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New York state converts forms onto electronic mail network.

Forms - they're one of corrections employees' biggest headaches. Every day staff use reams of paper to fill out forms for everything from tracking inmate movement to requesting office supplies to generating monthly expenditure reports.

To alleviate its reliance on paperwork, in 1987 the New York state Department of Correctional Services began converting its forms onto an electronic mail system. Commonly known as e-mail, the system allows the department to create, retrieve, transmit, store and index its many forms electronically, ultimately saving employees' time and increasing productivity.

The corrections department's management information systems (MIS) staff is in charge of creating all electronic forms, or e-forms. Staff who regularly use forms submit to the MIS department hard-copy versions of the forms they wish to see converted along with specifications for such matters as the character length needed for each section of the form. MIS staff then construct the e-form, give it an identification code and add it to the system's forms library.

Through the use of I.D. codes, the MIS department is able to maintain control over form generation and use and prevent unnecessary form duplication throughout the department. The forms are accessible to all system users, who gain access by calling up forms under their own user I.D.

More than 2,800 of the department's 28,000 employees use the e-mail system. Most are central office staff and institutional administrative and support staff, though some line staff also have access. Each user has the ability to send or receive messages. Messages are received through individual electronic mailboxes. The system notifies the user when a message has been sent to his or her mailbox, and the user can then print out the message or read it on the screen.

Examples of Forms

Monthly expenditures reports. Using the central forms library, employees in the payroll department are able to generate monthly expenditures reports by logging on to the system, retrieving the form from the library, completing the form, and sending it to the appropriate administrators and supervisors as an e-mail message.

Employee vacancy notices. The personnel department uses a similar procedure to notify employees of position vacancies. In this case, the vacancy notice is sent out according to a distribution list. Distribution lists allow one system user to send the same message to a pre-defined group of users all at the same time. The distribution list for vacancy notices is a list of all institutional personnel staff.

At the Department of Correctional Services, users can retrieve a distribution list, add or delete names, then send messages to the individuals on the list. When the message arrives, it includes a copy of the distribution list - much as a hard-copy memo would bear a "cc" list. In addition, users can choose a blind-copy option if they wish to discretely route the message to a manager or supervisor without letting others know.

Inmate status forms. Perhaps the heaviest use of e-forms - and the most beneficial - arises from the department's Classification and Movement Forms, which document inmate status. Any time an inmate moves from one part of a facility to another or from one facility to the next, a correctional services employee first must fill out a variety of these forms.

Now that status forms are available electronically, inmate movement has become simpler and more efficient. Because use of Classification and Movement forms is a sensitive matter, system security is ensured by such safeguards as passwords and assigned user I.D.s. In addition, the system automatically locks out a user after a certain number of unsuccessful attempts to log on; the default for unsuccessful tries is seven, though any number can be specified by system administrators.

Benefits

E-mail has resulted in significant time savings for the Department of Correctional Services. According to Information Processing Specialist Vicky Drobner, the system has streamlined prison administration, enhanced internal communications and increased employee productivity. For one thing, she says, the department now has fewer delinquent forms - those held up in internal mail, in transit with the U.S. Postal Service, or languishing in someone's in-basket.

"Because the system is always running," Drobner says, "a form can be routed to its destination almost instantaneously, at any time of the day or night. And it seems like people are more prompt to process a form when all they have to do is push a few keys on the computer keyboard."

A beneficial side-effect of such instantaneous transmission has been a reduction in the amount of hard-copy mail delivered each day. Because security measures govern access to specific areas of prisons, simply transporting mail from one place to another can be fairly complicated. By reducing the amount of paperwork, e-mail has made mail delivery simpler and more efficient.

In addition, the individual message-sending capability available through e-mail reduces the amount of time employees spend playing telephone tag. Employees can deliver messages whether the recipients are at their desks or not. "That in itself has been a substantial time-saver," Drobner says.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Wilson, Kevin S.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:829
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