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California Prison Computer Project Crashes

With over 144,000 prisoners, tens of thousands of employees, some thirty prisons and a multi-billion dollar budget, the California Department of Corrections just rejected design plans for a mammoth computer project to automate its antiquated record keeping system. CDC officials suspended a $2 million payment to TRW Inc., the prime contractor on the $96 million computer project, pending further negotiations.

TRW officials blame CDC staff for delays and changes in plans that they claim will add $12 million more to the cost of the project and would extend eventual installation by at least 13 months. CDC Director James Gomez said, "To date the state has not been presented with an acceptable reason for the cost increase or all the time delay."

The computerization project was approved in 1992 as the first of a five part plan intended to automate the CDC's records and incorporate all their existing computer operations. Presently, records for prisoners are kept in paper files.

There is some skepticism that, even if the computer system is finally installed and operational, CDC staff will ever be able to competently use it. "The average citizen is not skilled in the use of computers," said a computer repair instructor at Lancaster prison who declined to be identified, "and these people (prison staff) are definitely below average in all respects."

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