Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Monday her request for 102 additional prosecutors has been politicized and tried to quiet the concerns expressed by several criminal justice reform organizations.
Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Texas Civil Rights Project have criticized Ogg’s request. They argue additional prosecutors will result in more people being jailed in Harris County. Last week, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted his support for the DA’s request, calling the shortage of prosecutors a perfect storm of potential crime.
Ogg has asked Harris County Commissioners to approve a $20 million increase to her budget to hire the additional attorneys. The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the matter this Tuesday.
Addressing the criticism, Ogg said she intends to use diversion programs for non-violent offenders as frequently as possible. “We’re going to keep diverting every single person that we can out of our justice system without a criminal record because that’s what I promised to do and that’s what I believe in,” she said while attending a summit of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence in Houston.
The DA noted that her request aims to resolve “a math problem” because of a backlog of roughly 40,000 cases, and her department only has 335 prosecutors to handle the caseload. “We have fewer prosecutors per capita than most major cities that we’ve looked at. Even in Texas we lag behind,” said Ogg.
The effects of Hurricane Harvey, which flooded the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, exacerbated the problem and the backlog multiplies daily.
Ogg also addressed suggestions that her office hire part-timer lawyers or temporary personnel to deal with the backlog. She said the amount of evidence that prosecutors must review has increased in the past few years because of body cameras, external cameras, DNA and social media posts. “There’s a lot to review and I won’t let our prosecutors be placed in the position of working in an assembly line justice system,” she said.