Dallas County jail crowding and unjust overdetainment

In summer 2023, Dallas County switched their county criminal database to the new Odyssey system. This has been a difficult transition and has led to a lower quality of life for Dallas County inmates. Wait times have been prolonged and inaccurate information and access to the data system have been dispersed. In July 2023 Dallas County Jail reached 87% capacity, a seven percent jump from April 2023.  The Dallas Morning News states that “inmates who have been court-ordered to be released wait an average of six days longer to be released [now] than in April.” This overdetention is holding free citizens in captivity for one hundred and forty-four hours. This violates Article Nine of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”[1] It also violates the right to personal liberty, as the person becomes arbitrarily detained if they are kept in custody after completing their sentence.

            This issue is frustrating for inmates, their attorneys, and families involved in the process. Many inmates are being held without any progress in their case, or without any word from their attorney. These factors contribute to the potentially dangerous conditions of prison overcrowding, a worldwide issue. Prison overcrowding has become a growing social problem, as state incarceration rates have increased since the nineteen-seventies. According to a May 2015 report by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, “Over the past forty years, the number of people held in prisons and jails in the United State per capita has more than quadrupled.”[2] The issue of prison crowding and unjust incarceration existed prior to July 2023, however the change in data systems to Odyssey has added yet another contributor to these human rights issues. 

            In August 2023 Dallas County jail reached ninety-seven percent of capacity.[3] In April 2023, before the introduction of the new computer system, capacity levels were around eighty percent.[4] While this number remains in compliance with state standards. Brandon Wood, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards said large staffing shortages across the state mean an empty bed is not enough. “You could have 100 empty beds, but if you don’t have the proper number of staff then they’re not actually operational.”[5]

            The transition to the new case management system has impeded prosecutors’ ability to process grand jury indictments.[6] 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[7]. Some 25 inmates were in jail longer than 90 days without an indictment.[8] By state law prosecutors have 90 days to get a case ready for indictment. The prisoner must be released on reduced bail or personal recognizance if held for more than 90 days without a grand jury trial. There have been delays in inmates meeting with their court-appointed attorneys because of delays in assigning attorneys. Lynn Richardson, chief public defender, said that the county is working on a workaround to assist judges who appoint attorneys.[9]

 

 Footnotes

 

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

 

[2] American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Overcrowding and Overuse of Imprisonment in the United States American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights May 2015. www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/RuleOfLaw/OverIncarceration/ACLU.pdf  

 

[3] Josehpine Peterson, “Dallas County jail surges to 97% of capacity; officials look at overflow options,” Dallas Morning News, 19 Aug. 2023, www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2023/08/19/dallas-county-jail-surges-to-97-of-capacity-officials-look-at-overflow-options/

 

[4] Josephine Peterson, “Dallas County’s jail population swells as technology troubles persist.” Dallas News, 21 July 2023, www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2023/07/20/dallas-countys-jail-population-swells-as-technology-troubles-persist/

 

[5] Peterson, “Dallas County jail surges to 97% of capacity.”

 

[6] Josehpine Peterson, “Attorneys say criminal justice in Dallas is in ‘paralysis’ due to upgrade woes: Changes to Dallas County’s criminal case management system have lawyers struggling to do their jobs.” June 5, 2023. https://www.dallasnews.com/news/courts/2023/06/05/attorneys-say-criminal-justice-in-dallas-is-in-paralysis-due-to-upgrade-woes/

 

[7] Peterson, “Dallas County’s jail population swells.”

 

[8] Peterson, “Dallas County jail surges to 97% of capacity.”

 

[9] Peterson, “Dallas County’s jail population swells.”

Street Address:

111 W Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75202 [map]

Cite this Page:

Natalie Neugent, “Dallas County jail crowding and unjust overdetainment,” Human Rights Dallas Maps, accessed June 25, 2024, https://humanrightsdallasmaps.com/items/show/41.

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