CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As we've reported, nearly 17,000 misdemeanor and felony cases were dismissed in Nueces Countybetween January 2019 and 2021.
Experts tell KRIS 6 News there are systems in place that are designed to lessen the burden on the criminal justice system, and rehabilitate offenders.
6 Investigates has learned those programs are being utilized 44 percent less since 2017, and some cases are being dismissed while offenders are in the middle of those programs.
“The whole thing about probation is to help somebody not return to probation or into the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism," said William Shull, director of the Nueces County Community and Supervision and Corrections Department. "That's our goal. A lot of people think that we're all about punishment. Well, no — we're all about changing lives.”
We asked Shull about individuals having cases dismissed before completing probation, pre-trial diversion, or specialty court programs.
He told 6 Investigates that his office is aware of these dismissals.
"The impact is more on the offender because they're in the middle of treatment and they're just gonna say 'Okay, you don't have to report the treatment anymore. You don't have to do anything.' We are just gonna say 'It's over with, you're free to go,'" Shull said.
The reason for some of these dismissals is grant money.
Every county in Texas has to meet requirements for reporting to the Criminal Justice Information System according to documents from the Department of Public Safety.
Memos from DPS show meeting those rules means counties can apply for certain grants.
6 Investigates obtained nearly 1,000 documents from Nueces County that discuss CJIS and reveal the purpose of dismissing some cases locally is to keep that funding.
"According to the email that I saw, it mostly has to do with closing cases before a certain time period. For CJIS records, you know, and I do know that if the county is below a certain number, then it affects our grants for the county," Shull said.
Shull is referring to an email from March, from CSCD to First Assistant District Attorney Angelica Hernandez questioning why the DA's office requested the dismissal of pretrial diversion cases that have not been completed.
“If you have a better idea to help us keep millions in grants as we try to close out cases for CJIS compliance please let me know,” Hernandez said in her response to CSCD.
Documents reveal the county was eligible for just over $1 million in grant money last year for being compliant with CJIS.
Shull told the Nueces County Board of Judges in April about these cases being dismissed and also updated them on the declining numbers of people assigned to community supervision.
“That’s very strange to me because all I see in my court, is either take probation or the case gets dismissed. That’s all I see. I don’t see anyone going to prison,” 148th District Court Judge Carlos Valdez said in that meeting.
Data shows in April 2017, the number of offenders placed on probation, pretrial diversion, or specialty courts totaled just over 6,700. This April, that number is 3,700, or 44 percent less.
The numbers of employees working at CSCD is down from 175 to 125 in the last five years, Shull said.
Hernandez declined to sit down and talk about dismissals, but when we asked her about the decline following a board of judges meeting last month, she attributed it to the impact from COVID-19.
We also tried asking District Attorney Mark Gonzalez about these numbers, but he did not respond.
Shull said some positions at CSCD and some specialty courts are funded by grants that are dependent on the number of individuals enrolled in the programs — and they have already lost funding for some employees, including mental health case officers.
"So does that mean some of those grants are in jeopardy?" 214th District Court Judge Inna Klein asked Shull during a board of judges meeting.
"They've been in jeopardy," Shull responded.
“Do you know if it’s happening?" Klein asked. "Across the State?" Shull asked. "Yes," Klein responded.
"I do know there is a trend, but not as bad as Corpus Christ, not as bad as Nueces County,” Shull said.