New Funds to Integrate Justice Systems Just a Start

New Funds to Integrate Justice Systems Just a Start<@VM>Stretching $1 Million Grants

What Is It?

An integrated criminal justice system allows a state government to share crime-related data stored on information systems among law enforcement agencies, courts and corrections departments. The systems that get tied together can share data from computerized criminal histories, jail management, records management, automated fingerprint identification and other systems.

Aldona Valicenti

The Justice Department in July awarded grants to more than half of the states to integrate criminal justice information systems, an effort that will help start programs in some states and accelerate momentum on existing projects in others.

But both federal and state officials said the amount of funding ? $16.4 million distributed among 26 states ? is barely enough to conduct planning studies and pilot projects. Far more funding will be necessary to integrate networks and systems that serve various parts of the justice system at the state and local level.

"The amount of money that will be required to get this accomplished is enormous," said Janet Quist, a consultant and former director of public safety for Washington-based Public Technology Inc., a nonprofit technology organization supporting cities and counties.

The Justice Department announced July 23 that it was going to give funding to the states to tie together existing systems to improve the efficiency of the national justice system. The National Governors Association of Washington helped approve the grants, which range from $40,000 to $1 million.

The funding, which was made available through the Crime Identification and Technology Act of 1998, is expected to continue through 2003, according to federal officials.

"I believe funding is going to continue through the change in administrations," said Dick Ward, acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, the agency that administers the grants.

Ward said the states are at different stages of integrating justice information systems. Some are well-advanced and have been working on the concept for a number of years, while others have not even begun work.

"We would like to get all 50 states participating in this [initiative] to some extent or another," he said.

Total spending by state and local governments for information technology related to criminal justice will increase at an average annual growth rate of 8.5 percent, from $3.96 billion in 2001 to $5.49 billion in 2005, according to Gartner Dataquest of Stamford, Conn.

Criminal justice has not historically been an area of large IT spending, said Rishi Sood, principal analyst at Gartner Dataquest.

"It is often overlooked because it does not have a direct funding source associated with it, and the structure of the criminal justice the organization of the court system ? varies from state to state," he said.

Unlike public safety projects, which are mostly local government programs, criminal justice projects "tend to be statewide, but there are fewer of them," Sood said.

Integrators provide a wide range of solutions for state and local courts and corrections departments, including systems for criminal justice information, automated case management and jail management and inmate tracking.

Among the leading integrators for these solutions are Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, TRW Inc. of Cleveland and Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa.

Several other grant programs also provide money to state and local governments that might be put toward integrated justice, Ward said.

The federal government provides $500 million a year through the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program, $500 million more through the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Formula Grant Program, and $130 million through the Community Oriented Policing Services program.

Formula grants are based on population, crime statistics or other criteria. About 50 percent of the block grant funding is spent on IT hardware, software and services, Ward said.

"There will be a lot of money out there for a number of years to come for all kinds of justice projects that include information technology," Ward said.

Quist said the block grants essentially provide the states with flexible spending for justice. While a large part of that money may indeed be spent on IT for criminal justice, it is not necessarily spent on integrated criminal justice.

The challenge of developing an integrated criminal justice information system is to connect disparate systems across the various domains of criminal justice within state and local government, and make sure there is no redundant data storage. It sounds simple, but it's actually quite complex, according to industry experts and government officials.

"There is no such thing as going out and buying an integrated criminal justice system," said Aldona Valicente, Kentucky's chief information officer and president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

Integrated justice will require each state to decide which of its principal justice systems ? computerized criminal history,
jail management, records management, automated fingerprint identification ? require modernization or replacement, she said.

The overarching requirement for integrated justice is that each system provide a simplified, nonredundant method of capturing data at the point of origin.

Some state officials said they are keeping an open mind about where additional funds might be found. For example, they might be able to use some of the $3 billion it is estimated that states will spend on compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for integrated justice.

This is not as far-fetched as it may seem, because inmate health records are covered under the law, said Scott McPherson, Florida's chief technology officer for public safety.

"We may use the grant money to do the studies, and then use the HIPAA money to carry it out," he said.

But officials in other states are uncertain this can be done.

"I can see some connection to HIPAA, but not a lot," Valicente said.The four states receiving the largest amount of federal funding ? Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky and Tennessee ? will pursue a variety of projects aimed at integrating information systems among criminal justice organizations.

The $1 million grants that each state receives will target specific integration objectives that can be achieved in one to two years.

Florida: The state will divide the grant money evenly between two projects, said Scott McPherson, Florida's chief technology officer for public safety. One project will allow jails to communicate with each other. The other project will expedite the processing of inmates into facilities.

In broad terms, the $1 million grant will allow Florida to accelerate its integrated justice initiative by at least one year and will provide sufficient leverage to get additional funds from the state legislature, McPherson said.

Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego is working on an integrated criminal history system that will replace Florida's computerized criminal history system. This system, which is scheduled for completion in 2003, will serve as the linchpin of the integrated justice strategy in Florida, McPherson said.

Hawaii: The state will use the funds to enhance information sharing among county and state agencies in Hawaii and Kauai counties and the Honolulu Sheriff's Office, according to the state's grant application.

Specifically, Hawaii hopes to eliminate duplicate data entry, allow faster entry and retrieval of arrest and booking information and conform to industry and FBI standards.

Kentucky: The state will use the $1 million for a two-year project to develop electronic warrants, said Aldona Valicente, Kentucky's chief information officer. Meanwhile, Kentucky is developing electronic citations and moving toward common records and jail management systems, she said.

Tennessee: The state will use the $1 million to automate documents related to judgments in felony cases, said Pat Dishman of Tennessee's Office for Criminal Justice Programs. The contract will go out for bid later this year, she said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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