Proposal to add more criminal courts to help ease backlog in Harris County

Pooja Lodhia Image
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Proposal to add criminal courts to help ease backlog in Harris Co.
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With Harris County having one of the largest backlogs of criminal cases in the country, commissioners are exploring a way to help reduce that.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Should Harris County add six extra district courts?

Harris County commissioners are exploring the proposal as a way to reduce the county's huge criminal case backlog.

As of Tuesday, there are 10,016 inmates at the Harris County Jail. 13 investigates reported jail overcrowding for more than a year.

So far, in 2023, four inmates have died. On Friday, Eyewitness News reported the jail is, once again, on the state inspector's non-compliance list.

According to district court statistics, there are more than 39,000 active cases pending. About 32% of them are more than a year old.

Adding courts isn't a new idea. Harris County brought in multiple visiting judges in January 2021 for the same purpose.

Since two Harris County commissioners court members boycotted multiple meetings in 2022, commissioners were unable to pass a new budget last year, and there are funding questions this year.

This proposal would mean asking the state legislature to allocate more money to put in the extra courts.

On Tuesday, every single commissioner expressed support for the plan. But a decision was delayed for another three weeks, while commissioners gathered more information.

"We've seen a 24% reduction in the backlog, but the jail is more overcrowded than ever. So does going through these things faster actually reduce overcrowded in the jail? Why is it that the jail population keeps growing? That's an open question that I'm going to ask our departments to go look into," County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

The county budget office said the plan would cost an estimated $30 million in start-up costs and about $16 million in operating fees every year.

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