SMU Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center partners with Child Poverty Action Lab to improve criminal justice in Dallas County
Better information, reduced jail time before criminal charges are filed should reduce impact on families’ health, housing, stability
DALLAS (SMU) – A new partnership between SMU Dedman School of Law’s Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center and the Child Poverty Action Lab (CPAL) aims to improve outcomes for families across North Texas by helping Dallas County prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys make informed decisions – faster – about whether to file criminal charges against individuals.
After a person is arrested, their case cannot be resolved until a prosecutor decides whether to file formal charges. In Texas, prosecutors can take up to 180 days to make that decision, and an arrested person can be held in jail for half of that time.
“Any time a person is arrested and jailed, the stakes are high for prosecutors making charging decisions,” said Professor Pamela Metzger, Director of the Deason Center. “Hasty decision-making can lead to unfair or even dangerous results. But delays in the decision can be equally problematic. These delays often lead to worse case outcomes, uncounseled guilty pleas, and unnecessary detentions where people spend weeks in jail only to have prosecutors decline charges against them.”
Because pretrial detention can jeopardize a persons’ employment, family stability, housing, and health, charging delays are a major issue for families across Dallas County. Parents detained in Dallas County jails are separated from their children for more than a month, on average. The Deason Center and CPAL have a shared interest in finding strategies to reduce these family separations, and this long-term partnership will allow the two organizations to share resources and expertise to improve the criminal legal process in Dallas County.
The long-term partnership initially will allow the Deason Center to hire two full-time victim advocates to work in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office for one year. Currently, the district attorney’s office provides victim advocate assistance only in cases involving intimate partner violence. The new Deason-CPAL initiative will expand those services to help victims in other types of assault cases, like family violence and aggravated assault. Victim intake fellows will help victims access essential resources like counseling, housing assistance and financial aid. They will also provide prosecutors with critical information that can improve the quality and speed of their charging decisions.
CPAL President and CEO Alan Cohen is excited for the positive impact that this partnership will have for families affected by the criminal legal system.
“All too often, children are the hidden victims who suffer when a parent goes to jail,” Cohen said. “We really need an efficient justice system to keep our community safe, but the research is clear about the urgent need to rethink pretrial detention and experiment with reforms in the earliest stages of the legal process.”
The Deason Center plans to study the impact of the partnership, starting with a randomized control trial of the victim advocates’ initiative. After collecting data throughout the year, the Center will publish its findings about the effect of victim advocates on charging timelines, charging outcomes, and pretrial detention. For media interviews, contact Blane Skiles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-768-2837.
The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law brings a stats and stories approach to criminal justice reform. The Center collects, analyzes, and assesses the hard data about criminal legal policy. Combining these data with the stories of people who live, work and struggle in the criminal legal system, the Deason Center makes a compelling case for reform. The Center supports data-driven criminal justice research that has utility across multiple jurisdictions and helps criminal legal stakeholders develop and implement best practices.
The School of Law at SMU was founded in 1925. It was named Dedman School of Law in 2001 in honor of Dallas benefactors Nancy and Robert H. Dedman, Sr., and their family. SMU Dedman Law enjoys a national and international reputation of distinction. It is among the most competitive law schools in the country for admission and one of the most successful in the placement of its graduates.
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and more than 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.