Louisiana’s Rejection of $3.5 Million Prison Tracking Software to be Reconsidered
by R. Bailey
An audit recommended replacing outdated data management software used by Louisiana’s prison system with a previously-rejected upgrade, if the new system could be salvaged. The upgrade would help implement the Justice Reinvestment Act (Act), which was designed to reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10 percent and its corrections budget by $262 million over the next decade.
The Act was signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards on November 1, 2017 in an attempt to reduce the state’s extremely high incarceration rate and associated costs, by granting early release, parole or probation to more prisoners and by instituting other reforms.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Shauna Sanford, asserted the Act was “an opportunity to effect real change for ... citizens and communities.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator opposed the Act. Landry accused the governor of continuing to pursue policies that “don’t make our state safer or benefit our hard-working taxpayers,” while Prator cited inaccurate tracking data as proof the new law was enacted too soon.
Sheriff Practor relied on an October 25, 2017 audit of the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) to support his opposition to the Act. The Louisiana State Auditor reported that the DOC manages over 35,000 offenders using outdated, inadequate tracking software called Corrections and Justice Unified Network (CAJUN).
CAJUN, developed in 1970, was last upgraded in 1991. It was deemed insufficient in 2015 and temporarily replaced by the $3.5 million Offender Management System (OMS). OMS was used from June 15, 2015 until July 31, 2015 – just 45 days – before it was abandoned because it “caused confusion and interrupted work efficiency.” The DOC then reverted back to CAJUN.
Under the Act, the DOC is tasked with determining which prisoners are eligible for early release and certain programs. It announced it had problems with accurately identifying offenders and their eligibility for programs and credits earned toward early release due to CAJUN’s software limitations.
James LeBlanc, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, noted that calculating release dates was “very complex.” Part of that complexity was due to the courts’ failure to include necessary data in conviction and sentencing records.
Another contributing factor was errors by DOC staff: Data was scanned under the wrong ID number, files were mislabeled and documents were illegible due to poor quality copies. The absence of an automated data entry system or uniform procedures for data entry also caused significant inconsistencies in calculations. For example, when two employees were called on to calculate the release date of one imaginary offender, they submitted dates 186 days apart. The State Auditor noted the lack of consistent procedures could cause a prisoner to be freed well after his or her actual release date.
Missing data entries contributed to tracking errors, too. The audit revealed that over 1,000 of the prisoner files reviewed had no full-term sentencing date, 270 had no sentencing date and 102 had no sentence start date. Other issues included data entry errors. Nineteen percent of the sample files had at least one data-related mistake. Under the outdated CAJUN system, prisoners were transferred to other facilities with no specified procedure for entering that information into the DOC’s tracking program.
That omission allowed situations like one prisoner, convicted of attempted second-degree murder, to be housed at the Evangeline Parish Jail when he was actually at another facility 100 miles away. Such problems were not detected for months in some cases. According to a 2016 audit, 229 offenders were not at a work camp as reported on CAJUN. Those errors could create security and accountability risks.
Additionally, the audit found that 83 of the 216 DOC employees authorized to make changes to prisoners’ computer records were no longer employed by the department.
The State Auditor recommended, in part, that Louisiana’s Office Technology Services and the DOC work together to determine if the updated OMS system was salvageable. If so, they should create a detailed plan to develop and implement the replacement system.
Sources: www.lla.la.gov, www.shreveporttimes.com