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Dallas County jail population climbing amid tech trouble

the Dallas County Jail was at 85% capacity on Friday, the highest since early March. County officials say technology problems may be contributing to that.

The population of the Dallas County Jail rose to its largest number since early March, and county staff say the culprits are two vital technology platforms that hold criminal case information.

Friday’s population number was 6,141, about 85% capacity. That was the highest since the jail held 6,157 people on March 6th.

In a regularly scheduled meeting about the jail population, multiple staff members said the slowness of the change to a new court case management system has led to a significant slowdown in their ability to do their jobs.

“In my opinion, jail population was definitely trending down … until Forvus transitioned to read-only on May 16,” said LaShonda Jefferson, Dallas County’s jail population manager. “After that, starting May 18, we began ticking up. And we’ve just been going up and up from there.”

Jefferson said there was a “a lack of integration, a lack of stakeholder access, and a lack of training to the new system.”

Forvus is the county’s decades-old system for tracking and managing criminal cases. The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this month the problem lies with the migration of case files from Forvus into a new system built by Tyler Technologies.

KERA contacted County Clerk John Warren and District Clerk Felicia Pitre Friday afternoon about the migration from the old Forvus system to Odyssey, but neither had responded by the time this story was published.

Employees who work in the county court system identified a second problem, however: a lack of access to the Adult Information System platform used by Dallas County. The AIS contains information on anyone arrested in the county.

“I would refer to it as being blind and crippled,” said Paul Blocker, the first assistant in the county public defender’s office. “The things that were already taking twice as long are taking four times as long or longer.”

Carla Gilkey, the manager for the county’s misdemeanor courts, said not having access to AIS “is really putting a chokehold on us.” She said she is working with the sheriff’s department -- which does have access to AIS -- to get one of its people to help process cases.

“Nonetheless, when you’ve got, like, 70 people on the docket, and you’re trying to do dispositions, it’s kind of hard to have a sheriff’s representative on the phone” for all of that work.

The Dallas County Sheriffs’ Department operates the jail.

It’s unclear what precisely changed that led to staffers in other segments of the system losing access to the AIS platform. A sheriff’s department spokesperson did not immediately reply to KERA on Friday.

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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.