From KERA News:
Jennifer Goolsby said she had done her time for a 2018 drug possession charge — but spent more than a week in the Dallas County jail after that, wondering if she’d be able to attend her brother’s memorial service.
She said she had to wait for a bureaucratic and opaque paperwork process to work itself out. At the same time, Goolsby was stressed about possibly missing the memorial service this Saturday.
“I did break the law and I’m supposed to do my time, but I’ve done my time. I’ve done well over my time,” Goolsby said while she was still in custody and didn’t know when she’d get out. “I really want to say goodbye to my brother.”
While the exact cause of the delay in Goolsby’s release is not clear, defense attorneys who practice in Dallas County say her situation is unfortunately not unique, especially right now.
The county’s transition to a new court case database – as well as some county staff being cut off from a separate tech platform managed by the jail – has led to significant processing delays.
Waiting and waiting
Goolsby pled guilty to a state jail felony on June 29th. That turned her case from active to “disposed.” Her sentence was 400 days, which she said was covered by the jail credit of 448 days for the time she had already spent in custody, off and on, related to the 2018 crime.
Here’s where the bureaucracy comes in: after the Dallas County Jail receives disposition paperwork from the courts for a crime like Goolsby’s, it then sends paperwork to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. TDCJ then processes and transmits its own release. Once the county gets the state release, someone in Goolsby’s situation can walk out of jail.
Goolsby’s partner, Kathy Weidman, said TDCJ informed her on July 5 it still hadn’t received the paperwork. The state also told her no paperwork on any inmate had come from Dallas County since June 28. A complicating factor was that the jail system had Goolsby listed under her maiden name of Williams.
“I cannot find who in Dallas County is responsible,” Weidman said. “That is the issue here. Who is responsible for this?”
Meanwhile, all Goolsby could do was send grievances through a kiosk for inmates at the jail. Inmates on the inside, she said, are “kind of blind.”
It’s unclear precisely where in the process the delay occurred. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and Chief Public Defender Lynn Richardson – whose office defended Goolsby – did not respond to KERA’s requests for interviews.
A TDCJ spokesperson said in an email that the department was operating with its normal protocol of processing paperwork in three business days. It referred all other questions to the county.
KERA contacted District Clerk Felicia Pitre on July 7. On Monday, July 10, she said in an email that Goolsby’s information had been sent to TDCJ.
Then, that evening, Goolsby got out. She was elated, yet still unsure how she would get to California for the memorial.
“That is the most important thing to me,” she said over Weidman’s speakerphone.
On Tuesday July 11, Pitre said the state sent its release letter back to the sheriff’s department on the 10th.
Whatever the cause of the delay in Goolsby’s specific case, she’s not the only one. The county’s technology problems are exacerbating existing red tape, attorneys say.
Dallas County has been struggling with a shift to a new criminal court case database since May. A separate complication is that some users of another criminal justice database managed by the jail, the Adult Information System (AIS), recently had their access cut off.
“Some employees who have not done their required fingerprints, and /or training have been temporarily disconnected pending completion of same,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement on June 20th regarding AIS.
The jail population, meanwhile, is now consistently in the 6,300 to 6,400 range, about 88% capacity. The jail hovered in the 5700 range during the second week of May.
Goolsby said that during her court appearance in late June, she saw attorneys representing other clients learning how to use the new court case system.
“They were being reminded by the judge, ‘hey, in order to put that motion through, you have to do it this way,’” Goolsby said. “But of course, that takes time.”
In her email, Pitre said her office was “overwhelmingly busy with the challenges of the new case management system.” She also included a description of the paperwork process written by her staff, which said not having AIS access has made it “very difficult” for clerks to get information from the sheriff’s department on how much back-time inmates had served.
Defense attorneys in Dallas County say the move to the new criminal case database, called Odyssey, is welcome. The older Forvus system had been in place for decades. Other counties – plus Dallas County’s civil courts – already use Odyssey.
That said, the rocky transition has had serious consequences.
Douglas Huff, president of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said he knows of another inmate who has been in custody for weeks beyond his sentence. That man is hoping his release is processed before it’s too late to visit his dad in hospice care.
“If someone is sitting in a cage for any longer than they’re absolutely supposed to, then we’ve failed them,” Huff said. “That is something that must be addressed. Otherwise … we’re hurting people.”
Some of the problems pre-existed the transition, attorneys said, although the slowdown has been noticeable since the database transition and change in AIS access. Huff said things that used to require a matter of hours take days. Something that required days can now take weeks.