Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect clarity with what direction the commissioners took and information from Harris County Universal Services officials.
With 61 elected Harris County judges unable to perform their jobs due to the delay of IT projects, reaching a solution to help reduce the criminal justice backlog and other public safety concerns just got a boost, Harris county commissioners decided on April 25.
The big picture: Harris County commissioners approved the courts' request by a unanimous 4-0 vote to look into options with its technology platform and come up with a proposal for changes.
What they’re saying: “When J WEB [the current information management system] is not functioning, when things break down, you’re literally crippling the courts and we cannot move forward. We cannot live in a county where the courts cannot move forward, process justice and even make sure that our cases are properly filed and subpoenas are issued,” Judge Toria Finch said, who presides over Criminal Court No. 9 in Harris County.
According to Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess, the organization have “consistently demonstrated” that they lack institutional knowledge and understanding to effectively manage the court’s system.
How we got here: The J WEB system is one of many Harris County information systems managed by an operations center called Harris County Universal Services. In 2022, a "severe infrastructure outage" took place among the county courts that lasted 14 days. Officials with Universal Services said they were tasked to conduct an analysis and find out the root cause of the problem.
"We completely as an organization are empathetic with the effects of outages. Over the past year, ... we've shortened outages from 14 days to four minutes," Universal Services Executive Director Rick Noriega said.
Terms to know: An integrated justice information system, according to the Department of Justice, is commonly referred to as IJIS, or integrated criminal justice information system.
- An IJIS is any computer network, system or architecture in which information can be shared between agencies among state, local and national levels of government.
- Essentially, it allows justice practitioners and agencies to electronically access and share information between systems or across jurisdictional lines.
Quote of note: “I just need everyone to understand that the court system cannot wait in line for other county business. If the court system doesn't work, the county doesn't work,” Judge Finch said at the April 25 meeting.
What's next: Harris County commissioners, according to Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, invested in an independent third party study that has been working with stakeholders on recommendations regarding its technology platform.
- The study was initiated in January and according to Harris County Universal Services' Chief Information Officer Sindhu Menon, phase one of the project is complete.
- Phase one looked at the architecture and technology that supports J WEB.
"Phase two talks about the processes and the governance that run the J WEB environment. It is scheduled to be complete in late May, early June timeframe," Menon said.