Jail Population Management & Diversion
Ron Cherry, Manager
Prior to pursuing a career in law enforcement in the mid-1980’s, Ron was a general manager for Houston’s top commercial and residential building supply company. The company transferred him to Houston to assume operations of a newly, renovated store location. Within a few years, the U.S. oil industry collapsed and many companies in the Houston area, including Ron's company, experienced financial hardships. Ron was immediately offered another opportunity in another city, but rather than relocate, he chose to pursue his second career choice: law enforcement. Although the difference in salary was significantly less, his intuition told him a law enforcement career had the potential to be the most rewarding experience in his professional life. Ron promised his father if after one year he didn’t feel he was suited to be a law enforcement officer he would return to the building supply industry. Thirty-plus years later, it’s safe to say, Ron found his calling.
After graduation from the Harris County Sheriff’s academy in 1988, Ron requested assignment in the Central Records Section to expand his knowledge of the criminal justice processes. Ron spent the next 29 years expanding that knowledge. As the division’s administrative deputy and liaison officer, Ron communicated daily with many municipal, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, courts and government offices, and top government officials resolving operational and judicial process issues. He was selected and appointed to numerous committees for the Sheriff’s Office and other county offices established to create better business practices and procedures. In 2016, Ron's contributions to the county and Sheriff’s Office were acknowledged by being awarded the Deputy Sheriff of the Year honor by the National Sheriffs’ Association. In 2017, he accepted the position of Jail Population Manager. This is a new position in the Sheriff’s Office. Many of the duties as the Jail Population Manager will expand on many of the duties Ron preformed in his previous assignment. However, it will also provide an opportunity to create new and innovative ways to track and manage inmate population data, address systemic issues related to the jail population, and continue to work with other justice partners to implement many of the new justice reform initiatives.
Jail Population Management
The role of the Jail Population Manager (JPM) is to help maintain the inmate population of the Harris County Jail below the functional capacity of the facility. The JPM identifies inmates who are suitable for transfer or release and monitors emerging trends in the jail population. Examples of duties, functions, and responsibilities include the following:
- Assists in expediting and/or identifying placement of incarcerated individuals in alternative settings, e.g., prison, treatment programs, hospitals, etc. at the earliest possible point;
- Liaises with criminal justice partners, e.g., pretrial services, assistant district attorneys, defense attorneys, probation, community service providers to expedite the processing of incarcerated individuals;
- Review practice and policy to ensure individuals are booked and/or released from incarceration in a timely and efficient manner;
- Produce data and reports related to the inmate population;
- Provide guidance and assistance in the development of software and reports to manage, classify, and track inmates;
- Collaborate with the In-Custody Population Coordinator and the Racial and Ethnic Disparity Coordinator to address systemic issues related to the jail population;
- Assist in assuring the jail meets the American Correctional Association Standards.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge
Launched in 2015, the Safety and Justice Challenge is the Foundation's national initiative aimed to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Harris County was one of 20 jurisdictions chosen to participate in its initial phase, competitively selected from a nationwide pool of nearly 200 applicants. Harris County received a two-year implementation award of $2 million dollars.
The Safety and Justice Challenge builds on the MacArthur Foundation's more than 20 years of promoting justice reform internationally and in the United States.
Reducing Jail Population and Promoting Fair, Effective Justice
8,500 to 8,700 people are held in the Harris County Jail each day making it one of the largest jails in the nation. Twenty percent of pretrial detainees in Harris County are charged with low-level, non-violent felony offenses such as drug possession and theft. There is a 70% recidivism rate for those charged with a low-level, non-violent felony. This percentage drops to a 28% recidivism rate when diverted from jail with appropriate interventions.
A racial and ethnic disparity coordinator will facilitate community forums, improve dialogue between communities and criminal justice stakeholders, and coordinate trainings for stakeholders and their departments on disparities that exist in the local justice system.
A "Reintegration Impact Court" will handle about 8,000 low-level, non-violent felony cases a year and maximize diversion by increasing the use of pretrial bonds, pretrial interventions, and probation placements.
A new pretrial risk assessment will divert more low-risk offenders from the system at the earliest opportunity.
Participants in the Sheriff's Weekend Work Program (SWEWP) clearing a field.
Participants in the Sheriff's Weekend Work Program (SWEWP) working at the Houston Food Bank.
Jail Diversion: Sheriff's Weekend Work Program (SWEWP)
Designed by Mr. Ron Cherry, the SWEWP is a jail diversion program allowing participants/defendants to work off their sentence rather than being incarcerated. Participants/defendants perform various manual labor tasks geared toward the cleaning and maintenance of Harris County facilities and property as well as working at the Houston Food Bank and Buffalo Bayou restoration project. They serve their jail time working at a designated worksite, not by being incarcerated in the Harris County jail. The work schedule is Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Primary objectives of the program:
- Provide Defendants an incentive for being industrious and accountable while serving their Harris County jail sentence.
- Reduce the cost of inmate processing and housing.
- Provide a community service on projects that benefit the citizens of Harris County.
With current resources, i.e. staff, electronic processing equipment, transportation, and tools, our maximum capacity of defendants for the SWEWP is set at 200. The program normally averages 165 defendants.
- Inmate workers are not allowed on private property
- No work is done outside the limits of Harris County (however, we do work in the City)
- All organizations must be non-profit
- SWEWP does not displace homeless individuals
- Hazardous material removal is STRICTLY forbidden
- SWEWP does NOT remove or dispose of any dead animals or human waste
- Defendant workers are not allowed on any sort of water craft
- Defendant workers are limited to “knee high” water (rubber boots are provided)
- Workers are not to be subjected to or allowed to work in severe/inclement weather (extreme heat, lightening, flooding)
- Deputies working in the SWEWP Program are responsible for the storage, cleaning and general maintenance of all tools and equipment, with the exception of maintenance and repairs on county vehicles and trailers
The criminal district courts could not function without Ron Cherry. Anytime there is a problem with getting someone out of jail, he can solve it. There has never been a time when I called Ron with a question that he didn't know the answer. He especially goes beyond the call of duty to assist with the transition of inmates with mental illness.The Honorable Jan Krocker
For most of my 24 and half years as a criminal district judge, I have had regular interaction in my judicial capacity with Ron Cherry. Whenever there is any problem or issue with jail residents or inmate questions, I call Ron Cherry. His service and expertise are invaluable. Ron Cherry has the knowledge, expertise, and concern to handle jail and inmate issues in a timely and expeditious manner. He uses that knowledge to utilize his storehouse of interagency contacts and information, as well as an obviously excellent relationship with them, to resolve a problem or answer a question as soon as practicable. And he does it in a professional and enthusiastic manner. His answers are always competent and reliable. He realizes the importance and urgency relevant to the safety of the community and aiding the courts in their administration of court business, as well as making sure no one, because of an internal issue, is wrongfully deprived of their liberty.The Honorable Denise Collins
Ron Cherry is a valuable asset to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. When Harris County was awarded the Macarthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice grant Ron was the obvious choice to become the new Jail Population Manager. Ron is well known and respected by the judiciary and by all of our criminal justice stakeholders. He has vast knowledge of how the jail and the criminal justice system work. We are fortunate to have Ron take on a leadership position further ensuring we provide justice in a fair and expeditious manner for all.The Honorable Robin Brown
Growth of Harris County
Harris County's unincorporated population now exceeds two million residents and has grown by an annual average of 4.1% since the 2000 Census, which is over five times as fast as the cities within the county which have averaged 0.7% annual growth per year.
Reduction of Jail Population
Harris County's jail population has steadily declined at the same time the county's population has increased dramatically. Harris County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation.
Mr. Ron Cherry
Jail Population Manager
Bureau of Mental Health and Jail Diversion