DeKalb County Y2K compliancy plan gone awrygreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Because of a Y2K compliancy plan gone awry, DeKalb County's computerized inmate lists are on the blink --- and so is the system. Ben Smith III - Staff
Saturday February 12
On Jan. 8, Asif Ahmadi of Clarkston was arrested and accused of killing his wife and daughter and wounding another daughter.
The DeKalb County district attorney's office didn't find out until 32 days later. That's because there has been no jailhouse-to-courthouse computer link since the county switched to a Y2K-compliant system in early December.
The cyberslowdown has DeKalb District Attorney J. Tom Morgan worried. State law says any inmate held longer than 90 days without being indicted is automatically entitled to release on "reasonable" bond. Ahmadi won't break that deadline because an aide on Wednesday discovered his arrest report in a stack of hundreds. But Morgan worries about missing one, perhaps a dangerous suspect who would be denied bond otherwise but whose 90-day clock is running while he sits unnoticed in the jail.
"The fact is, we don't know who's in there," said Morgan. So Morgan is paying his staff to work overtime to manually search records previously done by computer.
That's not the only problem. Since the computer change, clerks have complained they can't print documents, easily find criminal histories or keep electronic court calendars. Some have had to draft subpoenas by hand. Investigators and public defenders have had to pore over long lists of names to match case files and drive to the courthouse in Decatur and the jail near Stone Mountain to search inmate records once obtainable by computer.
DeKalb's computer problems began last fall with the firing of the contractor hired to upgrade the jail's computer system. That delayed work on the new system, and the old system had to be scrapped for Y2K compliance.
Another factor is an argument over whether county computer managers' insistence on complete control of the system would jeopardize the confidentiality of files kept by courts and public defenders.
The County Commission plans a Feb. 24 meeting with various court officials to discuss their computer complaints.
The county's information systems director, Bill Hilton, said the computer link should be running by the end of the month. A technical solution, however, will not be enough for Public Defender Lawrence Schneider, who said he won't link up if it means yielding control of computers containing his files on defendants.
In the meantime, Schneider said, some indigent jail inmates are being held longer than necessary because of the trouble his office is having keeping track of them.
Oscar Ascensio, a 26-year-old Doraville fence-builder, spent more than four months in the DeKalb jail on charges of driving drunk without insurance or a license. Court officials lost track of Ascensio, who was jailed Sept. 8, after the arresting officers misspelled his name.
Ascensio languished in the jail until Jan. 14. After he was discovered on a list of inmates by a public defender's aide, a judge released him on time served with a $455 fine.
"Nobody could help me. Nobody could speak Spanish," said Ascensio, with his roommate, David Alfaro, translating. Alfaro tried to find him but said it took four visits to the jail over three months.
"When we went down to the jail, we couldn't find him," said Alfaro of the first three visits. "The deputy would say, 'He's not here.' "
In October, when asked by the public defender to bring Ascensio to trial, the DeKalb solicitor's office mistakenly concluded he was out on bond. That was because they found a record of Ascensio, this time with the correct spelling, being released on a previous DUI charge in March. Schneider said Ascensio could have been found much earlier by the old computer system because it allowed more general name searches. An aide looking carefully might have noticed computer files on similar inmate names with the same date of birth and concluded they were the same person.
The new system could be programmed to go a step further and red-flag inmates who have been overheld in jail, he said. However, Schneider refuses to link up to the new system, saying county computer officials are demanding complete control of his agency's software and confidential client files. The State Bar of Georgia and Georgia Indigent Defense Council support his position.
Other officials point to potential breaches of internal court documents concerning rezoning lawsuits against the DeKalb County Commission. But Hilton says these fears are wildly exaggerated. "We really don't have any interest at all in their files," he said.
What Hilton does want is a uniform network of system software and the ability to access satellite computers remotely as much as possible for repairs. This position is similar to computer policies adopted by many U.S. corporations.
Hilton said he is willing to create a system to block anyone, including computer staff, from snooping in the files of another agency.
ON THE WEB
Go to the DeKalb forum to discuss the jail's computer problems.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 12, 2000
This is DeKalb county Georgia. There have been any number of reports about Atlanta problems, and some in surrounding jurisdictions like DeKalb.
This is a great report.
-- Bud Hamilton (email@example.com), February 13, 2000.
OOPS! I meant "it is great that you reported this Martin". Obviously, I am not overjoyed about the fact that criminals may be on the loose because of y2k-related problems.
-- Bud Hamilton (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 13, 2000.