Dallas Jail Computer Problems

County database gets post-mortem

Dallas: Report finds system for jail, courts lacked blueprint

12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, October 13, 2005

By JAMES M. O’NEILL / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County and the company that built its new computer system made serious blunders when conceiving, designing and implementing the system, whose launch caused chaos in county courts and left dozens of people in jail too long, a new study concluded.

The 300-page report, produced by Microsoft, points out major problems with the system and suggests some key repairs.

Microsoft said the county’s most egregious mistake was failing to develop a clear and specified blueprint for what kind of computer system it wanted and how it would function – the type of pre-planning that Microsoft called common practice in the industry. Without it, the county could not determine whether it received a useful, functioning system, the report says.

The Microsoft report also noted that the project, developed by InfoIntegration, a small start-up firm, suffered from a “lack of overall governance and management.”

The report looked at the many chores and functions county officials expected from the Adult Information System, or AIS. It concluded that the system only does 54 percent of the needed functions well for the courts and 30 percent well for the jail.

InfoIntegration president Tonya Brenneman was given a chance to dispute the Microsoft report and gave the county a four-page letter pointing out what she called “inaccuracies” in the study. InfoIntegration noted that since February, the system has been used to book in more than 61,000 inmates at the jail and file nearly 89,000 charges. An additional 58,000 prisoners have been released.

County commissioners, who had been pushing for such a review of the troubled system since March, said they were pleased Microsoft provided them a guide for improvements.

“I am so glad we hired Microsoft to do this, and they have given us exactly what we asked,” County Judge Margaret Keliher said.

She said the main conclusion – that the county had no blueprint for designing AIS – “has been my biggest argument all along,” she said. “What were we going to get, how much would it cost, and when would it be finished?

“My hope is the commissioners will look at the recommendations and not argue over the past but use this as a road map to move forward,” Ms. Keliher said.

She said she didn’t know what the fixes would cost, but that the county would likely hire a company other than InfoIntegration to make some of the changes.

Commissioner John Wiley Price, who has long pushed for a review of AIS, said he didn’t see anything in the report that differed from his original complaints.

“I’m just devastated that it has taken this much energy and time to get to this point,” he said. “I’ve told my colleagues over the years on numerous occasions, ‘I told you so,’ but this time it’s bittersweet.

“From here, we try to repair it and go forward,” Mr. Price said. “We have too much invested in this system not to go forward.”

Commissioner Mike Cantrell spearheaded the AIS project, getting communities to combine their federal Homeland Security grant money to build the system, which ultimately is supposed to allow law enforcement agencies to share data on criminals.

The system was built in stages, as each new grant came in. Mr. Cantrell said the process has made it clear that the county must develop clear blueprints to direct a company when building a computer system. He said that of the nine other significant county technology projects under way, only one has such a plan.

“Having such a plan is definitely the way to go, and we’ll do that going forward,” Mr. Cantrell said. “It’s very easy to Monday quarterback, but the county had historically not done such a plan on any of its projects.”

He said he never opposed the type of review that Microsoft conducted. But he thought it was inappropriate to conduct the study back in the spring, when other commissioners were advocating it, because it would have distracted the InfoIntegration staff and county employees, who were frantically trying to build vital inmate population reports needed by the jail and courts.

Those reports had been produced by the old mainframe system, but the AIS couldn’t share new data on inmates properly, suddenly making the mainframe reports inaccurate and useless.

The commissioners are to get a full briefing on the report Tuesday.

E-mail joneill@dallasnews.com

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