Florida puts inmate data online

Florida puts inmate data online<@VM>Imaging system poses unique challenges

Searchable site provides info on current, recent prisoners

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

The Florida Corrections Department gives the public a Web window into data and photos of its inmates, who last year numbered 69,000. It is one of just four states to do so.

Sgt. Anthony Ciucio of the Florida Corrections Department and Carol Casimir, a department probation officer, use the Offender Based Information System to check out the security status of an inmate.

The department's Web site, at www.dc.state.fl.us, also provides information about every offender released since October 1997, webmaster Regina Blackstock said.

This year, the site will expand to include the 150,000 Florida offenders under community supervision, such as parolees, probationers and the home-monitored.

Behind the site is an extensive web of mainframe and client-server systems that not only hold the small amount of inmate information the public sees but also support Corrections processes across the state for the department's staff of 27,000 and the convicts they supervise.

'We are proud of what we do here, even though it is not flashy. It serves the public and gets the job done in a very complex and large organization,' Corrections chief information officer Earl Kellow said.

The Offender Based Information System (OBIS), the department's main data repository, taps an IBM IMS Version 5.2 database running under OS/390 on an IBM 9672-RD2 mainframe in the data center of the Office of Information Technology (OIT).

For 20 years, OBIS has logged the personal history, sentence information, transfers, education, disciplinary reports, supervision cost and release date of each state convict.

Two Spectris direct-access disk storage devices from Amdahl Corp. hold the system's 1.2T of data. A Powderhorn 99310 tape library unit from StorageTek of Lisle, Ill., manages the system's 16,000 backup tapes.

The Florida Corrections Department's main database provides daily updates of inmate data to its searchable Web site. Information on escapes goes up immediately.

Far and wide

OBIS connects to more than 410 locations 'from Pensacola to Key West' via frame relay lines at speeds of 128 Kbps and 56 Kbps, Kellow said. About 110 are criminal justice and local law enforcement agencies outside of the department.

Scores of applications run under or in conjunction with OBIS, systems development manager John Agliato said. The main middleware product is IBM DataJoiner, which makes flat-file data relational for use at server-level databases. Employees access systems through PCs, notebook PCs and dumb terminals.

All those systems keep OIT's staff of 90 busy. Granting access rights alone is a major undertaking because the department receives 7,600 security access requests or modifications annually. Every subsystem within the department has an 'owner' at OIT headquarters responsible for defining which job class receives access to which systems.

Although most of the information besides medical and criminal investigation data is public record, data input is a big security concern.

'If an inmate could pay someone to change the release date, it's worth money to get out earlier,' Kellow said.

An offender on the way to incarceration arrives at one of five state reception centers and undergoes an extensive routine for gathering data, including a medical exam, vocational evaluation and security classification.

The centers rely on the Computer Automated Reception Process (CARP), which checks OBIS during check-in and downloads any data it already has for a repeat offender. Center employees then log further data during check-in for each offender, 24,000 of whom entered the system last fiscal year.

CARP data resides in a Progress database from Progress Software Corp. of Bedford, Mass. It runs under OpenVMS for Alpha on Alpha Server 100A systems from Compaq Computer Corp.

A standalone PC system captures an inmate's digital photograph and prints a tamperproof, bar coded identification badge that will clip to the inmate's uniform for the duration of the prison term.

CARP uploads selected inmate data to OBIS daily. Each night, OBIS runs a flat-file extract for new or altered inmate data to update the Web site. The data ends up in a Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 database running under Microsoft NT 4.0.

The site's search engine pulls data from the database, which matches the data to the photographs from the badge system.

Microsoft Internet Information Server drives the site. OIT designed its static pages with HomeSite from Allaire Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., and its application interfaces with Microsoft Visual InterDev.

Thanks, OBIS

When a prisoner is released, that information also appears in the nightly extract for Web access.

Escapee data, however, is typically on the Web within an hour of a breakout. Staff members at the institution where the escape occurred can call the central staff authorized to enter escapee data directly into a Web form for posting.

'It's not something they have to get the computer people involved with,' Kellow said.

Besides offering convenience and service to victims, convicts' families, the media and the merely curious, the site, which gets 63,000 hits a month, has helped apprehend at least one escapee.

'One of the first escapees we published on our Web site had unusual tattoos, and we were able to put the tattoos on our Web site,' webmaster Blackstock said.

A New Orleans bartender who had visited the site recognized the tattoos on a patron and called police, she said.

OIT continues to develop new applications. It completed a records imaging system in June (see story, Page 30) and is looking into replacing some PCs with thin clients this year to increase security and distribute software more efficiently, Kellow said.THE PEOPLE

Florida Corrections Department chief information officer Earl Kellow, along with Linda Willis, imaging system architect and former department data center director, recently spoke with GCN/State & Local associate editor Claire E. House about lessons they learned from installing and using an imaging system project.

Earl Kellow


The Inmate Records Imaging System, or IRIS, has been digitizing offender document files in Florida's Corrections Department since June. It has brought substantial time and accessibility benefits to the department.

Developed by Digital Equipment Corp., which was subsequently bought by Compaq Computer Corp., it runs Optika from Optika Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Ascent from Kofax Image Products Inc. of Irvine, Calif. Files are stored on an OSL-2500 optical jukebox from Sony Corp. of America of Park Ridge, N.J.

Staff members in Corrections' main office and Central Records Bureau as well as the state Parole Commission access the records over a network. By midyear, Ascent's eMedia version will bring IRIS access to all authorized department staff members via an intranet.


Setting it up

KELLOW: The project brought a change in how you do business, and we found out in a hurry that there were a lot of little questions that had to be answered that weren't technical'they were procedural. The biggest heartache for us was deciding on an indexing scheme, especially when you have more than one agency involved.

Tracking access

WILLIS: There's a very strong audit trail requirement for our system that exceeded even what the vendor had anticipated. Who's added, who's deleted, who puts information in'it's crucial to our ability to prove the custody of the records if we get called into court. We had to be extremely cognizant of the admissibility issues.

Receiving the records

WILLIS: Almost all of the documents come from outside our department; therefore, we have a limited ability to do optical character recognition. We are receiving commitment documents from 67 clerks of the court, so we can have 67 variations. We cannot dictate what the clerks of the courts do, so we must adapt to them. So our project is more manually intensive than if it were completely internal.

Scanning the records

WILLIS: Some of our documents are 40 to 50 years old. We had everything from onion paper to blue-on-blue paper. If you're going to do an imaging project, you need to do a really good analysis of the documents. The system needed to handle different sizes, colors and thickness at a designated speed.

Recognizing industry quirks

Linda Willis

KELLOW: The industry seems to have a lack of standards, and one of our problems was that vendors so rampantly come and go in the products being offered'both in hardware and software. For example, we'd initially wanted an Eastman Kodak Co. optical jukebox, then that line went out of business. It's a very topsy-turvy area of technology.

WILLIS: The imaging area tends to be extremely proprietary, so when you make a commitment, that's a long-term commitment. Do your homework before you do your request for proposals, and make sure you know what you're asking for.

Managing the system

KELLOW: Another issue from my perspective as CIO is that this project has demanded a lot of hand-holding by my staff, in rollout and in post-rollout support.

I don't think I anticipated the amount of staff time to keep things going.

Restructuring and training

WILLIS: Quality control is everything in a system like this on the front end.

If you do not ensure that the records are readable and well-indexed as they enter the system, you'll either never find them again or they'll be unreadable. So we had to totally redefine about 20 people's jobs. They are doing something completely different than what they did a year ago. And many of these people had never even touched a computer. So training was a major part of this project. They have done well, but with a steep learning curve.

Looking back

KELLOW: An imaging project is not the same as an everyday systems project. We struggled a bit and learned a lot, but it's up and running now.


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