Bexar County turns to Harris County for ways to reduce criminal case backlog

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Due to the pandemic, counties like Harris are trying to deal with a massive backlog of criminal cases.

The Bexar County Sheriff's Office toured Harris County's jury services at NRG stadium to see if it could be a solution to similar issues in Bexar County.

SEE ALSO: Harris County commission votes to reduce 100,000-case backlog

In June, Harris County Commissioners Court approved adding more judges, jury services and technology upgrades to help reduce the 100,000-case backlog. This backlog stems from Hurricane Harvey and was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Justice delayed is justice denied for all parties involved," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said during Wednesday's tour.

SEE ALSO: 13 Investigates: Harris County district judges held just 113 trials during pandemic despite backlog

Gonzalez said, on average, at least four to six cases are reviewed every day at the expanded jury services at the NRG Stadium location.

"This is just one, too. We're also bringing emergency dockets that will be online, the (Bexar County) Sheriff and I spoke about that, so we're trying different things. It's not just one piece that is going to solve everything," Gonzalez said. "The main thing is that we wanted to make it safer for potential jurors, because if they're in the downtown courthouses [and] if you brought in big panels that obviously get dwindled down. Having that many people, we just don't have the space."

In Bexar County, pandemic restrictions prevented in-person hearings for more than a year. This created a backlog of 50,000 cases including felony and misdemeanor cases, according to the Bexar County Sheriff's Office.

"Before the pandemic, every jail in the country was going through staffing issues," said Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar. "And we thought we had population issues, but I can tell you when the pandemic came around, it really just exacerbated that problem twofold, tenfold and it's something that we're all working hard to reduce."

Salazar said he will be returning to Bexar County and looking for a potential venue to house a similar solution to Harris County.

"Overall, it's just helping to clear a backlog of cases they just cannot be allowed to exist," Salazar said.

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