Broward County, FL - Computer bug backs up jail bookings : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Arrested suspects must be entered into the computer system before they can make a phone call or post bond and be released.

Even after the computer system was fixed, the backlog that had built up behind the booking bottleneck kept detainees waiting as busloads of new arrests arrived behind them. The crowd in holding cells and a spillover area approached 200 by Friday night.

Michael Nielsen, 19, of Coral Springs was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct at 11:45 a.m. Thursday. His name was called just before 4 p.m. Friday, 28 hours later. After being photographed and fingerprinted, he was examined by a doctor and then released without having to post bond. He was given a slip of paper that said he would be notified by mail about when he should appear in court.

``They had at least 50 people sitting in one cell,'' Nielsen said. ``This old man in the cell with me -- I called him Pops but I don't know his name -- he had diabetes and something was wrong with his heart, high blood pressure. They didn't give him his pills until noon today, and he came in with me last night. He couldn't sleep last night and said it felt like his chest was going to explode.''

BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said the computer problems stemmed from a new live-scan fingerprint system that feeds directly to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It was installed on Monday.

The backlog started almost immediately.

Coleman-Wright said she was told the problems were exacerbated by an unusually high number of arrests this week. She said 915 people were booked between Dec. 3 and 3 p.m. Friday, as compared to 750 and 700 people over the same time period during the past two weeks.

``With any new computer program there are going to be glitches and bugs that need to be worked out, so it did slow down our booking process,'' Coleman-Wright said. ``Those bugs created a backlog . . . [but] there is not a problem now. We're just trying to get rid of the backlog and we're thinking we should not have one by Sunday.''

Broward County Chief Judge Dale Ross said it is understandable that there will be glitches as the BSO modernizes its jail computers, noting that ``they've been very good at addressing problems'' in the past when they crop up. But he said he sympathized with the backlogged people and their families.

``From a defendant's point of view obviously, and from their families' point of view, a computer problem simply doesn't wash,'' Ross said. ``It's very difficult when you're sitting in jail to have an understanding of computer problems because you're the person in jail. But you also have to realize that sometimes matters are out of our control.''

Coleman-Wright said she was told that the normally six- to eight-hour process was now taking 10 to 12 hours. But friends and family members of prisoners said the wait was taking much longer -- in some cases, more than a day.

Deputies who answered a jail information phone line Friday told callers that the backup was slowing things down and advised them to call back in several hours. They said that prisoners were not allowed to make phone calls until after they were processed, although Nielsen said he was able to make calls once he was taken up to a second floor spillover area around 9 p.m. Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge William Hoeveler, who monitors compliance with a 1995 decree for improved jail conditions, said he was glad to hear that the BSO had moved quickly to fix the problem.

But he also said that it would be a problem if arrestees are waiting more than 24 hours before hearing the formal charges against them, as Florida law requires.

``That should not occur,'' Hoeveler said. ``They should know awfully soon what the charge is. It does have implications. A man should be released on bond, or on no bond if they don't charge him. That would be a constitutional violation that we would want to remedy.''

Chief Assistant Public Defender Bob Wells said the delays were a serious problem and predicted that they could have an ``dramatic impact'' on criminal cases against those arrested.

``You run into the situation where prisoners could make statements to the police that may end up thrown out in court because of the delays in being brought before the magistrate,'' Wells said.

Attorney Christopher Cloney, who represented Broward prisoners in the class-action conditions lawsuit, said he did not know why the jail did not revert to its former system while it fixed the new one.

``The first couple days of incarceration are the most stressful for anyone,'' Cloney said. ``To add to that, I need to make a phone call to advise my family where I am. I need to call a bondsman. I need to call a lawyer. I need to tell my employer why I am not at work. All these those things are directly impacted by this delay in booking.''

-- Black Adder (, December 10, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ