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Dallas County officials extend backlog court for felonies as jail population stays high

Dallas County Commissioners sitting at the dais.
Bret Jaspers
/
KERA
(l-r) Dallas County Commissioners Theresa Daniel, Andy Sommerman, County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins, Commissioners John Wiley Price and Elba Garcia.

Felony case counts in Dallas County are still higher than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s prompted officials to extend a special backlog court to handle them.

The court case backlog has contributed to some inmates not getting a speedy trial, as well as a stubbornly high jail population that has created cost overruns for county taxpayers.

According to a funding proposal that passed unanimously on Tuesday, there were 39,059 total felony cases as of November 30, 2022. About 21,500 of those were active. Both numbers are around 30% higher than they were on March 1, 2020.

“They are clearing cases quicker than pre-pandemic levels, especially these last 5 or 6 months,” Charles Reed, an assistant county administrator, said during a commissioners court meeting. “They just have not been able to make a dent in the backlog.”

The felony backlog court will continue through 2023 and cost almost $3 million. The money comes from federal COVID-19 relief dollars given to local governments.

Misdemeanors, however, are a different story. Total misdemeanors on November 30, 2022 were below what they were on March 1, 2020. Active cases are slightly higher, but county staff still recommended closing the misdemeanor backlog court.

Active cases are those awaiting final adjudication. With inactive cases, the defendant is unavailable and the court cannot take further action.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.