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Harris County District Clerk Launches Outreach Campaign Targeting Underrepresentation of Minorities in Jury Service

By Indira Zaldivar & Edward Saenz

Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess unveiled a new outreach campaign on Tuesday aimed at boosting participation in jury service in Harris County. The initiative, spearheaded by the Harris County District Clerk’s Office is specifically targeted at increasing representation from African Americans, Hispanics, and young adults aged 18-29 in jury duty.

During a press conference held earlier on Tuesday, Burgess emphasized the importance of having diverse juries that reflect the demographics of Harris County. She was joined by key stakeholders including the Honorable Judge Rabeea Collier representing the Jury Committee of the Harris County Board of District Judges, Bishop James Dixon II from the Houston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Alfonso Maldonado of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Dayana Iza speaking on behalf of the Latino grassroots organization Mi Familia Vota.

The campaign, branded as “You Complete Justice,” was launched on March 13 with a strong focus on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Its primary goal is to raise awareness about the importance of jury attendance and to encourage higher participation rates among underrepresented communities and younger demographics.

Statistics from 2023 revealed disparities in jury representation. While African Americans make up 22% of the county’s population over 18, they constituted only 17% of those appearing for jury service. Similarly, Hispanics, representing 33% of the adult population, accounted for 26% of jury appearances. Additionally, young adults aged 18-29, who make up 21% of the adult population, only constituted 17% of jurors.

District Clerk Burgess expressed her commitment to increasing jury participation since assuming office in 2019. She highlighted the potential benefits of diverse juries, citing research by Tufts University Professor Samuel Sommers, which indicates that diverse juries deliberate longer, make fewer inaccurate statements, and are perceived to be more fair and impartial.

The timing of the outreach campaign coincides with recent improvements in jury pay. Last October, jurors saw a significant increase in their compensation, with the first day of service pay rising from $6 to $30, and subsequent days now compensated at $58 compared to the previous $40. Additionally, Harris County has introduced an innovative debit card payment system for jurors, eliminating delays associated with receiving checks in the mail.

The HCDCO’s campaign will utilize social media metrics to assess its impact and effectiveness in the coming weeks and months. District Clerk Burgess remains optimistic that these efforts will not only enhance jury diversity but also foster greater confidence in the justice system among minority communities and young people.

For more information about the campaign and jury service in Harris County, individuals are encouraged to visit the Harris County District Clerk’s Office website and follow their social media channels for updates and engagement opportunities.