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Audit | Dallas Community Courts Mismanaged

City

Judges Gavel | Image by ALDECA studio/Shutterstock

Dallas County Treatment Courts appear to be poorly managed, according to a recent audit.

Treatment providers were found to lack the proper certifications, and one in particular was allegedly charging fees for a program that is free to participants and paid for with taxpayer-funded federal grant money. Case files were also reportedly found to be inaccurate and not handled securely.

The audit of the South Dallas Drug Court and South Oak Cliff Veterans’ Treatment Court, both of which belong to the Dallas City Attorney’s Office’s community courts, was published on December 29.

The South Dallas Drug Court handles substance abuse cases, and the South Oak Cliff Veterans’ Treatment Court handles cases involving veterans with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Offenders charged with Class C misdemeanors can be assigned community service through these courts to have their charges dismissed by the municipal court rather than paying for tickets and court expenditures. Community service is ordered to be completed in the area where the crime was committed.

The courts also connect offenders to social workers who can assist with rehabilitation and finding employment opportunities.

However, a recent report from City Auditor Mark S. Swann found that these programs have apparently not been managed effectively. Swann claimed there are no controls in place to ensure the activities of the treatment courts comply with official City procedures, and case files were not all complete, accurate, and secure.

“The South Dallas Drug Court and South Oak Cliff Veterans’ Treatment Court do not have clearly defined written procedures to ensure that the financial and operational activities comply with applicable City of Dallas procedures,” Swann wrote.

Swann concluded that the treatment courts’ management did not ensure that treatment providers had professional certifications and licenses or maintained the required insurance.

Additionally, the audit reports that both paper and electronic files did “not include complete and accurate records of participants’ progress, compliance, successful completion of treatment, and community service hours.” Court management could also not provide a reliable listing of participants, whether current or past.

Swann also found that electronic case files “are not always protected from unauthorized access.” A quarter of the people who had access to the database of electronic files were apparently no longer employed by the City of Dallas.

Following the release of the audit, the City Attorney’s Office said it would promptly revoke the file access of these former employees.

Because the treatment court management reportedly did not effectively monitor its contracts, one treatment provider was allegedly found to be charging additional fees to participants for a program that is “free and paid for with federal grant money.”

“It is unclear if program participants paid for free services because the documentation attached to the invoices is incomplete and inconsistent,” Swann wrote.

In response to the audit, City Attorney Chris Caso wrote, “While the audit observed low-risk ratings in its review of the specialty courts, we recognized that there are always opportunities for improvement.”

The City Attorney’s Office said it already has measures in place to address many of the issues raised in the audit but will reassess if more changes need to be made.

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