SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Department of Corrections is in the midst of a $30 million, multi-phase overhaul of its antiquated computer systems, but continuing the project depends upon the General Assembly paying for it in the next fiscal year.

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Department of Corrections is in the midst of a $30 million, multi-phase overhaul of its antiquated computer systems, but continuing the project depends upon the General Assembly paying for it in the next fiscal year.


A report in August by retired Judge David Erickson said the department’s archaic information technology systems “have a major impact on all DOC functions, particularly those relating to a meaningful assessment of inmates prior to release.”


Erickson had been asked to examine the so-called MGT-Push scandal, in which inmates were given good-time credit as soon as they walked into prison and the department dropped a requirement that they serve at least 61 days of their sentence. (“MGT” stands for “meritorious good time,” which was supposed to be granted only to well-behaved inmates.)


The corrections department is in the midst of the first phase of its new system to track and manage inmates, called Offender 360. The state and consultants from the tech giant Microsoft have identified the most-accessed and necessary data from the department’s existing offender management system. The second phase will integrate the rest of the databases.


Sean Vinck, Gov. Pat Quinn’s chief information officer, said the department’s information technology problems are clear.


41 systems


“The most obvious fact is you’ve got an offender population now that’s north of 48,000, and we have 41 separate systems for measuring and managing the offender population,” Vinck said. 


Quinn has proposed funding in the fiscal year 2012 capital and operating budgets to pay for the overhaul, but it’s unclear from budget documents how much would be devoted to Offender 360 alone. The agency’s proposed FY2012 budget is $1.36 billion, of which $3.4 million would be spent on capital improvements.


“It is critical that the General Assembly appropriate adequate funds in FY12 to continue this process,” said Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman.


Erickson’s report said the department has no single database that compiles information about inmate discipline, educational and vocational program participation, substance abuse, rehabilitation program participation and job performance. The report said the department needs to make the improvements in order to “advance fully into the computer age.”


“This information is scattered across a multitude of databases, many of which are antiquated,” the Erickson report said. “Even then, the information is not necessarily up-to-date or complete for each inmate. Still other essential information is not in electronic form at all, but rather is kept in physical, hard-copy files across multiple locations. Thus, an evaluation of key early-release factors is extremely difficult.”


Vinck said searches that would be routine and instant on Internet search engines often take up to two weeks on the department’s equipment because they require writing lines of code in order to complete them.


One of the 41 systems provides biographical information about offenders. Asking it to spit out how many inmates received meritorious good time credit between two different dates requires writing a new program.


Errors more likely


“We have a great staff, but it takes technical skills and it takes time,” Vinck said. “Even if you manage to get the program done, the more complicated the query, the more likely you are to have an error.” 


During the uproar over MGT-Push, Corrections’ computer system inadequacies made it hard to determine how many inmates were released under the program, Vinck said.


Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said money needs to be re-appropriated in the state’s capital spending bill toward improving the state’s information technology. However, the capital program is under challenge in court and might have to be re-passed by the General Assembly.


“Across the board, the state has antiquated communications systems,” Cullerton said in a recent meeting with The State Journal-Register editorial board. “I’m all for that (funding).”


 


Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.