The Dallas County jail is dangerously close to capacity.
According to a presentation given by Commissioner John Wiley Price at a recent commissioners court meeting, the county jail has reached 88% capacity, with 6,371 of the 7,204 beds being filled with arrested persons.
Of the 952 beds allotted for female inmates, only 73 remain open.
“I’m just sounding the alarm,” said Price.
The commissioner’s discussion focused heavily on Dallas County’s district judges, blaming the county jail’s swelling population on court backlog. Assistant County Administrator Gordon Hikel claimed that arrested persons remain in jail because of the felony case backlog.
Hikel claims that three-quarters of people in county jail currently await trial, a plea bargain, or a case dismissal.
The Office of Court Administration (OCA) stated, “The number of active and pending felony cases has increased more this year in Dallas County than in any other county.”
“Most other urban counties saw decreases,” added the state agency, which provides resources and information on Texas’ judicial system.
Commissioner J.J. Koch has gone so far as to recommend that the commissioner’s court lower the salaries of the county’s district judges until changes are made to reduce the number of people in the county jail.
“Everything they have asked for, we have given them, and we have seen no change,” Koch said at the commissioners court meeting.
Of the 17 elected felony court judges, 13 responded in a strongly-worded letter, defending their work, which they claim is “regularly and unnecessarily demeaned and disparaged at commissioners court meetings.”
With the district judges firmly in the crosshairs of the commissioners court, lost in this discussion on the rise of crime is District Attorney John Creuzot.
As evidenced by the OCA data on felony cases increasing in Dallas while other major urban counties have seen those numbers drop, the district attorney’s performance in reducing crime has thus far gone under the radar.
Creuzot’s first campaign for office focused on Dallas’ so-called “mass incarceration” problem; he said his tenure in the district attorney’s office would put that to an end.
At a campaign event during his first run in 2018, Creuzot declared, “In the first 90 days, I’m going to give you a plan to end mass incarceration.”
The 2018 pledge tapped into the “criminal justice reform” zeitgeist of the time, where district attorney candidates across the country were running on leniency for certain crimes, upending the long-standing tradition of lead prosecutors touting their “tough on crime” bona fides.
These efforts received major support from billionaire George Soros, who funded the campaigns of district attorney candidates — including Creuzot — across the country. The New York Times reported that Soros contributed nearly $50,000 worth of polling for Creuzot as well as almost $200,000 worth of canvassing.
“We want to end mass incarceration. That’s our North Star,” said Whitney Tymas, head of Soros’ initiative to elect more district attorneys like Creuzot, in an interview with The New York Times.
Yet, three years into Creuzot’s tenure, Dallas County jail is nearing capacity. OCA data show that the number of felony cases is rising, and three-fourths of those in jail are accused or convicted of felony offenses.
The Dallas Express reached out to Creuzot’s office for comment on the disparity between his vision for his tenure and the reality as it now stands. We also inquired as to whether he agrees with the commissioners court that the district judges are to blame for the current capacity crisis facing the county jail.
Claire Crouch, media & community relations manager for Creuzot’s office, replied to our inquiry by reasserting that the rate of violent crime in Dallas is down and is a “nationally known statistic,” citing many news articles touting that claim.
Regarding the current court backlog, Crouch wrote, “When DA Creuzot took office, there was a backlog of 10,000 cases awaiting processing. Under his administration that was reduced to 900 – then Covid-19 hit. Like every other industry, our office suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic. Courts were shut down, we had no trials, the ability of police to file cases was impaired because many of them were ill, and seating a grand jury became more complicated as everything was put on pause any time someone fell ill. However, this is something we are working on, tirelessly, every day.”
Crouch also clarified that Creuzot has no position on the current conflict between the county commissioners and the district judges on whether the judges are to blame for the current jail capacity crisis.
With felony crime on the rise in Dallas, Soros and Creuzot’s vision of empty jails and less crime is trending in the wrong direction. With the November election around the corner, voters will have the final say on whether Creuzot has fulfilled his pledge.
Note: This article was updated on September 16, 2022, at 9:57 a.m. to include comments from Creuzot’s office.