Service has GIS, will travel

The Marshals Service has installed a desktop mapping system to plan the sometimes
dangerous task of transporting federal prisoners.

“We needed a visual mechanism to analyze where our resources were” and to
match them against shifting prison populations, program manager Jeff Cotter said. The
Marshals Service houses about 32,000 pretrial prisoners in 1,500 contract jails
nationwide. It takes over responsibility for people apprehended by the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms, Customs Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, and
Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Last October, the Marshals Service spent $30,000—and two weeks of a Visual Basic
developer’s time—to set up 25 users at its headquarters with two geographic
information system products from MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y. Cotter, who has worked on the
GIS project for a year, also evaluated GIS products from Environmental Systems Research
Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif., and Inc. of New York before selecting

The Justice Department agency has 94 district offices and hundreds of satellite
offices. In addition to apprehending fugitives and managing detention of federal
prisoners, it protects federal judges and handles the federal witness protection program.

The headquarters uses MapInfo MapXtreme 2.02 on an IBM PC Server 325 running Microsoft
Windows NT Server 4.0 and Internet Information Server 4.0. The IBM server has 256M of RAM
and two 9G hard drives. Client PCs run MapInfo Professional 5.0. Users access the
MapXtreme server software through their Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator

To house prisoners awaiting individual court dates, the Marshals Service users must
determine the capacity and per-diem rate of jail facilities in particular districts,
Cotter said. Users can build shaded maps to show concentrations of prisons and prisoners,
and managers can compare the trends from quarter to quarter and year to year.

“Managers who are used to looking at printed data or a spreadsheet are blown
away” by the desktop GIS that visually combines five or six data sources, Cotter

“They’re used to having paper maps and putting pins in the wall,” he
said. Users can get snapshot statistics for a particular jail by pointing a mouse at the
facility on the map and clicking, Cotter said.

During the next two years, the service plans to extend MapXtreme to all 5,000 of its
users over an agency intranet.

“It’s a very strong system for a minimal investment,” Cotter said. He
said he likes the way MapXtreme “loads right into Lotus Domino” server software,
which fits in with the service’s plans to use Windows NT and Domino for intranet

The district office servers currently run UnixWare from the Santa Cruz Operation Inc.
of Santa Cruz, Calif., while the agency’s nine hub sites mix NT and Unix operating
systems, and headquarters has Novell NetWare, he said.

One of the biggest GIS challenges was getting people used to using the browsers to
input data into Access and MapInfo, Cotter said. MapInfo’s database design requires
entering city, state and ZIP code data in separate fields for each location. 

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