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9/7/2004
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Tracking Parolees Using Databases

It has been difficult to keep track of those parolees who are allowed to cross state lines. But a new national database aims to fix that.

The Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision plans to create a centralized database by end of the year to help the state and local law enforcement keep tabs on the approximately 250,000 parolees and criminal offenders serving probation nationwide who are given permission to move between states. The database and accompanying management tools will also be used to provide victims with more timely, accurate information about their cases.

"Local law enforcement is interested because there's never been a national database of parolees and probationary offenders," says Terry Borjeson, VP of government operations for Softscape Inc. Softscape's CaseOne database and case-management software will serve as the project's backbone.

The commission's predecessor was formed in 1937 as the Interstate Compact for the Supervision of Parolees and Probationers to provide sole statutory authority for regulating the transfer of adult parole and probation supervision across state boundaries. In 2002, the National Institute of Corrections and Council of State Governments renamed the organization the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision and set about creating a modern infrastructure that uses standards to pass data over an integrated network.

In late August, the commission worked with human-capital software maker Softscape to consolidate extradition, progress report, transfer, violation, and other forms used by various states and provide access to those standardized forms via the commission's site. In the next phase, Softscape is working with the individual states, plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, to host their offender data in a database to which each state can subscribe. The third phase, slated for early next year, will let the system automatically generate and distribute reports about individual offenders whenever their status changes.

The national database will rely on data downloads to SoftScape from state parole and probation offices. These state offices will be responsible for collecting data from city and county offices and auditing that data for duplicate entries or inaccurate data. Ultimately, the national database will replace a painstaking paper-based process whereby local offices must mail heavy stacks of forms to get permission for an offender to move from one state to another. "Now it will all be done electronically in a matter of seconds," says Don Blackburn, executive director of the commission.

The database also will include security to protect the offender's privacy. Victims will have access to publicly available information regarding offenders, such as the status of their transfer applications, but not to offender's personal information. In preparation for designing the database system, Blackburn says the commission studied law-enforcement data-sharing models such as the Homeland Security Department's proposed Joint Regional Information Exchange System and the Regional Information Sharing Systems, a federally funded program administered by the Justice Department.

The commission's ultimate goal is to improve public safety, Blackburn says. "The database will let us know where people are and if they're supposed to be there."

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