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Judge: Software Issues Still 'a Mess' in Dallas County, Texas

The federal government is investigating Dallas County employees’ complaints of not being paid adequately, and the state is investigating at least 11 cases of alleged neglect in the Dallas County Juvenile Department.

(TNS) — Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins said Wednesday that residents “deserve better” after one rocky software system implementation has led to people languishing in jail while it is almost full, and another botched system rollout left employees being paid the wrong amounts and vendors unpaid altogether.

Dallas County is also under state and federal investigations.

The federal government is investigating Dallas County employees’ complaints of not being paid adequately, and the state is investigating at least 11 cases of alleged neglect in the Dallas County Juvenile Department.

“It’s very frustrating. You obviously deserve better as taxpayers of Dallas than that. So we’re going to work to get that fixed,” Lewis Jenkins said following his State of the County address Wednesday. “It’s a mess.”

Lewis Jenkins spent the bulk of his State of the County address speaking about his long-term goals to improve mental health care, affordable housing and the economic strength of the region.

A surging jail population

Lewis Jenkins told reporters that the jail’s population is his most immediate concern. The county reported Wednesday that the jail is at 96% capacity, a slight reduction from a high of 98% on Aug. 22.

He pointed to three reasons for the swelling jail population.

He in part blamed the state for not quickly picking up inmates.

The Wednesday jail population report said that 1% of inmates were waiting to be transferred to a state prison.

Lewis Jenkins also said that those who have been determined to be incompetent and need state psychiatric help have been a contributing factor. The Wednesday jail population report said 5% of inmates were waiting to be transferred to a state hospital.

Lewis Jenkins also expressed frustration over the computer issues that have been an ongoing issue since May.

The district attorney’s office, public defenders and judges say the county’s criminal database migration to Odyssey has left inmates languishing in jail longer than before, with some waiting weeks for an attorney to be appointed in their cases.

“I’m struggling — they have yet to tell me exactly whose fault is what with that,” Lewis Jenkins said.

The software has impeded staff long enough to hit a state deadline that requires the county to release inmates who have not been indicted within 90 days. Officials said earlier this month in a Jail Population Committee meeting that some inmates have been released because the software problems are making it difficult, if not impossible, for prosecutors to file cases against them by the deadline.

The Wednesday jail population report said that 27% of inmates have yet to be indicted. Another 30% of inmates have not had expected felony charges filed against them.

Criminal justice officials are getting tired of waiting for solutions. State District Judge J.J. Koch said that he reduced bond from $10,000 to $1,500 for an inmate who was accused of driving while intoxicated for a third time. Koch said he wanted the inmate’s family to be able pay for his release while the case progressed. It took more than two weeks for the system to update the judge’s new bond amount. According to court records, he is still in jail.

“He’s probably one of the most egregious anecdotes that I heard recently on a bond issue,” Koch said.

Juvenile justice concerns

Lewis Jenkins said his second priority is addressing parents’ and children’s concerns about conditions at the Dallas County juvenile detention center — where about 150 children wait for a judge to determine whether they get released, placed on probation, or serve more time in county or state facilities.

Families and guards have told The Dallas Morning News that children can spend up to 23 hours a day in a cell. One child told his mother he went outside only once in 11 months. Others also complained to their parents of unsanitary conditions and inadequate or poor quality food.

The state has an ongoing investigation into 11 cases of alleged neglect, according to court filings in a lawsuit between the juvenile department and commissioners.

Lewis Jenkins told reporters that while he and Commissioner Andrew Sommerman have been advocating for change as members of the Dallas County Juvenile Board, they have been “consistently outvoted.” The board is the governing body overseeing county-run juvenile facilities.

“We will continue as a commissioner’s court to focus on getting anything that we can to help those kids,” Lewis Jenkins said. “I’m hopeful that perhaps the state legislature can help us with the juvenile situation.”

Pay discrepancies

For more than four months, Dallas County vendors and employees have said they have not been fully compensated — if at all.

The Auditor’s Office oversees payroll and the implementation of new version of a software financial management program that has bungled the county’s ability to pay employees and vendors.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s investigation into inaccurate pay to employees is ongoing.

Last week, district judges who appoint the auditor told Darryl Thomas to resign or be fired, per senior county officials. He resigned Aug. 23.

Lewis Jenkins confirmed Wednesday that the county is looking for a new auditor. He told The News that he is helping in a “national search” to fill the vacancy.

Lewis Jenkins has said that employees should be fully compensated within the next two pay periods. But an independent consultant, former DART interim president/executive director and ex-CFO David Leininger, told commissioners Aug. 14 that it would take months to correct invoices for contracted vendors.

Meanwhile, the budget office is working to provide commissioners a budget proposal in the coming weeks without a full picture of how much the county still owes vendors and employees.

© 2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.