Terri P: The Woman Behind the Registry
Every month, tens of thousands of people search Montana’s database of registered sexual or violent offenders. In seconds, they find names, addresses, photos – even maps to homes – of convicts required by law to register with local law enforcement under Montana’s Sexual or Violent Offender Registration Act.
To Montana’s citizens, the registry website just works. But to Terri P., a computer programmer analyst at the Montana Department of Justice, the system works because she wrote computer code making it work.
Terri, 47, is the woman behind the registry.
“I hate to admit it,” she said. “But even when I’m not writing (computer) code, I’m thinking about code.”
The Montana Legislature first created a sexual offender registry in 1989. Back then, the database was housed in the Montana Department of Corrections. The law did not require that any of the information be released to the public.
By the time Terri joined the Montana Department of Justice in 2003, the registry had expanded to include violent offenders, the information in the registry was public and DOJ had built a website to allow anyone to access the information in seconds.
Terri’s work is on the back end: She maintains the database itself and makes sure that when someone requests information through the website, they actually get the information they’re looking for.
She also helped write the code that created the mapping feature of the site in 2009.
Lawmakers and the Montana Justice Department also make continual improvements to the registry and Terri makes all of those ideas reality.
The registry is one of several large computer databases DOJ builds and maintains. The agency also tracks criminal histories, vehicle registration, driver’s licenses and citizen complaints against businesses, to name a few. All of those systems are custom-built for Montana and maintained by the Justice Information Technology Service Division, where Terri works.
Improving and maintaining those systems is a fun, daily challenge for a programmer, Terri said. You get a lot of people working in that environment together, as the Justice Department’s IT department has, and it makes for stimulating work.
“You get to do a lot of cool stuff,” she said. “There’s always something new. I’m the kind of person who likes a challenge and this is always a challenge.”
Computer code makes its own kind of beauty, she said. It can be elegant and inventive.
“I guess beauty is in the eye of beholder,” she said, laughing.