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SMU Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center partnership

SMU News - July 2023


Better information, reduced jail time before criminal charges are filed should reduce impact on families’ health, housing, stability.

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.

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