county’s Budget Management Department.”
Commissioner Ellis believes the county must invest tax dollars in reforms that will make our communities safer and our justice system more fair, efficient and effective for all people. Also, the county must invest in smart-on-crime reforms that promote the safety and well-being of all communities and divert people away from the criminal justice system.
“Arresting, prosecuting and locking more people up aren’t the way to do that. For too long, we’ve used our limited public resources to ‘get tough on crime’ when we should have been smart and fair,” he said.
“In Harris County, we are at a transformative crossroads for our justice system. We are finally taking steps in the right direction to end mass incarceration, help communities recover from the devastating effects of these failed tough-on-crime polices and finally bring balance to an unequal justice system. This budget increase would be a huge step back.”
Read Commissioner Ellis' Full Letter to District Attorney Ogg.