Courts to lock up Y2k prison problems (Boston) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Courts try to lock up Y2K prison problems by Jose Martinez

Monday, December 20, 1999

The coming New Year and its accompanying fears of possible computer meltdowns will leave state inmates sitting in their cells rather than in courtrooms during the first week of January.

Suzanne DelVecchio, chief justice of the Superior Court Department, recently sent out a memo to judges asking them to abstain from scheduling trials and other court appearances for state prisoners from Dec. 29 to Jan. 7 ``in effort to avoid any issues that may result from so-called Y2K problems.''

DelVecchio was responding a request from Corrections Commissioner Michael T. Maloney, who had voiced concerns about the potential for havoc presented by the inability of clocks in older computers to distinguish between the years 2000 and 1900.

``There is no specific Y2K problem as explained to us by the Department of Corrections,'' DelVecchio said. ``(The prisons) are all ready. But they don't know if even the electricity in the towns where they would be sending inmates is going to be working.''

Prisons spokesman Anthony Carnevale was quick to stress that all computerized systems at the state's correctional facilities have been tested thoroughly and found to be ready to handle the tumultuous time change at midnight Jan. 1, 2000.

There is no danger of cells suddenly locking or bursting open, he said.

However, Maloney remains concerned that troubles elsewhere could affect the running of the state's many lockups and he would like to minimize the movement of prisoners back and forth to court, Carnevale said.

``This is strictly precautionary,'' Carnevale said. ``There is nothing we can point to saying we anticipate this problem or that problem. It is just precautionary, like bringing in extra water, ordering extra food - the sort of stuff we have been doing over the last month.''

DelVecchio and other court officials said Maloney was wise to try to curtail unnecessary prisoner transportation around the New Year. Some doomsayers have predicted widespread electrical and telephone outages along with shortages of food and fuel.

But if some cases cannot be postponed, prisoners will be taken to court, Carnvevale said. In a pinch, some state prisoners could be housed temporarily at county jails, DelVecchio said.

``This was to minimize the movement of prisoners, not to stop it,'' Delvecchio said.

In Middlesex County, District Attorney Martha Coakley said transporting prisoners requires such logistical gymnastics she can't blame the Corrections Department for putting on the brakes.

``I'm sure the safety decisions involved in the transportation of prisoners were probably utmost in the DOC's mind,'' Coakley said.

Meanwhile, Coakley's office has been working flat-out to make sure their own computers will be working after Jan. 1. Otherwise, the databanks storing information from the 35,000 cases a year handled by the district court and 1,000 cases a year brought to superior court would be lost, she said.

The prosecutor said the lack of state prisoners would present no difficulties for Middlesex County, particularly since judges usually avoid scheduling trials over the holidays.

``Juries don't want to sit over New Year's anyway and judges know that,'' Coakley said.

However, district and superior courts will be open for business with or without Y2K bugs, DelVecchio said. ``We'll be operating. We'll be trying cases,'' DelVecchio said. ``We are Y2K compliant - all of my yellow pads and felt-tipped pens are Y2K compliant.''

-- Homer Beanfang (, December 20, 1999

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