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As Tech Troubles Persist, Dallas County’s Jail Population Swells

County data indicates that prolonged wait times for inmates in jail, inaccurate information and curtailed access to the jail data system have contributed to the growing county jail population.

Two months after moving to a new case management system, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, public defenders and judges are among those who say inmates languish in jail longer than before the change, and some wait weeks for an attorney to be appointed.

The migration of the county’s criminal database to the new Odyssey system has also made critical reports inaccurate, according to staff from several county criminal justice departments present at a recent county jail population committee meeting.

“I want everyone to understand the urgency,” said Ellyce Lindberg, the district attorney’s chief of grand jury and intake.

Some criminal justice staff — including judges — have also been stripped of their access to the jail data system, a move the Sheriff’s Department said was necessary to comply with federal criminal information standards.

Top county officials overseeing the migration say that while the move to the new Odyssey system has been difficult, it is working, and had various criminal justice departments paid better attention to internal communication about the transition, they would have faced a smoother transition.

County Clerk John Warren pointed to a demonstration of the new system that the county provided to The Dallas Morning News.

“We gave you a demo of the Odyssey system, real time,” he said in an email. “It worked then and now.”

But county data indicates that prolonged wait times for inmates in jail, inaccurate information and curtailed access to the jail data system have contributed to the growing county jail population.

On Monday, the jail reached 87 percent capacity of its 7,408 beds. Capacity in April — before the computer system was changed — hovered around 80 percent.

“Since the transitions, we’ve seen an uptick in the jail population,” LaShonda Jefferson, the county jail population manager, said at the Friday jail committee meeting.

According to the county’s June jail data, inmates who have been court-ordered to be released wait an average of six days longer to be released than in April.

Throughout the meeting, Commissioner John Wiley Price acknowledged that there have been criminal case software program “challenges,” but said that staff are working on a solution.

“All of us are flying kind of in the blind,” Price said.

The jail population has been steadily increasing throughout the summer. According to the latest data — which could itself be incomplete due to the system management transfer — 2,018 inmates, or about a third of the people in jail, have yet to have charges filed against them. Before the county migrated to the new case management system in May, the number of inmates waiting for an indictment was less than half of that.

State law gives prosecutors 90 days to get a case ready for indictment. Those held in jail beyond 90 days without a grand jury trial must be released on reduced bail or a personal recognizance bond.

Warren and District Clerk Felicia Pitre are in charge of Dallas County records and have spearheaded the system data transfer. The migration has been years in the making.

Pitre did not respond to requests for comment, but said in June that she found it “difficult to believe” that inmates were being held in jail longer than they should.

Criminal attorneys, including Mike Howard, have strongly disagreed, saying that their clients are victims of a botched data transfer.

“Everybody I talk to is frustrated,” he said.

Criminal District Judge J. J. Koch said in an interview last week that he had someone who took a plea, but had to wait a week to be released due to the new system.

District Attorney John Creuzot said in an interview Wednesday that while the Odyssey system may be operational, his office is still struggling to navigate the program three months after its launch. Creuzot said prosecutors and staff don’t have the full access required to do their jobs.

“You can’t tell which is a current case and whether or not a case is open,” he said. “When the system gives you limited information on the criminal case, you can’t make decisions about it quickly, and that takes more time.”

Lindberg also said at the jail committee meeting that “critical” reports are no longer accurate since the data migration.

“We can’t do our job without knowing who’s in jail, what’s going on or what’s the case status,” she said in the meeting.

Creuzot echoed these concerns.

“The reports we run now are meaningless to us,” he said in the interview.

Some inmates have not met with their court-appointed attorney or public defender for weeks because of delays in assigning attorneys.

“We’ve had the problems with the transition into Odyssey with a breakdown in the system,” Lynn Richardson, chief public defender, said at the meeting. “If it hasn’t been assigned to a court, then we can’t really assist them.”

That leaves inmates sitting in jail with little or no progress being made on their cases.

“We’re finding a number of those individuals who are languishing after having been magistrated, and again — the system is down — and they’re sitting there for a few weeks,” Price said.

Richardson said that the county is working on a workaround to provide case information sooner to judges who appoint attorneys.

Criminal District Judge Angela King also asked at the jail committee meeting about judges’ inability to access the jail database system.

Criminal court judges now have limited access to the Adult Information System (AIS), a database that stores case information on those arrested in Dallas County. Court staff use the system to determine when to bring an inmate into the courthouse for a hearing.

The FBI requires all law enforcement agencies with access to criminal justice information to be in compliance with its regulations, said Dallas County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Jasmyn Carter. The state conducts an audit to see who has completed criminal information training and has been certified.

“If people are not current, they cut them off,” Carter said.

Koch said he and other district judges are working through the certification process. Meanwhile, “we have to rely on prosecutors for weeks now to tell us what bail and bond is set at.”

Pitre addressed the AIS access concerns in the meeting.

“We hear a lot, ‘Well, we’ve always been able to do that.’ But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve been doing it right,” Pitre said. “This is an opportunity for us to get it right.”

Warren said that the county IT department is also still working to merge AIS with the state filing system.

“Neither are prohibitive of anyone conducting their business,” he said in an email. “We are using our manual process as a workaround until those integrations are completed.”

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.