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Officials reveal the aftermath of a power outage that allowed the release of 100 inmates

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) – Key officials in our criminal justice system revealed the devastating impact of a 48-hour computer outage in March that resulted in more than 100 inmates being released from the Harris County Jail.

The “JWEB” system is used by the district attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, district secretary and judges. It was shut down in March after a maintenance outage due to an old switch. Harris County Universal Services is responsible for checking the system and could not explain why the malfunction occurred.

During Tuesday’s Harris County Commissioners Court, Universal Services analyzed what happened and what was being done to prevent it from ever happening again.

However, dissatisfied stakeholders who depend on the system have spoken out against universal service, claiming their communication was all that was missing and they have yet to provide real answers or a solution.

Harris County Sheriff’s Office IT Director Mark Antill spoke about the aftermath and consequences of the system going down.

“The sheriff’s office and the police officers’ office all had to be put on paper,” Antill said. “We lost the computerized guidance system. All calls that came in to 911 were handwritten and walkie-talkies were used to talk to patrol officers and then they had to write it down. It took 48 hours and we get about 200 calls an hour.”

Without a functioning network, MPs couldn’t keep license plates or criminal histories, which Antill said became a security issue for officers.

All recordings at the Harris County Joint Processing Center (JPC) were halted, and the sheriff’s office was unable to charge inmates because the district attorney’s recording system was down.

“We had about 300 prisoners in our holding areas during that time (which is close to our capacity),” Antill said. “We also had to release 102 prisoners for not making their probable cause hearing on time.”

Visibly frustrated with the system, the Harris County District Attorney spoke out in the Commissioner’s Court. District Attorney Kim Ogg said Harris County’s criminal justice system and entire public safety net had ground to a halt.

RELATED: Investigation underway into fallout that released more than 100 inmates at Harris County Jail

“Those of us running this criminal justice system suddenly couldn’t share data across departments,” Ogg said. “The police weren’t the only ones flying blind. The Harris County DA’s office has been flying blind, the DA’s office has been flying blind, and the courts have been flying blind. If we can’t see who we’re dealing with or what we’re dealing with, it poses a huge threat to law enforcement and everyone else involved.”

According to Ogg, the DA’s office handles 250 to 300 cases a day. The system failure immediately halted the recording of these criminal cases.

“The sheriff’s office was dealing with a stretched number of prisoners and we couldn’t tell them what the charges were,” Ogg said. “The danger that the mass layoffs pose to the public is unquantifiable. Luckily, none of the known criminals who were released got out this weekend and committed more serious crimes. I cannot speak for the time since then.”

The advocacy groups asked the Commissioner’s Court to take control of JWEB and remove it from universal service.

“We cannot be responsible or what Universal Services is not responsible for,” Ogg said. “JWEB governance must return to the experts of the justice system, to those of us who operate the system, to those of us who are rightfully responsible for the data that is an integral part of that system.”

During the Commissioner’s Court, Universal Services gave a presentation explaining how they were trying to ensure the system would not fail again. Changes shown include a project to replace end-of-life switches and a library of universal service data that would act as a backup to reduce recovery time.

Commissioner Tom Ramsey, also not satisfied with the analyses, said it was the most generic presentation he had ever heard and there was nothing more offensive to him than slides he couldn’t read.

ABC13 has reached out to Universal Services for their response to the stakeholders asking that they take control.

For updates on this story, follow Brooke Taylor on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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https://abc13.com/updates-consequences-harris-county-inmates-released-computer-system-glitch/11836050/ Officials reveal the aftermath of a power outage that allowed the release of 100 inmates

Dais Johnston

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