Arizona's $24-Million Prison Management Software Is Keeping People Locked Up Past The End Of Their Sentences

from the taking-life,-wasting-tax-dollars dept

The Arizona Department of Corrections is depriving inmates of freedom they’ve earned. Its $24 million tracking software isn’t doing what it’s supposed to when it comes to calculating time served credits. That’s according to whistleblowers who’ve been ignored by the DOC and have taken their complaints to the press. Here’s Jimmy Jenkins of KJZZ, who was given access to documents showing the bug has been well-documented and remains unfixed, more than a year after it was discovered.

According to Arizona Department of Corrections whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people who should be eligible for release are being held in prison because the inmate management software cannot interpret current sentencing laws.

KJZZ is not naming the whistleblowers because they fear retaliation. The employees said they have been raising the issue internally for more than a year, but prison administrators have not acted to fix the software bug. The sources said Chief Information Officer Holly Greene and Deputy Director Joe Profiri have been aware of the problem since 2019.

The management software (ACIS) rolled out during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which is always the best time to debut new systems that might need a lot of immediate tech support. Since its rollout, the software has generated 19,000 bug reports. The one at the center of this ongoing deprivation of liberty arose as the result of a law passed in June of that year. The law gave additional credit days to inmates charged with low-level drug offenses, increasing the credit from one day for every six served to three days for every seven.

Qualified inmates are only supposed to serve 70% of their sentences, provided they also complete some other prerequisites, like earning a GED or entering a substance abuse program. That law hasn’t been implemented in the Arizona prison system because the $24 million software can’t seem to figure out how to do it.

To be sure, legislation that changes time served credits for only a certain percentage of inmates creates problems for prison management systems. But that’s why you spend $24 million buying one, rather than just asking employees if they’re any good at Excel.

But that’s what has actually happened. With the expensive software unable to correctly calculate time served credits, prison employees are doing it by hand.

Department sources said this means “someone is sitting there crunching numbers with a calculator and interpreting how each of the new laws that have been passed would impact an inmate.”

“It makes me sick,” one source said, noting that even the most diligent employees are capable of making math errors that could result in additional months or years in prison for an inmate. “What the hell are we doing here? People’s lives are at stake.”

Hundreds of inmates are affected. A spokesperson for the prison system says the DOC has identified 733 inmates who qualify for the increased time served credits. But that number is still likely on the low end since the software is incapable of accurately identifying qualifying inmates, much less accurately calculating the length of time they have left to serve.

Meanwhile, the bug that’s killing freedom remains unpatched. And it appears the software’s many other bugs are making time spent in prison even more dangerous and miserable than it already is. Medical information goes missing or fails to transfer correctly when inmates are moved. Rival gang members have been placed in the same cells. Head counts are inaccurate. Inmate property and commissary funds are routinely recorded incorrectly.

Prison is already a miserable experience. Those trying to turn their lives around and engage in the rehabilitative process most prisons consider to be ancillary at best are being punished for trying by a system that is failing everyone who uses it or is affected by it.

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Comments on “Arizona's $24-Million Prison Management Software Is Keeping People Locked Up Past The End Of Their Sentences”

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23 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They could probably get that code in to the program easily as it is adding time to a sentence.

I find it hard to believe that they cannot easily add the code for this to the program. A better guess is someone put this sentence reduction program together but never got any funding the modify the code.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

>A better guess is someone put this sentence reduction program together but never got any funding the modify the code.

No guess. The law changed after the program was written. The Developer says it’s not a bug because the new law wasn’t in the original contracted specifications–so, pay up or it’s Not Our Problem.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Easy and quick fix, IF the desire was there

You could get the software patched in less than a week if it was mandated that the execs of any company selling such software, and those running the prisons who have been informed of the problem but ignored it would be sentenced to spend an equal amount of time in prison as those that the software keeps incarcerated, calculated on a monthly basis.

Much like the silk-glove treatment police get from politicians and courts so long as it’s someone else suffering the consequences there’s no real incentive to change anything. Someone spends a few months/years longer in prison then they should have? Eh, no big deal, they shouldn’t have been convicted in the first place if they didn’t want to suffer, and besides it’s not like convicts are people or anything.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Easy and quick fix, IF the desire was there

You could get the software patched in less than a week if it was mandated that the execs of any company selling such software, and those running the prisons who have been informed of the problem but ignored it would be sentenced to spend an equal amount of time in prison as those that the software keeps incarcerated, calculated on a monthly basis.

…you think that would incentivize them to make that number easier to calculate?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Official misconduct.
Holding citizens past the date of their leaving the system.

I mean its not like we had to pass laws to give money to people railroaded to prison by bad cops/judges/prosecutors… (and of course immediately attempted to put more road blocks into compensating them for being screwed for decades).

No one cares because they are bad people, if they weren’t bad people they wouldn’t be in prison. $24 million to what I am sure is a powerful donor, for a system unable to do the job. Perhaps some of them need to be imprisoned with this system running their release dates.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
crazy_diamond (profile) says:

This is obviously a bug which became a feature for Arizona "law enforcement". How many times do we have to be reminded that the purpose of policing in this country is to inflict maximum brutality and terror on the marginalized for no other reason than to have favored population feel "safe", and to keep the money flowing for cops. The affluent and otherwise powerful don’t see this as a problem, because their fate will never depend on this system because they’ll never see the inside of a cell.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There’s no hint in the actual news that race was involved. Why do so many people assume that there are no other evils in the world.

In my experience (actually developing and using large systems) the greatest evil is even attempting a multi-decamillion-dollar one-size-fits-all program. It wouldn’t fit all if it worked, and very few organizations can organize to create such a program that works. Not to mention the fact that nobody but an expert programmer who also knows everything about the user’s systems, can specify what ‘working’ even means at that scale. (And there is almost never such a persion. I new one….once.) It’s not a summer project for comp sci students who’ve never worked on anything larger than an 800-line semester project which took, in their ignorant stumblings, 2000 lines of code.

So you have top-level bureaucrats (or their henchlings in one department) trying to write down what everyone in another very-large department knows about how their job is done. The specification writers don’t know what questions to ask, or whom to ask them of. Of course the specifications are rubbish–thousands of actual errors, and thousands more incoherent blatherings that fail to be errors only by failing to communicate any idea, true or false. The programmers don’t have a chance.

Not that they’d be able to take it if they had. Middle managers seeing big-dollar bonuses if their work-units deliver ahead of schedule, push to ignore problems that are found (or better yet, fail to look for problems and don’t find them). The actual work is done by comp-sci graduates who mostly don’t have the skills and experience to handle 10,000-line programs, let alone the actual size. They will be lucky to only deliver thousands of bugs. And the system they deliver will be fragile–one bug fix or spec-update will likely introduce 2 or more bugs. It will be opaque–nobody will be able to tell why it does things without consulting the code, which the user doesn’t have access to. And it will be hated, passionately hated, by all its users for the extra work it imposes on them.

For x tens of millions of dollars, that’s what you will always get. Unless the user-organization is managed and staffed by professional engineers, in which case it will know how to create a spec and hold the contractor to it.

So what’s really going on here? Nothing in the race wars. Nothing even hinky in the software developer. Just the usual human bumbling, resulting in millions of dollars spent, after which much of the real work has to be done manually, just like it had been done before.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"There’s no hint in the actual news that race was involved. Why do so many people assume that there are no other evils in the world."

No one mentioned race – only the marginalized; Of course when it comes to US prisons, that means poor people and, yes, brown people.

The human bumbling you describe certainly doesn’t have it in for any human concerns beyond saving money and cutting corners, with not a single nod towards which demographic gets to suffer the most of those actions. This is what would be called systemic racism – because it hits a given demographic harder than others without specific intent to do so, or the primary mechanisms of the discrimination not necessarily within the action chain discussed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There’s no hint in the actual news that race was involved. Why do so many people assume that there are no other evils in the world.

In my experience (actually developing and using large systems) the greatest evil is even attempting a multi-decamillion-dollar one-size-fits-all program. It wouldn’t fit all if it worked, and very few organizations can organize to create such a program that works. Not to mention the fact that nobody but an expert programmer who also knows everything about the user’s systems, can specify what ‘working’ even means at that scale. (And there is almost never such a persion. I new one….once.) It’s not a summer project for comp sci students who’ve never worked on anything larger than an 800-line semester project which took, in their ignorant stumblings, 2000 lines of code.

So you have top-level bureaucrats (or their henchlings in one department) trying to write down what everyone in another very-large department knows about how their job is done. The specification writers don’t know what questions to ask, or whom to ask them of. Of course the specifications are rubbish–thousands of actual errors, and thousands more incoherent blatherings that fail to be errors only by failing to communicate any idea, true or false. The programmers don’t have a chance.

Not that they’d be able to take it if they had. Middle managers seeing big-dollar bonuses if their work-units deliver ahead of schedule, push to ignore problems that are found (or better yet, fail to look for problems and don’t find them). The actual work is done by comp-sci graduates who mostly don’t have the skills and experience to handle 10,000-line programs, let alone the actual size. They will be lucky to only deliver thousands of bugs. And the system they deliver will be fragile–one bug fix or spec-update will likely introduce 2 or more bugs. It will be opaque–nobody will be able to tell why it does things without consulting the code, which the user doesn’t have access to. And it will be hated, passionately hated, by all its users for the extra work it imposes on them.

For x tens of millions of dollars, that’s what you will always get. Unless the user-organization is managed and staffed by professional engineers, in which case it will know how to create a spec and hold the contractor to it.

So what’s really going on here? Nothing in the race wars. Nothing even hinky in the software developer. Just the usual human bumbling, resulting in millions of dollars spent, after which much of the real work has to be done manually, just like it had been done before.

Anonymous Coward says:

$24 million BRICK

i’ve seen that before and it’s likely due to the very strict provisions of the initial contract with no provision for follow-up payment for development of new functions.

they probably bought a $24 million immutable, non-evolving BRICK as if it were a sack of potatoes – contract and funtional specs nailed shut at signing time, binary code only, no ownership of source code.

They wanted a fixed quantifiable brick, they got one.

Now they want to shape and squeeze that brick to fit into a shape that’s somewhere between "brick" and has round corners like an "egg"… but that is not covered by the terms in the initial very-specific-contract.

They basically want a new car with more bells and whistles by just trading in the old car.

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