Integrators woo criminal justice work

Courts push for XML?based info-sharing network

Victims of domestic violence often can't outrun their problems. Even if an abused spouse has a protective order and has moved away from her husband, she remains at risk, said court officials who advocate for victims' rights.

Protective orders are not always recognized from one state to another, and a police officer responding to a call for help may not be able to enforce a valid court order if it can't be verified. Without integrated IT justice systems, an officer may be unable to establish a protective order's validity and may have no choice but to leave the scene without enforcing it.

"That creates a lot of trauma, and sometimes tragedy," said Gerry Wethington, vice president for homeland security, justice and public safety programs at Unisys Corp.'s global public sector. "Not having that information available and being able to exchange and share it in a timely manner creates difficulties for communities and individuals."

If county court systems were linked to state databases of protective orders and other criminal justice information, not only would it be easier to establish an order's validity, it could help save lives, said Denise Dancy, director of Project Passport at the National Center for State Courts. Project Passport advocates uniformity in appearance and sharing of protective orders to improve safety for domestic violence victims.

States could share such information across an integrated Extensible Markup Language-based network, Dancy said. "XML facilitates that information being entered in the court, through the state police system into state registries, if they exist; ultimately [it] could [foster] greater participation and accuracy in the FBI's National Crime Information Center."

Standard approach

The National Center for State Courts, the National Association for Court Management and the Conference of State Court Administrators formed a task force to develop data model standards.

Other non-profit and government groups are working on XML data standards. Industry officials hope the result is a single XML standard that could link county and state systems. Some working groups also are involving the private sector.

Enterprise architecture and service-oriented architecture "drive consistency and that, in turn, drives consistent data models, which drive consistent information ex-changes," Wethington said. "It's going to take a while to get there. We've been 40 years in building the silos, we're not going to get out of them overnight."

Electronic solutions that let lawyers file court documents online have become more common in county courts over the last five years. But few courts have such systems linked to data repositories, and the process remains mostly paper-driven, said Gary Miglicco, vice president of state and local practice at BearingPoint Inc., McLean, Va.

"We're a litigious society, and the cost of managing all the paper has gotten exorbitant," Miglicco said. "Courts are looking for technology to help manage that cost and that solution, as well as provide better access to their users and the public."

The number of users of court information is growing, Wethington said. For example, businesses access information online to check a potential hire's criminal history, and that raises the stakes for having correct and complete information, he said.

"When you begin to make disqualifying decisions about people's lives, it's really important that the criminal justice community have the capability to share and link these records, so that the right decisions are made, and people are not inappropriately disqualified," Wethington said.

Funding hurdles

Opportunities exist across the country at every level of judicial and law enforcement IT systems, said Jim Pauli, global justice directorate at EDS Corp. He said one of the biggest impediments to landing the opportunities is not contractors being able to find the right technology, but governmental entities being able to find the funding.

Still more opportunities exist to help define how implementations could occur and create applications that facilitate data sharing across an XML-based system, NCSC's Dancy said.

Unisys, working as a subcontractor to Adea Solutions Inc. of Dallas, is negotiating with Adea and two Texas counties to implement an integrated justice system for the Texas Conference of Urban Counties. Thirty of the group's 37 counties ? there are 254 in the state ? plan to buy into the network, said Kate Connolly, Unisys' executive director for Texas public sector work.

The companies will use an application from Sonic Software Corp., Bedford, Mass.

BearingPoint, under a statewide contract, provides e-filing applications to some Texas courts. The company has implemented an e-filing solution in more than 180 of the state's 800 courts and gets paid through user fees, Miglicco said.

BearingPoint also implemented an integrated, multicourt case management solution for the Washington, D.C., Superior Court. The company is teaming with Maximus Inc., Reston, Va., to implement Maximus' commercial CourtView software as the foundation of the system.

CourtView includes case initiation, scheduling, docketing, reporting, document scanning and electronic filing capabilities. The project will cost $14.9 million, according to a BearingPoint spokesman.

Some courts may not have the funding to do large-scale application implementations, but that might not be what's called for to link an integrated justice system with a repository, Wethington said.

"We have got to get away from doing the forklift upgrade of solutions and start linking them using interoperable framework solutions that leverage the capabilities of technology," he said.

Staff Writer Ethan Butterfield can be reached at ebutterfield@postnewsweektech.com.

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