‘Computer glitch’ leads to release of more than 100 suspects from Harris County Jail

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At least 118 suspects were released from Harris County jail last weekend due to a computer failure that prevented processing and probable cause hearings.

According to an order from Harris County Magistrate Courtney St. Julian, the county’s computer system “was not operational from around 7 p.m. March 24 until around 9 p.m. March 26.”

“There are now more than 280 defendants in custody who have not received a probable cause hearing or a bail hearing,” reads the order from St. Julian’s, which authorized the release of St. Julian’s. some suspects on personal bond and others on $10,000 bail regardless of criminal. the story. None of those released received bail conditions.

Later in the week, the county released a list of 118 suspects released for drunk driving, theft, racing, criminal mischief, resisting arrest, threatening terrorism and indecent assault, but did not provide no information on the criminal background of any of the defendants.

Under state law, defendants cannot be held for treatment for more than 24 hours for misdemeanors and 48 hours for felonies. St. Julian’s denied the district attorney’s request for an extension under the circumstances.

The county has since acknowledged the computer glitch has happened three times, but this is the first time the public has been made aware of the issue.

Following the crash, the district attorney’s office advised law enforcement that they would have to re-charge the released defendants and that some would have to be re-arrested.

“The latest outage of Harris County’s Universal Services computer system has captured the full attention of the District Attorney, Chief of Police and Sheriff as it has resulted in the temporary release of the accused felons,” said Dane Schiller , a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, in a statement. “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 address this issue and ensure this never happens again.”

The cloud-based computer system known as JWEB at the center of the controversy was developed to replace the county’s old system from 2015, and is used by local law enforcement agencies, the bureau the district attorney, the district clerk, pretrial services, the public defender’s office and the courts. The system is hosted and maintained by the new County Universal Services Department.

In 2019, the county created the Universal Services Department to combine the former Information Technology Center with Fleet Services and other departments. In 2020, in a 3-2 vote, commissioners voted to dismiss the county news director Bruce High and instead named Gen. Rick Noriegaa former Democratic state representative, heading the new department.

According to Chris Daniel, a former county registrar of voters and tax collector and current Republican candidate for district clerk, the county used to conduct emergency drills to practice for possible technology outages. and he claims there should have been a backup system in place.

“The local court administration office could have set up hard paper records used for emergency purposes, such as those during a hurricane or major flood,” Daniel said. The Texan. “The sheriff’s department could have had its own [information technology] staff have flags or could have helped magistrates prepare a manual list of accused.

Daniel also expressed concern that the county gives third-party vendors such as PFM Advisory Group access to JWEB for studies and analyzes of the criminal justice system

“Each agency that relies on JWEB should re-evaluate its own signaling and alerting system and be granted the autonomy to operate in the event of JWEB’s unavailability,” Daniel said.

In 2020, County Judge Lina Hidalgo attempted to use her emergency powers amid the COVID-19 pandemic to order mass release of detainees from prison, but was thwarted by Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders.

The newly created office of the county election administrator also encountered operational and technical difficulties, and a trial filed by the Harris County Republican Party remains pending.

Following news of the glitch, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lambasted the county for releasing the suspects and “throwing them onto the streets of Houston, freeing them to commit new crimes and attack our citizens “.

“This is just the latest example of dysfunction and incompetence on the part of Harris County management,” Patrick said in a statement.

Citing controversies over the county’s electoral division and an ongoing investigation into a $11 million vaccine awareness contractPatrick asked, “Who will be the scapegoat for the Court of Commissioners this time?”

“Some magistrates will no doubt be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency for the mass release of nearly 300 felons from jail, but the responsibility for this level of dysfunction rests entirely on the shoulders of the Court of County Commissioners. of Harris.”

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