Aug. 24, 2021
Prosecutors have reviewed more than 10,000 criminal cases so far involving “low risk” defendants, as part of special triage effort to reduce the massive backlog of 140,000 criminal cases pending in a Harris County court system slowed by COVID and other factors.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the figure to Commissioners’ Court Tuesday, as she provided an update on her two-month old program that pays overtime to prosecutors for working extra hours on the cases when they would normally be off duty.
“This phase of our strategic backlog reduction plan is critical to restoring order in our streets by reducing the backlog choking our local courts,” Ogg said. “The backlog is a prime factor contributing the increase in ultra-violent crime because violent repeat offenders are being repeatedly released on bail.”
Ogg said that because the district attorney’s office is so understaffed and has been for so long, there was no choice, but to ask prosecutors who already work all day and often into the night on their caseloads, to do more work on nights and weekends in order to help reduce the backlog.
The $3.5 million for the project, only a portion of which has been used so far, is drawn from rollover funds, money that the District Attorney’s Office had managed to save from its previous budgets.
The review is an effort to appropriately dispose of less serious cases so that the system can recover from a backlog that started when the courthouse was knocked out of commission by Hurricane Harvey and then further by COVID.
“More prosecutors means more justice and that goes for crime victims, persons accused of crimes, and the entire community,” Ogg said. “We have a duty to review each case individually, to assess the strengths and weakness of the evidence, and determine an appropriate outcome, whether that is seeking a conviction or offering a dismissal or alternative resolution.”