HOUSTON - In a self-styled place called "Change Happens," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo came bearing gifts: $4 million tax dollars to fund youth services as a means of lowering crime.
The initiative looks to put more focus on programs like mentoring, job training, and even trauma counseling.
Hidalgo claims elsewhere, that the investment has paid better dividends than traditional policing.
"Targeting communities of color instead of engaging with them, that's how we ended up here and that's how we ended up with a disproportionate number of kids of color filling up our jails and prisons," she said.
Up for re-election as a brutal crime wave lingers, the incumbent Judge harshly criticized those who see more assets for traditional law enforcement as the core solution.
"Trying to mass incarcerate our way out of the problem instead of investing in a system that can tell the difference between someone who is a repeat violent offender and needs to be behind bars and someone who is a first-time or a non-violent offender," Hidalgo added.
The Youth Reinvestment Fund is aimed at keeping at-risk teens on track and out of trouble and comes with the support of Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
"In 2020, 98 percent of the youth in the Harris County Jail were Black or Latino," he said.
Those in the trenches of the battle to keep kids from turning to crime welcomed the resources and offered an apology to the young people who've fallen through the cracks in the past for lack of support.
"We held you accountable for our shortcomings," Dr. Assata Richards with the Youth Justice Coalition said. "We owe you amends for how we have destroyed your lives, and we are going to do better by you. We want you to not give up on yourselves and not give up on us."
The investment comes as Harris County Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have accused county leaders of "de-funding police".
It is a claim Hidalgo denies citing a net increase in the budgets for the District Attorney, the Constables, and the Sheriff's Department.