Is It So Difficult To Check When A Prisoner Should Be Released?

from the seems-pretty-straightforward dept

One of the ongoing worries about people relying more and more on computers is that, in doing so, they will sometimes let the computer's judgment replace their own common sense. The computer is right so often, that people stop checking to make sure it's right. John submitted this story noting that a "computer glitch" let certain prisoners out early from state prisons in Michigan. The article is a bit poorly written, so it's not clear what the actual "glitch" was -- but what's more concerning is why no one is double-checking these things. It seems that people are just assuming that the computer must always be right. How hard would it be for someone to take what the computer says and match it up with a file on the prisoner's release date? As for the fact that the computer also let a few prisoners out late, did the prisoners in question complain that their release date had come and gone?


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  1.  
    identicon
    Mousky, Oct 24th, 2005 @ 4:33am

    Customer Service

    We have become so accustomed to hearing "computers are always right", that no one double-checks the information in the computer system.

    I work for a municipal government. A fellow co-worker spent roughly 18 months converting paper zoning maps into digital format that were geo-referenced (meaning all the lines or segments on the map had a geographic co-ordinate assigned to them). That project was completed about 16 months ago. At work, we use two applications to access data about a property. There are plenty of errors in the system. No one has ever bothered to import the data from the digital mapping into these systems, despite the fact that one of the reasons we went to digital mapping was the ability to easily update data in other databases.

    A developer or property owner would come in to get their building permit and be told that there are conditions that must be satisfied prior to issuance of the permit - because the computer database has not been updated. They come see me, and I check the PAPER map and note that the conditions have been satisfied. I then have to copy the map, get a copy of the by-law that removed the conditions and talk to the customer service rep. While management talks about improving customer service, they have paid lip-service to our comments about incorrect data in the system.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    dave, Oct 24th, 2005 @ 7:14am

    Release Date Calculation

    If we relied on humans to double check release dates we'd have to be teaching advanced legal comprehension and advanced algebra to prison officials in charge of release. I'm not against that, but my 4+ years working on prison information systems in 5 different states has left my head spinning due to the myriad of methods for release date calculation. Releasing prisoners before their release date is never good. But coding rules to account for each and every move the state legislature makes, is not child's play.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Computer Nerd, Oct 24th, 2005 @ 8:43am

    No Subject Given

    Forgetting about human input errors, and poor programming: If people knew how many mistakes computers make each second, they still wouldn't double check their work.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 9th, 2005 @ 12:19am

    Laws are the issue

    Lawmakers have no concept of the complexity and problems caused by many of the laws they pass. Stop and look at the IRS, FCC, or the Telecom sector. The laws involved are staggering and near impossible to properly track. Often complexities caused by their interactions are unknowns even to the responsible agencies themselves. In response to a question I had on the application of federal excise tax to telecom the IRS informed me of what they felt was probably the best answer, stumbled when asked basic questions about their reply, and told me that if they changed their minds on how it applied if my company was audited that they wouldn't penalize us... Even the interaction of taxes and fees on your basic telephone bill are staggering. Trying to compute JUST the taxes and fees on a single phone bill with a calculator could easily take an hour - assuming you could even keep the interactions of the fees and taxes straight long enough to do it. Details like how the state sales tax on telecom for one state applies to the charges, not the e911 fees, the EUCL charges, the USF charges, not the Fed Excise charges, and the install charges, while the fex excise applies to everything but the state tax and the install charges, etc. It's unreal. Of course anyone who has ever filed their own personal income taxes by hand at the end of the year knows it's out of control. Thus given, we have no choice but to use computerised solutions for government complicated problems. The bugs? Well hopefully we can avoid them, if not, then we'll have to live with the consequences. There isn't a good alternative.

     

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