New Harris County program aims to reduce recidivism in women


Harris County is investing $4.7 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to create a women’s re-entry program at the new Women’s Center jail.

Driving the news: Judge Lina Hidalgo, along with Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia, announced Tuesday that the initiative will support mental health services, trauma and substance abuse counseling, and vocational and educational training, among other services. County commissioners approved the measure last week.

Why it matters: Programs like this work to help incarcerated women re-enter society successfully, which helps to reduce recidivism and cut the cycle of incarceration, Hidalgo said at the press conference.

What they’re saying: “Research shows that individualized attention is what makes a difference in successful re-entry and lowering recidivism. The Women’s Center jail will offer these services on a one-to-one basis, which is unprecedented at this scale,” Hidalgo said.

  • “If we really want to reduce recidivism, we have to tackle programs that rehabilitate instead of only punishing, and these are the kinds of programs that do that.”

Details: Through the re-entry program, a case manager will work with the women to match them with necessary services — like connecting them to affordable housing, substance abuse specialists and mental health resources — and will help with job searches and financial planning, according to Hidalgo.

Flashback: The Women’s Center opened in February and can hold up to 500 women at its maximum capacity, though officials expect the facility will typically hold an average of 150 to 200 women.

  • The facility will house “minimum and medium security women” who are charged with “crimes like vandalism, trespassing, disorderly conduct, drug possession, non-aggravated theft,” according to the county.

Between the lines: The new center and the expanded services for incarcerated women come after the Harris County Jail failed yet another inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards last month.

  • The inspection found the jail failed to follow medical orders and treat detainees with medical issues in a timely manner, per the Chron. Harris County Commissioners Court in March approved a nearly $6.8 million plan brought by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez in an attempt to fix problems at the jail.

Zoom out: As of Wednesday, there were 9,721 people in the jail, plus 998 who have been transferred to other facilities, according to the Harris County Jail dashboard. At least five people have died in the jail custody this year.

Go deeper: In 2022, a record number of people died in the custody of Harris County Jail, in part due to overcrowding. Meanwhile, violent crime is down 10% in Harris County.