Is HPD monitoring social media websites for gang activity?

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I recently read that NYPD is now using Twitter as a partner against crime prevention.  Apparently, a “Crips Holiday” was being planned among several dozen gang members and they were using Twitter to help organize the event. The new Juvenile Justice Unit within NYPD, “which monitors social media websites for gang activity”, caught on to the planned event and was able to monitor the situation.

Arrests were made and a gun was also recovered inside the park where all the gang members were congregating. This is good news. I am not aware if there is such a unit within HPD that monitors social media platforms for crime prevention, but there should be one. If you are a citizen and want to report possible gang activity in Houston, visit StopHoustonGangs.org. You can also report possible activity with your Smartphone. Visit HtownBingo to learn more.  

Original story featured in Mobile Marketing Watch on Aug. 26th, 2011.

Harris County is creating a new court for Child Prostitutes

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A new pilot program is underway in Harris County – a specialty court offering a humane alternative for dealing with child prostitutes. Such a court has been much needed since children are the victims, not the perpetrators of child prostitution. In the past, there had been too many cases of young girls who had been sexually and physically abused, had run away from a foster home, and become emotionally impoverished and dependent.

Bravo for State District Juvenile Judge Michael Schneider, Associate Judge Angela Ellis, the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, and Children at Risk to create a pilot for a juvenile human trafficking court. The funding has been provided for staffing and services. All that is needed is suitable housing.

Original story appeared in Houston Chronicle, Sunday July 31, 2011, A New Beginning.

IFI – Prison Reform that Works

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68% of prisoners in the US return to jail within three years…. 48% of prisoners in Texas return to prison in three years.

Only 10% of prisoners who participate in the IFI prison program return to prison in three years.

How is it possible that inmates who participate in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative have such a low rate of return? Why are the majority of these inmates not repeating crimes and not repeating undesirable behavior compared to other prisoners?

The IFI program is located in Richardson, Texas (45 minutes from downtown Houston), just down the road from the Carol Vance Texas prison. The program began in 2000 and although the unit itself is funded by the State, the program is a non-profit mostly relying on help from volunteers.

For an inmate to be allowed to enter the program, they must have 2 years or less on their prison sentence and must not be a sex offender. So about my visit to seeing the IFI first-hand, I was not allowed to take photos inside the unit, and although I cannot imagine this unit looking much different than other prison units, one thing that really stood out was the gardens within the unit that are planted and maintained by the inmates. Some of the gardens I saw would have given your ‘garden of the month’ homeowner a run for his money. Despite the high fences and barb wire, it was refreshing to see plants and flowers blooming within the unit.

Texas IFI Director Tommie Dorsett, led the tour. He has been involved with the IFI since the beginning of when the program was launched eleven years ago. When launched, 25 men entered the program. Now, every year there are about 300 men in the program.

1st stop – the computer lab. Did you know that the average inmate is in jail for 10 years? Many of the inmates are not familiar with using computers, creating resumes, and drafting business plans. Yes, you read that right – Business Plans.

70% of corporations do not hire felons which impede many released prisoners from finding work. With that said, IFI places a big emphasis on teaching the inmates to think about potential businesses they can create and putting these plans onto paper. Furthermore, several experienced business professionals in the community volunteer their time and provide coaching and instruction on how to create a business plan. To date, 33 participants have started their own businesses such as air condition repair, landscaping, plumbing, painting services, and car mechanic service. Just my first stop on the tour and I was already impressed.

Next stop, recording studio. As soon as I walked in I saw two inmates behind a desk that featured an Apple computer and sound equipment. Yes I was a bit jealous since I don’t even own an Apple laptop. Along the walls of the recording studio were dozens of kids’ books – some in Spanish as well as English. This was not your traditional recording studio. In this room, inmates who are fathers actually read children books and record their voice. The recordings are then mixed with background sound effects and recorded onto a CD that is then mailed to their families. Once the mom or family member pops in the CD, the kids, as you can imagine, are so excited to hear daddy’s voice and are thrilled to listen to the CDs over and over. Two times a year recordings are made – at Christmas and for birthdays. Such a wonderful idea that helps connects the fathers with their kids.

3rd stop – hear a Toastmasters speech. I was totally surprised when I found out that there is a Toastmasters group at IFI! If you are not aware of Toastmasters, it is a club that helps members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. The club meets on a regular basis so that members can practice speaking in front of audiences, listening, and providing each other with feedback and evaluation.

Great, we on the tour were thrilled to be able to hear a speech from one of the inmates. The Toastmaster (who did a great job welcoming everyone and stating the course of the meeting) introduced one of the inmates – Derrill who gave a speech entitled “How your Weakness can become your Greatest Strength”. I have heard a good number of speeches. In fact, I was also in a Toastmaster group years ago and heard several people give talks. Derrill…. Derrill was awesome. He gave a speech so well that he had my complete attention and interest. Full of life, animation, and conviction, Derrill told one of the greatest stories I have ever heard. What a brilliant idea to teach leadership and speaking skills – implement a Toastmasters group in prison.

There are several other programs at the IFI such as Financial Management, courses on work ethic, anger management, Embracing the Father, and Purpose Driven Life. Unfortunately our tour did not permit enough time to visit all the different classes.

As to why do I think the InnerChange Freedom Initiative is so successful, although the wealth of classes and learning opportunities available for the inmates help, I believe the success is attributed to the volunteers and mentors who dedicate their time to helping prepare these inmates for reentry to society, employment, religious and community service, and family and social relationships. It is because of the volunteers that the program is largely successful.

Roy Garcia, who has been volunteering for 2 ½ years, said it best, “I continue to be amazed at the wonderful transformation that occurs in the men that go through the IFI program. When these men come to my office (the Aftercare Office, where I work, where the men visit after they are released from the Carol Vance Unit) and visit me I am amazed at the profound change that has occurred. The man sitting in front of me is not the man of whom I read about in his file. The man who in his early 20’s was a drug user and seller is now a productive member of society. It’s such a privilege and joy for me to be part of this wonderful ministry.”

To learn more and see how you can help, please visit www.ifiprison.org.

Permit required to give food to the Homeless in Houston

Two Houstonians who had been providing warm meals for dozens of homeless people for more than a year have been told to stop because they do not have a permit.

According to the Health and Human Services Department, the reason they have been ordered by HPD and city officials is because the the food must be prepared in a certified kitchen with a certified food manager. So now the 60 to 120 people Bobby and Amanda Herring fed nightly for more than a year will have to go hungry, beg for money to eat, or perhaps go ravishing through restaurant garbage cans looking for something to eat. Moreover, the food that had been donated from area businesses and prepared in various kitchens that were then given to the Herring’s to distribute, will have to be thrown out.

Many people have applauded the Herrings’ efforts including Connie Boyd, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, but have defended the city’s stance.

There is a saying “Only in America” that is used to refer to something so bazaar and unusual. When other cities, States and countries read about this, unfortunately they might say – “Only in Houston”.

Read the full story at Chron.com.

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How many children in Texas have a Parent in Jail?

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1.5 million Texas children have a parent incarcerated in state or federal prison and the highest percentage of these children reside in Harris county with Houston leading all Texas cities with 6,617 children with incarcerated parents. Sadly, 75% of women who are incarcerated are mothers.

Unfortunately, children of incarcerated parents usually result in having:

  • Instability in family relationships and structure
  • School behavior and performance problems
  • Shame, social and institutional stigma
  • Children of incarcerated mothers are four times more likely to be “still in” foster care than all other children.
  • May suffer from multiple psychological problems including trauma, anxiety, guilt, and fear
  • Symptoms including depressions, difficulty in sleeping, concentration problems, and flashbacks about their mother or father’s crime or arrest

Is there an organization besides the State that offers help to these kids?

Yes. Cherish our Children International has joined forces with No More Victims to make a difference in the lives of these kids. 1,000 children have participated since this program’s inception in 1993. Absent this program, 85% of these children would have predictably followed in their parents steps and now be incarcerated. Rather, only 3% suffered their parents’ same fate. To learn more visit www.nomorevictimsincglobal.org To participate and learn how athlete Gabrielle Baumeyer is raising money to support these kids, read her story here. Thank you.

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Does HPD deserve more appreciation than what we give them credit for?

Could the Houston Police Department deserve a lot more appreciation than what we give them credit for?

Imagine if HPD reported every case they handled on Twitter. This would show the public what officers have to handle on a daily basis. Sound crazy? Well it’s not. The Manchester Police Department in Britian is doing this and city residents are now seeing just how much the police are involved in the community and how much they are relied upon.

In just one 24 hour period they responded to 3,205 incidents. Everything from a caller complaining that a man shouted “your gorgeous” at her while another woman asked for help to sue the Benefits Agency because she had no money.

Come to find out, a lot of what they do is dealing with social and health problems such as missing children, people with mental health problems and domestic abuse. They are seeing time and again the same families, the same areas and the same individuals causing the same problems and these people are causing a considerable drain to the public purse.

Fascinating huh? I don’t think it is wishful thinking to suggest that HPD start twittering their day’s work. Do you?

 

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Harris County has the greatest number of gang members in TX

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According to the National Gang Threat Assessment, the Houston region is home to far more gang members than anywhere in Texas. An astounding 225 gangs are roaming the city according to intelligence reports and at least 10,000 members that have been confirmed by police.  Because of their large number, they have a propensity to create a large number and wide variety of criminal acts.

Such acts include home invasions, robbery, kidnapping, murder, extortion and drug trafficking. Worse, these gangs have a younger, more violent membership.

What can we do as Houstonians to help stop crime?

Visit www.stophoustongangs.org – This site collects, reports information on all types of gangs. The website allows residents to report anonymous tips and suspicious criminal gang activities in an effort to thwart the threat. The site also has great information about how gangs try to recruit new members, how students can avoid gangs, how to help the police anonymously and more.

Original story by Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle, October 10, 2010.

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