Whistleblowers: Inflexible prison software says inmates due for release should be kept locked up behind bars

It's not a bug, it's a feature you need to put in a change request to alter, says developer


Updated Prison inmates in Arizona who should be eligible for release remain incarcerated because the state's inmate management software can't handle sentence adjustments, it is claimed.

According to public radio station KJZZ, unidentified whistleblowers within the Arizona Department of Corrections revealed the software problem, which is said to have been known by department IT leaders since 2019.

The software, ACIS (Arizona Correctional Information System), implemented in 2019 at a cost of $24m by IT biz Business & Decision, North America, is said to contain a module for calculating the release dates of inmates.

The module's code, however, hasn't been able to adapt to Arizona Senate Bill 1310, a state law signed in June 2019 to allow non-violent inmates in Arizona to earn credits toward early release as a reward for participating in state-run education and rehabilitation programs.

The software can neither recalculate sentences to account for early release credits nor help identify inmates who qualify for such programs, thereby keeping people in prison who shouldn't be there and frustrating efforts to reduce the state's prison population.

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KJZZ's report, by Jimmy Jenkins, indicates that Department of Corrections leaders have been aware of the problem since the software debuted and that department employees, after internal warnings were ignored, sent a report on the software's shortcomings to department leadership in October 22, 2020.

The internal communique requests specific changes in the software to handle the new release formula and to adjust the application's interface. Under prior law, the state allows an earned release credit of one day for every six days served; under Senate Bill 1310, the formula for eligible inmates changes to three days for every seven days served.

The Register asked Business & Decision, North America, for comment. In an email, a company spokesperson disputed that use of the term "bug" to describe ACIS' lack of adaptability.

"It is not uncommon for new legislation to dictate changes to software systems," the company spokesperson said. "This translates to a change request and not a bug in the system."

We also asked the Arizona Department of Corrections for comment but we've not heard back. In addition, we emailed department CIO Holly Greene but did not receive a response.

The Arizona Department of Corrections has not identified how many people currently in prison should not be there under the SB 1310 rules. KJZZ reports that the department has been attempting to identify inmates eligible for sentence-mitigating programs by hand and has thus far found 733 who could enroll.

The KJZZ report suggests fixing the calculation problem would take 2,000 hours of developer time, which appears to be billed at a rate of about $1,137 per hour, based on the screenshot of a Department of Corrections contract amendment included with the report. It's claimed that more than 14,000 bugs have been identified in ACIS since the software was implemented.

We asked Business & Decision, North America, about these alleged bugs but didn't get an immediate answer.

Jenkins says that department leaders directed employees to keep silent about the problems with ACIS because the state had already committed too much money to back out.

The Register reached a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Corrections by phone who said the department was in the process of drafting a statement to address inaccuracies in the KJZZ report but offered no hint as to what those might be or when the statement would be issued. ®

Updated to add

After this story was filed, the Arizona Department of Corrections issued a statement disputing that anyone eligible for release under SB 1310 remains incarcerated beyond the sentenced term.

“While it is accurate that the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry ACIS system does not currently calculate release dates in accordance with the parameters established by Senate Bill (S.B.) 1310, the department has not allowed this to delay any release dates,” the department said in a statement emailed to media outlets in response to the KJZZ report.

“Release eligibility data is constantly monitored and ADCRR updates the calculation multiple times daily to ensure appropriate release times are calculated and acted upon. Beyond any automated sentence calculations, it is standard practice to review and validate sentence calculations manually to certify release dates. ADCRR has a record of accurate sentence calculations based on our current manual method. This has been the subject of litigation in the past and our method has been consistently upheld by Arizona courts.”

The department said: there are 356 inmates participating in programming that would make them eligible for an SB 1310 sentence adjustment; there are 255 inmates with 210 days left to serve who are being prioritized to take part in programming; and since March, 2020, some 6,569 inmates have completed equivalent programs, but all these are still required to complete programs as per the SB 1310 criteria.

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