Computer glitch raises questions about Harris County Jail’s computer system

A computer glitch in a Harris County law enforcement system prompted authorities to order the release of nearly 300 jailed inmates, as the glitch prevented those defendants from appearing in their probable cause or bail hearings. on bail within the time limits set by the state — a red flag that some officials say indicates the county system needs additional resources.

The system used by authorities and the Harris County prosecutor’s office to file criminal charges crashed from 7 p.m. on March 24 to 9 p.m. on March 26, according to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

While county officials called the two-day blackout “minimal,” others said it violated defendants’ due process. People should generally not be detained for treatment for more than 24 hours in misdemeanor cases and 48 hours for felony cases, according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

“They can’t sleep, they’re not allowed to walk around, and they’re just stuck in chairs,” said Alex Bunin of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. “Imagine doing this for two days with no breaks other than going to the bathroom.”

The Joint Processing Center can weigh heavily on defendants and the lawyers made available to defend them, Bunin said. This stress can be a catalyst for violent incidents at the JPC center which can affect both staff members and defendants, he added.

Prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office have asked Probable Cause Court magistrates to delay the release of some inmates for an additional 24 hours, providing a list of the inmates in question. Some detainees were held for felonies, others for misdemeanors. Magistrates approved most of the motions – meaning some detainees were allowed to be held longer – on Friday and Saturday.

One of those magistrates, Courtney St. Julian, later denied a similar request on Sunday and ordered the release of at least 280 defendants, citing an “insurmountable” backlog of cases before their court and that too many defendants were left without consideration of probable cause. or a bail hearing.

Recordings of the extensions were unavailable on the Harris County Clerk’s Office website due to the outage and were provided to the Chronicle by other county government agencies.

Some of the defendants eligible for pretrial services were released on personal bail, while others charged with more serious offenses had their bail set at $10,000, according to court documents.

At one point during the system outage, about 250 people were being held at the Harris County Joint Processing Center, authorities said. Once the system began processing data on Saturday evening, the most serious felony charges were filed first.

It is unclear how long some defendants waited for probable cause hearings and how many were immediately released once the magistrate issued his decision.

The Chronicle reviewed a list of defendants eligible to receive pre-trial services and found that at least 10 were detained for more than 65 hours before going to court amid the glitch. The extensions allowed inmates to remain detained before their probable cause or bail hearings.

Bunin and the district attorney’s office said county leaders need to address the issue, which has happened three times before.

“It has happened before and should have been anticipated. What we need is a back-up plan in case the computers fail,” he said. “It is a system that worked for decades on paper, so it can be done and we need a way to manage that when we don’t have access to computers.”

Dane Schiller, spokesman for the district attorney’s office, called on Harris County on Monday this week to provide adequate support for universal services.

“The safety of the public, the safety of our criminal justice system, and the efficiency of our courts demand that the county provide Universal Services with the resources necessary to resolve this issue and ensure this never happens again,” a said Schiller, spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. in an email.

Nicole Hensley contributed to this report

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Gordon K. Morehouse