The Durham district attorney told county leaders this week his office could do better at getting cases through the court system.
The board took up the issue after pressure from local activist Victoria Peterson and others.
A panel including District Attorney Roger Echols and other officials gave a presentation to the Board of County Commissioners on the court case backload, as well as on educational opportunities for minors incarcerated at the jail.
According to DA statistics:• Only 58 percent of criminal misdemeanor appeal cases are being disposed of within 180 days of filing, while the goal is 90 percent. That is down from 71 percent in fiscal year 2012-13.
• Only 68 percent of criminal felony cases are being disposed of within one year, also missing the goal of 90 percent. That figure is up a bit, though, from 67 percent in fiscal year 2012/13.
• Only 75 percent of civil cases are being disposed of within a year, the goal again being 90 percent.
“That is certainly an area that we can work on,” Echols said.
On the plus side, at 92 percent, the county is meeting its 90 percent goal of disposing of domestic cases within six months.
Echols said his office often relies on other agencies.
In one case, lab work took two years to complete, he said.
“Before you know it, it’s almost four years after not just the date of offense but the date of indictment,” Echols said.
Deputy County Manager Lee Worsley mentioned efforts by the county to contract with the state to hire additional lab positions to speed up those times.
Commissioner Brenda Howerton spoke of the “revolving door” problem of minors who have been expelled from school and end up back in jail.
Brian Jones, the director of operations and planning for the Sheriff’s Office said the office tries to follow up with minors who have been released to make sure they continue their education after they have been released.
Jones said the Sheriff’s Office is working on getting homework to minor inmates who are in school so they can keep up with their studies while they are incarcerated.
“I think we’re making a lot of progress,” Jones said, “but we still have work to do.”
Commissioner Wendy Jacobs wondered why no representative from Durham Technical College was present Monday, to which Jones replied that state law prohibits community colleges from providing training in the jail. But Durham Tech has agreed to help with the transition out of jail, Jones said.
Officials said there are three distinct groups of inmates ages 16-18 in the jail who need education: those who are disabled and qualify for an IEP, or Individualized Education Program; those who are in school on the outside; and those who are not in school on the outside.
Also, the Sheriff’s Office has announced a partnership with the Durham Literacy Center and Literacy Council of Wake County to provide education to 16- to 24-year-olds incarcerated at the jail.
The six-month pilot program began last month, with goals of preparing youth to take the General Educational Development test, providing mentoring and imparting job readiness skills.