Software glitch keeps Arizona inmates eligible for release behind bars

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Faulty software used by the Arizona Department of Corrections has kept hundreds of inmates eligible for release in prison, despite officials knowing about the glitches for more than a year, according to a whistleblower report made public Monday.

KJZZ, an NPR affiliate in Phoenix, reported that the department’s inmate management software was not adjusted to accommodate a 2019 state law designed to make it easier for nonviolent convicts to earn an early release, despite employees notifying the agency’s top IT and administrative officials.

The 2019 law changed the formula through which inmates enrolled in rehabilitative programs — such as a GED class or substance abuse treatment — earn credits toward early release from one day for every six days served to three days for every week served. If implemented properly, eligible inmates could see their time in prison shortened to about 70% of their original sentences.

But KJZZ reported that the management software, known as ACIS, wasn’t adjusted for the new formula, despite several warnings from employees who eventually filed the whistleblower claims. And rather than fix the software, which was supposed to automatically enter qualifying inmates, agency employees told the station the department has been trying to identify eligible prisoners manually.

But that’s left hundreds of inmates who would otherwise be eligible to earn credits uncounted, with a department spokesman telling KJZZ that it’s already found 733 inmates who are eligible for the new early-release program but are not enrolled. Yet there may be hundreds more across Arizona, which has the fifth-highest imprisonment rate among states, with 558 out of every 100,000 people locked up in state prisons.

Moreover, the ACIS software has long been riddled by glitches, with nearly 14,000 bugs since it was implemented in late 2019; it’s also been expensive, costing the state more than $24 million, according to a 2019 report by the state’s budget committee.

According to one Arizona Department of Corrections source who spoke to KJZZ, the software’s faulty history made its failure to adjust for the new early-release formula foreseeable.

“We knew from day one this wasn’t going to work” the source told KJZZ. “When they approved that bill, we looked at it and said ‘Oh shit.’”

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Arizona, criminal justice, prisons
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