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Coordinating jail workflows and information in your facility and beyond.

Typical jail management system (JMS) functionality begins and ends with the arrival and eventual departure of the offender. In reality, effective jail management involves offender processing, information exchanges and viable connections with entities beyond the walls of the facility. This article explores one agency's progress in combining a comprehensive JMS with biometric technology, an affordable IT infrastructure and interagency cooperation. The goal: Streamline the process from arrest to release, save money, maximize resources and reduce liability.


Any sheriff would say that of all the varied public safety services he or she provides, jail operations tops the list in terms of civil liability, staff-intensive complexity and the ravenous consumption of ever-shrinking budgets. The typical county jail operation serves as the critical workflow hub and clearinghouse for all aspects of local or regional criminal justice activities. Courts, probation, district attorney, public defender, state parole, and street and highway patrol elements all rely upon and filter their "work product" through the county jail. Take a county jail out of service and watch as the many and varied cogs and gears of law enforcement and criminal justice grind to a sudden and chaotic halt.

Running a safe and efficient county jail involves managing diverse operations in an environment of self-contained chaos. In a truly 24/7 operation that accommodates the static bureaucracy of a 9-to-5 court system, ensuring every inmate is where, when and how they are supposed to be is a challenging undertaking in the most optimal of circumstances. Inmates must be classified, housed, fed and medically cared for in a secure environment. Their day-to-day activities, clothing, property and money must be accounted for. Their mail, visitors, education and contact with the outside world must be managed. Their progress through the adjudication process must be coordinated and continue unimpeded. This requires a highly trained and professional staff, adequate facilities and a scrupulously managed budget.

Nonetheless, declining levels of funding, staff and resources do not relieve any sheriff of the responsibility to operate a jail in accordance with the Constitution, statute, case law, court orders and, in many instances, consent decrees. At all odds, a sheriff must operate the jail efficiently, humanely, economically, legally and with precision. Furthermore (and here is the trick), a sheriff must be able to prove this operation with readily accessible reports.

Enter the Jail Management System

Whether created "in-house" or supplied by a vendor, be it simple or complex, a JMS can be found in almost any county jail. At a minimum, a typical JMS will electronically record, store and display information about inmates. It seems simple enough, but most jail managers wish they could replace their existing JMS, while simultaneously dreading the prospect of replacing it. Having been through three JMS replacements since 1991, this author readily identifies with the paradoxical conundrum of JMS purgatory.


The Ideal JMS

A JMS should be flexible so that it complements, accommodates and enhances the workflow of the jail. Agency IT staff should be able to modify the JMS to accommodate changes in workflow. In addition, the ideal JMS should:

* Empower jail staff to do their work efficiently and provide a means for the agency to prove the work was completed correctly; create and store a chronological history of every inmate's relationship with the facility; and generate informative and customizable reports on demand;

* Ensure that a newly arriving inmate is positively identified and appropriately classified;

* Readily convey and receive data from the external systems used by other agencies, medical staff, courts, etc.;

* Ensure that jail managers can demonstrate stress-free and timely compliance;

* Provide affordable maintenance and modifications; and

* Mitigate the impact of fiscal uncertainty.

Doing more with less money and reduced staffing is nothing new to the Contra Costa County, Calif., Office of the Sheriff. Like other law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the globe, this San Francisco Bay area agency of more than 1,000 employees perpetually seeks creative and cost-efficient ways to fulfill its mandate to serve more than one million constituents.

Sheriff Warren Rupf and his Custody Service Bureau of 308 sworn and 123 general employees run a pre- and post-sentence detention operation with more than 2,050 inmates across four facilities. In fact, the Martinez facility is the country's first direct supervision jail and processes between 60 and 70 inmates a day or around 23,000 bookings a year.

In 2004, the agency assessed its needs thoroughly and sought a .JMS that could quickly and accurately identify inmates and control workflows while accommodating the flow of arrestees and inmates throughout all its facilities. In 2008, the agency implemented a creative solution that has reduced operational costs and ensures accurate identification of subjects throughout the incarceration process with a new JMS and integrated iris recognition technology.

Contra Costa County's Quest for the Ideal JMS

The computerized JMS first emerged as an innovation with an aim to eliminate or reduce paper and streamline jail operations. Contra Costa County first transitioned from pen and paper booking almost 30 years ago with a homegrown JMS called OSCAR--Operating System (for) Corrections And Records. OSCAR occupied two refrigerator-size, second-hand Data General mini computers. Each had a whopping 1 megabyte of random-access memory (RAM) and cost more than $1 million. Although OSCAR did the job and converted a lot of handwritten paper into even more dot matrix printed paper, deputies, along with other jail and IT staff, contended with duplicate data entry errors, a disjointed workflow and difficulty in customization. OSCAR basically did three things: booking, charge and/or hold updates, and release. Housing logs, movement lists, classification procedures and just about everything else was achieved with pen and paper.

During the next 10 years, the advent of affordable desktop personal computers (PCs) made it possible to expand the number of functional terminals in the facility. Vendors like Oracle/Sun Microsystems began producing database applications and associated server hardware systems and a growing number of JMS applications came on the market.

In 1991, Contra Costa County purchased and installed Premier JMS. This DOS-based client system was subsumed in 1999 by the Windows-based Premier IMS (Inmate Management System). Although these systems featured a module for almost every aspect of jail operations, modifying any aspect of its functionality or reporting formats was very costly. Economics constrained vendors to build one-size-fits-all systems.

In fact, during the 10 years IMS was in use, Contra Costa County spent nearly $300,000 on necessary modifications. This was over and above the $130,000 for the maintenance agreement, not to mention the $70,000 for the Oracle, Mugshot and Terix maintenance fees. When a needed modification was not in the available budget, staff were forced to work around a system that should have been working for them.

The importance of entering accurate data into a JMS database is matched only by the need to get that data out. Extracting what is needed in the format required for a specific purpose involves the creation of a report. Many critical programs that generate revenue from state and federal sources require detailed reports submitted with regular timeliness.

Many of the required reports must be configured with the use of third party business intelligence applications, such as Crystal Reports. This excellent product yields a dazzling report in the hands of a skilled user with adequate training. At $300 per user license, these qualifications limited the number of report writers to just an overworked handful.

Other operational headaches that predicated the decision to seek alternatives included:

* Inmate funds were tracked using Quicken; accounting glitches and clerical labor to fix them made a clear case for a JMS.

* Incident reporting was accomplished on a basic reporting tool in the JMS, and incidents that amounted to a reportable crime required a standard crime report. This often resulted in two staff members writing two different reports about the same incident.

* Inmate/arrestee identification became one of the most technically vexing and, because of the inherent liability, most critical issues facing the Contra Costa jail and IT staffs. Making certain that an offender is accurately matched to a true identity, mug shot and fingerprint is not difficult; performing that task 30,000 times annually with 100 percent accuracy during the intake and release process is a challenge. Moreover, the time required for the state to return confirmation of Livescan fingerprints often exceeded the time that inmate could stay in the intake area of the facility. This backlog was a contributing factor in many misidentification errors.

* Information and data requirements of outside agencies proliferated at an alarming rate. The sheer quantity of information about inmates and offenders was overwhelming and it became apparent that selected portions of the JMS system should be installed in locations outside of the facility to start processing earlier.

* Budget cuts and reduced staff levels were a harsh reality in 2004 and have since become a genuine crisis. Greater levels of automation and secure access, wherever possible, were a must.

* Recidivism in Contra Costa County hovers in the 70th percentile. The county saw an opportunity to take advantage of this storehouse of available data and minimize, if not eliminate, workflow redundancies for jail staff and local agencies.

A Fresh Start

During the past decade, the number of routine law enforcement functions that have been automated via computerization has multiplied exponentially. With each conversion comes the requisite software and hardware. These are typically accompanied by a hefty purchase price and an annual maintenance contract.

By 2004, the sheriff's Technical Services Division, IT and sworn staff had adopted the practice of building applications in-house through the cooperative collaboration of a willing software developer. Based in part on the notion that a product designed in accordance with the specific needs of an agency would yield a better application, several key law enforcement functions are now automated by the most economical and stable systems in use:

* Automated Regional Information Exchange System (ARIES);

* Automated "Probable Cause" Declaration System;

* Automated Report Writing System (Precynct); and

* Automated Court Call-Off system.

All of these systems are used or shared by agencies throughout Contra Costa County. They save money and increase efficiency. Wherever possible, these systems utilize the economical and user-friendly Microsoft SQL Server platform. So it was, in the autumn of 2004, that Contra Costa County decided to build a system in collaboration with a local company, Securimetrics (now L-l Identity Solutions).


Breaking Down the Incarceration Process

As part of its evaluation process, Contra Costa County sheriff's IT, records, central ID and jail staff broke down the critical components that precede, involve, and follow the incarceration process and analyzed each individually and collectively. Possible enhancements were identified in the following areas:

Field arrest and prebooking. Saving time and money earlier in the booking process is possible with the added capabilities of instant identification and prebooking on the street. A JMS paired with a mobile biometric identification solution to instantly identify subjects on the street can offset the lengthy and time-consuming process of transporting potential offenders for fingerprinting to determine identification.

A JMS that has prebooking and remote booking interfaces that are accessible via a police cruiser's terminal for prepopulation demographic, arrest and medical questionnaire information prior to arrival at the sally port eliminates much needless waiting during peak hours. Booking officers find that this reduces the potential for errors, especially in comparison to handwritten forms, which might be illegible or incomplete. The prebooking and remote booking interfaces also reduce the need for duplicate data entry by the intake staff.

Subject identification. With recidivism rates in most correctional facilities at 70 percent or more, most offenders have been in the system before and therefore have valuable arrest and personal information already contained within their arrest records. To take advantage of this data, iris devices were installed at the booking and release stations of all facilities.

Beginning in 2004, all currently housed inmates were scanned with the iris devices. Surprisingly, the inmate population cooperated with the mass enrollment. The data, along with the associated iris images, were stored in a server while the new JMS was designed and written. Meanwhile all new bookings included an iris enrollment. All releases were verified with an iris scan. By the time the new JMS came online in 2008, several hundred thousand records resided in the system.

Intake. After an inmate has been identified and processed through the prebooking workflow, the more extensive job of intake begins. These processes include property collection and storage, classification, sentence calculation, inputting arrest and charges information, scheduling initial court appearances, assigning housing, issuing jail clothing, setting up inmate accounts, and assigning and transporting the inmate to his or her housing location. Often, these processes are wrought with inefficiencies and costly mistakes.

Most other JMS solutions are either incapable or prohibitively expensive to integrate with other third-party systems. This lack of data communication forces deputies to manually enter data into multiple systems, such as a mug shot repository, Live Scan and California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (CLETS) search, which results in costly staffing charges as well as errors due to data reentry. Contra Costa County deputies were committed to having an integrated JMS capable of eliminating redundant data entry through a single, consistent user interface across all of the various systems and modules.

Operations. After the extensive intake process is completed, offenders must be housed and maintained on a daily basis. Many JMS solutions can be frustrating and inefficient to use as offenders are scheduled for and transported to court dates, grievance hearings, work programs, housing and medical visits, among other activities. In many cases, these interfaces and systems are disparate and do not communicate with one another, resulting again in duplicate entry and updates. This was especially prevalent in the custody alternatives process. Many legacy JMS solutions typically restrict jail staff from viewing and fully comprehending the progress and status of inmates in the process. Finally, nonelectronic or paper-based systems, that is, the handing off of paperwork, files and folders from one function to another during the processing and movement of the inmate through system and facility, was too cumbersome.

Release. The release process includes dismissing or clearing charges; releasing property; conducting a final check of the local, state and federal wants and warrants system; notifying any victims, codefendants or foreign embassies; and manually confirming the inmate's identity with a visual check of paperwork and/or an ID wristband and exit questions. This process is often slow and inefficient due to a lack of a consolidated data system and electronic communication with the wants and warrants system. Sometimes an inmate steals another inmate's wristband to impersonate him/her in order to escape. These incidents can be significantly minimized with the introduction of a biometric identification system.

Building the System

Once critical components were analyzed, software engineers and programmers from L-l were "embedded" with jail staff where they viewed all aspects of facility operations, state criminal and correctional information systems, procedures, and systems.

All of the various components of the L-l system were designed to look and feel the same for ease of use. Moreover, modification became a simple process and the system allowed the user to pause and save an inmate's information at any point in the booking process to prevent the individual from becoming lost in the shuffle.

During the next three years, iris devices were tested in patrol settings. All of the jail desktop PCs were upgraded with increased RAM to both accommodate the new system and allow upgrades in other systems not related to the JMS. The vehicle sally port was equipped with two workstations that allowed submission of probable cause declarations to the court and was programmed to facilitate remote prebooking.

As completion neared, in-house training of jail staff and function testing commenced. Preparations for the migration of existing jail data from the old system to the new one was under way, as was modification of the ARIES system so that it could read and share Omni JMS data elements with other ARIES user agencies. L-l and the county reached an agreement for annual maintenance of the new system.

Benefit and Outcome

In July 2008 the new JMS went live. The transition required 48 hours of manageable disruption to the weekend operations of the three facilities involved. In contrast with the previous IMS/JMS installs and a CAD/RMS install several years ago that amounted to multiweek nightmares, the transition to Omni JMS was comparatively painless. All changes and modifications made to accommodate workflow preferences or changes in reporting needs were accomplished in-house and therefore free of additional cost.

Within months, a significant reduction in intake and booking times and errors, including elimination of duplicate data entry for nonintegrated systems, was realized. This yielded an estimated annual savings of clerical staff time equivalent to one full-time position. Inmate monies are now managed within the JMS rather than a home version of Quicken. Additionally, the new system facilitates the automation of inmate commissary procedures at an estimated annual savings of $50,000.

Several agencies have begun utilizing the remote booking function. Officers who use this feature gain a "head of the line" privilege, thereby further reducing the time it takes to book an arrestee. The Omni JMS application is now available in all of the 120 patrol mobile data computers, as well as any of the 600 or more desktop PCs and laptops throughout the agency. At present, iris scanning devices (at several thousand dollars each) are too costly for agencywide deployment in patrol cars. Eventually, perhaps through a countywide Mobile Identification project now under way, a handheld biometric device could be used to further augment the remote booking process.

With a JMS based on an SQL Server, the county saves nearly $70,000 annually in Oracle and related system maintenance that is no longer needed. This applies to the huge Sun Microsystems servers that housed the previous JMS. All of this takes less space and energy when compared with the two slim Dell servers that house Omni JMS. As an alternative to the costly Crystal Reports, the SQL reporting tool that is included in the price of the SQL Server can be used by anyone and everyone willing to learn it.

Unlike its ungainly predecessors, SQL Server does not hog up precious network bandwidth and is easily serviced in-house. Most of the sheriff's systems are SQL-based. Eventually, when all of them are so equipped, IT staff can avoid the burden of mastering disparate database systems.

The three database specialists assigned to the Technical Services Division each spend about one-third less time addressing jail-related issues such as report creation and data mining. This recouping of a functional position amounts to time now dedicated to creating a SQL Server-based Sheriff's Personnel Administrative Record Keeping System.

The incident reporting system looks and feels more like the existing crime report system. Whether assigned to patrol or custody, deputies need only learn one way to document an incident. If the report in question is a crime that requires state and national reporting, and/or district attorney prosecution, it is routed accordingly with an appropriate case number.

The transition has not been free of some growing pains. While the iris technology works with precision and lightning speed, some patrol officers had difficulty obtaining a usable iris image from subjects in bright sunlight. L-l is addressing this issue and has a mobile fingerprint feature coupled with some of their iris devices. Either way, the iris images are National Institute of Standards and Technology compliant and may well be part of a regional implementation of the statewide mobile Identification initiative. As time and budget permits, use of the iris devices can be expanded to streamline the admittance of jail visitors.

Compliance with the state-mandated DNA sample verification initiative will involve the use of a positive identification device added to the beginning of the booking process. The necessary modifications to the Omni JMS application will not involve a costly purchase from L-l.

For varying reasons, a number of local agencies have yet to take advantage of the mobile booking functionality. Increased workflow efficiency in the jail has mitigated the kind of backlog that otherwise might cause local agencies to demand remote booking. Furthermore, the economy has had a deleterious effect on the affordability of booking and prosecuting offenders. Since 2007 bookings in Contra County have declined 20 percent from an annual average of 29,000 to just 23,000 in 2009. Meanwhile recidivism increased from an average of 70 percent to 75 percent in 2009.

Reductions in staffing have affected local agencies and to reduce or avoid booking fees, they cite and release whenever it is prudent to do so. Similar pressures on the Office of the District Attorney result in fewer case filings. Eventually, and with certainty, this downward trend will change. In response to a federal court order, the state of California must reduce its prison average daily population by as many as 40,000 inmates. Last year, legislators reduced parole supervision for low-level offenders and approved taking up to six weeks off prison terms for inmates who complete rehabilitation programs.

Meanwhile, in terms of feedback and response to tweaks and bug fixes, L-l has been very responsive to the needs of the Office of the Sheriff. The Omni JMS works and it works very well. It has never crashed nor has it failed. Teams of four database experts oversee the care and feeding of the new system. They are part of the Office of the Sheriff Technical Services Division team of 12 IT professionals. Although they work during normal business hours, members of the IT team share on-call responsibilities. The annual maintenance for the L-l system is $130,000 and is equal to the fee charged by the previous vendor.

Four years of perseverance and teamwork up front has certainly spared the office headaches and lost productivity downstream. The importance of a solid jail operation extends beyond the facility walls, and its role as the informational centerpiece of all local law enforcement operations cannot be understated. Herein are the keys to making bearable the burden of not only doing more with less but doing more accurately for less.

Sean Fawell is a captain and 20-year veteran of the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff. He is currently assigned to the Technical Services Division.
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Title Annotation:CT FEATURE
Author:Fawell, Sean
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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