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Former East Texas inmates accuse Smith County of keeping them longer than their sentences

 A jail hallway, with a yellow ceiling and gray jail doors.
Three former Smith County inmates said they were kept behind bars after they'd completed their sentences. Their attorneys say that may have happened to dozens more inmates.

A lawsuit filed by three former inmates says the Smith County Jail is keeping people detained for weeks beyond their sentences. It also alleges dozens more in the county, southeast of Dallas, may have suffered the same fate.

Complaints of inmates being held longer than their sentences have surfaced in other counties, including Dallas.

The suit, filed recently in federal court, claims Ladarion Hughes, Angela Alonzo, and Demarcus Lively were incarcerated beyond their sentences for 27, 33, and eight days, respectively.

Alonzo’s family had even attended her court appointment in spring 2022.

“After finding out she was entitled to immediate release, [they] waited outside of the Jail,” the petition reads. “After waiting outside of the Jail for eight hours, Alonzo’s mother and child finally gave up and left the Jail without her.”

It would be another month before Alonzo returned home.

The nonprofit Texas Fair Defense Project is representing the former inmates in the suit.

“Any time someone is in custody, they’re not only being separated from their families, but they're also losing an opportunity to work and to both contribute to society financially and to support their family,” said TFDP Attorney Nathan Fennell.

The suit names the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, as a defendant, as well as the Smith County District Clerk and District Attorney.

“We are aware of the lawsuit, but we do not comment on pending litigation,” Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman said through a spokesperson.

The problem, according to the lawsuit, is with the way Smith County processes and moves criminal case files, particularly after the parties arrive at a plea agreement and the judge approves it. The court clerks send documents to the sheriff’s office, who then has to transmit the records to the state to approve the inmate’s release.

The suit says the county does not have a way to prioritize the cases of incarcerated people who should be out.

“Smith County’s policies, practices, and customs include no method for identifying people who are entitled to release on or about the date they are sentenced, nor does it prioritize processing their sentencing paperwork over less time-sensitive tasks,” the petition states.

The Texas Fair Defense Project is also seeking certification of the suit as a class action. Fennell said they were aware of 15 people who had similar experiences to the named plaintiffs — possibly many others.

He also said there are “certainly” other counties keeping people in custody beyond their sentences.

KERA recently reported on a woman detained in Dallas County Jail who stayed more than a week over her sentence.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at

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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.