Computer Link Allows Officers Instant Access to Corrections Status
HELENA – Thanks to a new computer hookup, law enforcement officers throughout the state and nation can now find out the correctional status of a suspect within minutes, Attorney General Mike McGrath and Department of Corrections director Bill Slaughter announced at a joint press conference Wednesday.
By linking corrections data with the criminal justice information maintained by the Department of Justice, the new computer connection allows local law enforcement officers conducting an investigation to find out if a suspect is on probation or parole or under the supervision of one of the state correctional institutions in Montana. The information may then help law enforcement locate the suspect.
For example, police investigators identify two suspects in a homicide case then use the criminal justice information system to check the suspects’ correctional status. Within minutes, the computer check shows that one of the suspects is already in jail, eliminating him as a suspect. The check reveals that the other suspect is on parole. Investigators can then call his probation officer to find out the suspect’s address, place of employment and other information.
“This puts critical information into the hands of investigators immediately,” McGrath noted. “Making this information available really is a substantial accomplishment, because it gives law enforcement a more complete picture of the person they are dealing with and how dangerous that person may be.”
In the three weeks since the two systems were first linked, local law enforcement agencies have made 801 queries about the correctional status of suspects or people who are arrested.
According to Slaughter, the Department of Corrections has been working for the past year to bring a new computer system, the ‘ProFiles’system, on line. The new system had to be in place before it was technically possible to link to the Department of Justice system.
“This project shows very clearly that, when criminal justice agencies work together, we can accomplish great things for law enforcement and for public safety,” Slaughter said. “It’s certainly a credit to the employees who have worked on this project and to the cooperation between the two state agencies involved.”
The departments of Justice and Corrections, together with the Montana Supreme Court Administrator’s Office, have been working together for two years to integrate the criminal justice information that each of the agencies collects and maintains – a project known as the Montana Criminal Justice Information Services Project.
The ability to determine the correctional status of someone who’s been arrested – within minutes — was a goal of a task force appointed by the Attorney General in 1999. The task force also sought to have up-to-date correctional information available within 24 hours of any change in status.
A dedicated team of computer experts from the departments of Justice and Corrections made the necessary changes to allow the agencies’ computer systems to communicate, and to accomplish that goal, the Attorney General said.