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Arizona's $24-Million Prison Management Software Is Keeping People Locked Up Past The End Of Their Sentences

Published: February 24, 2021
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Source: Tech Dirt

The Arizona Department of Corrections is depriving inmates of freedom they’ve earned. Its $24 million tracking software isn’t doing what it’s supposed to when it comes to calculating time served credits. That’s according to whistleblowers who’ve been ignored by the DOC and have taken their complaints to the press. Here’s Jimmy Jenkins of KJZZ, who was given access to documents showing the bug has been well-documented and remains unfixed, more than a year after it was discovered.

According to Arizona Department of Corrections whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people who should be eligible for release are being held in prison because the inmate management software cannot interpret current sentencing laws.

KJZZ is not naming the whistleblowers because they fear retaliation. The employees said they have been raising the issue internally for more than a year, but prison administrators have not acted to fix the software bug. The sources said Chief Information Officer Holly Greene and Deputy Director Joe Profiri have been aware of the problem since 2019.

The management software (ACIS) rolled out during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which is always the best time to debut new systems that might need a lot of immediate tech support. Since its rollout, the software has generated 19,000 bug reports. The one at the center of this ongoing deprivation of liberty arose as the result of a law passed in June of that year. The law gave additional credit days to inmates charged with low-level drug offenses, increasing the credit from one day for every six served to three days for every seven.

Qualified inmates are only supposed to serve 70% of their sentences, provided they also complete some other prerequisites, like earning a GED or entering a substance abuse program. That law hasn’t been implemented in the Arizona prison system because the $24 million software can’t seem to figure out how to do it.

To be sure, legislation that changes time served credits for only a certain percentage of inmates creates problems for prison management systems. But that’s why you spend $24 million buying one, rather than just asking employees if they’re any good at Excel.

But that’s what has actually happened. With the expensive software unable to correctly calculate time served credits, prison employees are doing it by hand.

Department sources said this means “someone is sitting there crunching numbers with a calculator and interpreting how each of the new laws that have been passed would impact an inmate.”

“It makes me sick,” one source said, noting that even the most diligent employees are capable of making math errors that could result in additional months or years in prison for an inmate. “What the hell are we doing here? People’s lives are at stake.”

Hundreds of inmates are affected. A spokesperson for the prison system says the DOC has identified 733 inmates who qualify for the increased time served credits. But that number is still likely on the low end since the software is incapable of accurately identifying qualifying inmates, much less accurately calculating the length of time they have left to serve.

Meanwhile, the bug that’s killing freedom remains unpatched. And it appears the software’s many other bugs are making time spent in prison even more dangerous and miserable than it already is. Medical information goes missing or fails to transfer correctly when inmates are moved. Rival gang members have been placed in the same cells. Head counts are inaccurate. Inmate property and commissary funds are routinely recorded incorrectly.

Prison is already a miserable experience. Those trying to turn their lives around and engage in the rehabilitative process most prisons consider to be ancillary at best are being punished for trying by a system that is failing everyone who uses it or is affected by it.

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