Dallas County hopes it has found a new way to clear up clogged jails and hasten trials for several hundred repeat offenders believed responsible for most of the property crime in the area, reports the Dallas Morning News. In an emergency meeting, county criminal justice officials decided to create a special court that will focus on moving cases faster and probably hand out stiffer sentences, which Dallas police have been seeking. Officials hope to have the new court up and running in two or three weeks. “We’re saying, ‘You want to go to trial? Let’s go,’ ” said county Commissioner John Wiley Price.
The jails’ population has soared the past several months, putting pressure on county officials to find enough guards to meet state staffing requirements. It also comes at a time when the county is finishing installation of important fire safety systems in its largest jail – expected to result in a passing state inspection for the first time since 2003. One of the largest categories of inmates is those awaiting trial on state jail felonies – the lowest-level felony offense. Among them are career criminals who repeatedly burglarize homes and businesses. Dallas police say such criminals are a big factor in the city’s high crime rate. Police have identified about 500 criminals who are responsible for more than half of all property crimes. Because there are more important cases awaiting trial, some offenders sit for months awaiting trial. Some of their lawyers know this and game the system. They tell clients to reject plea deals up front, knowing that it’ll take months to schedule a trial. After six months, they will take a plea deal for time already served in the jail and are released to commit more crimes.