Dept. of Rounding Errors

|

California's prison system is an embarrassment to the country—run largely by a prison guard's union that rivals only teachers unions for policy-warping mendacity in the Golden State, wracked (and intentionally segregated) by race-based warfare, overcrowded to the point where multiple federal judges are on the verge of issuing consent decrees that would free thousands overnight.

So it comes as both a surprise, and no surprise at all, that as many as 33,000 prisoners are serving sentences that actually expired, but went unnoticed due to clerical error. Money graf:

Corrections officials say they have been unable to calculate the sentences properly because of staffing shortages and outdated computer systems that force analysts to do the complex work by hand.

NEXT: The Secular Left in Iraq

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Ummm, okay, it seems like each prisoner should have a folder. In it should be a piece of paper who two boxes: good behavior box/bad behavior box.

    On sentencing a date is put in both boxes. File them by the good behavior box. When his file comes to the top, do any recalculation necessary to see if his actual date somehow falls in between the two possible end points.

    Problem solved, no computer necessary.

  2. They had to do math by hand? The horror….

  3. outdated computer systems that force analysts to do the complex work by hand.

    (1) How complicated is it to figure out a prison sentence?

    (2) My guess is the amount of computing capacity needed for this is close to nil, and the fact the work is being done by hand has a lot more to do with union featherbedding than anything else.

  4. Good God. How outdated are these systems? I have a 486 motherboard lying around somewhere I can donate for an upgrade.

  5. Any lawyers in the house? How feasible would it be for a prisoner who was held past their sentence to sue for damages for involuntary confinement?

    Or how about a criminal case for Kidnapping?

  6. Elemenope, I suspect that it would depend at least in part on whether the state could, with a straight face, argue that the prisoner knew he was being held too long and didn’t object (or didn’t object properly).

    So if a person was held a few days too long, they could argue it was no big. And if a person was held 10 years too long, they can say that the person knew about it and didn’t properly object, so the person has no claim. . . .

  7. Problem solved, no computer necessary.

    Yeah, but didn’t you see Idiocracy? When they check the file is exactly the moment the guy will escape!

  8. Good God. How outdated are these systems? I have a 486 motherboard lying around somewhere I can donate for an upgrade.

    I can’t speak to the software that California’s correction department uses, but if Illinois’ bureaucracy is any indication, you’d be surprised (or maybe not). I work in tax, and I handle the occasional sales/use tax audit defense for clients. We’re currently finishing up an Illinois audit, and I shit you not, the software they’re using is run out of DOS. We can’t get electronic copies of anything. I swear, the system has to be at least 15-20 years old.

  9. jenl1625,

    your argument doesnt make any sense. If a free person who works for the system was unable to calculate the correct release time, no argument could be made that the prisoner(without all the equipment the employee has) should be relied on for correct dates.

    Did they try this with wrongly accused prisoners? They knew they were free, and they didnt properly object.

  10. Shouldn’t the state be billing these people for costing us more in resources? These damn criminals have overstayed their time in jail and probably cost taxpayers millions that need to be repaid. If they can’t repay it… I guess we’ll just have to incarcerate them.

  11. The union called for the hiring of hundreds more case-records analysts.

    Shocked! Shocked I say! …that a union would call for more workers.

  12. How feasible would it be for a prisoner who was held past their sentence to sue for damages for involuntary confinement?

    I’m going to guess this “miscalculation” was discovered long ago internally, but the bureaucratic douche bag who found it didn’t want to be the fall guy, so he just swept it under the run.

    Then the next guy did the same, then the next, until what might have been a smaller problem has now become the theft of 33,000 people’s freedom.

  13. “The state’s 25-year-old computers cannot analyze the complex sentencing formulas created by a crazy-quilt of laws passed by the Legislature and by voters through the initiative process, and modified by the courts.”

    What kind B.S. is this? These guys need to get sued, and fast.

  14. Hey, can’t they handle it with just a calendar and no computer? Joe Blow goes in for 5 years on Dec 12, 2007; put his name on the calendar for Dec 12, 2012. On Dec 12, 2012 Warden looks at the names: “Joe Blow, John Doe, Bob Smith, get your things together and report to the gate.” Sorry, I’ll go get back to reality now…

  15. This is kind of like “stop loss” in Iraq, right?

  16. Here is a popular place for California’s corrections officials to chat with each other on the intertubz.

  17. I’ll bet their systems that invoice prisoners for their stay are working like a charm.

  18. Seitz–

    I’m not really surprised. A couple of years ago, I attended a talk by someone who used to work on the international space station. The specs for the computers for the station were written around 1990, and changing them requires international cooperation, so they haven’t changed. Basically, the space station still runs on 80286-based computers. The biggest problem they have is finding replacement parts.

  19. “The state’s 25-year-old computers cannot analyze the complex sentencing formulas created by a crazy-quilt of laws passed by the Legislature and by voters through the initiative process, and modified by the courts.”

    I don’t want to be seen as supporting those clods, but issue appears to be the complexity in calculating the end date, not losing track of the end date.

  20. Jacob,

    Maybe the formulas are complicated (or hidden) enough that the prisoner couldn’t figure them out, but I have seen a situation where someone was convicted of both an offense and a lesser included and he sentenced to time on both (consecutive sentences). By the time his attorney raised the “he shouldn’t be serving 2 sentences for 1 crime” argument, he’d already served more than the maximum time on the stiffer sentence. But he lost on his claim that he should be compensated for the extra time served because he admitted that he’d known it was wrong at the time of sentencing and simply hadn’t gotten his attorney to argue it at the time.

    As for whether it’s reasonable for a prisoner to calculate his own release date, that depends on how hard the calculation is. I didn’t think it was clear from the article that the problem was complexity – I thought it was just that there were too many sentences to calculate.

    It’s something where Corrections was reducing the sentence by 15% for good behavior, when it should have been reducing by 50% on the non-violent portions of the sentence. So it’s not as simple as making change at McDonald’s, but it’s not rocket science.

  21. jenl1625,

    Corrections officials say they have been unable to calculate the sentences properly because of staffing shortages and outdated computer systems that force analysts to do the complex work by hand.

    They are claiming the problem is (at least in part) complexity.

  22. Math without a calculator? HORRORS!
    It can’t be that tough – let’s see, sentenced on March 1, 1991 for sixteen years – uh, scribel, scrible … fingers… damn, only nine … take shoes off, take socks off… (thank god I was born in WV) that’s March 1, 2007. Hmmm…should it be 3 days earlier due to leap years? Where’s my perpetual calendar?

  23. complexity in calculating the end date

    How fucking hard can it be? You start with a date certain, which is set by the court when the guy gets sentenced. At worst, you apply a pretty simple formula deducting days for good behavior. You can tell the earliest release date on the day he is sentenced by assuming good behavior throughout.

    This ain’t rocket surgery, folks.

  24. Making change at McDonald’s is hard!

  25. jenl1625,

    robc wrote what I was thinking. The article clearly states that “good behavior” would effect the entire sentence term, and i’ll go ahead and make an assumption that the percentage was not told to the prisoner.

    /shrug i wouldnt be surprised that the government would try to sneak its way out of this one, so what you originally said could be true…

  26. The union called for the hiring of hundreds more case-records analysts.

    Heh. This is the most beautiful part. The solution to incompetence is always to hire more people to do the job they should have been doing in the first place so they can go back to surfing for porn or beating the inmates or whatever it is they do while drawing their fat checks from the public trough. Hell, with their increased seniority after all those new hires, they’ll probably all get a raise.

  27. because of staffing shortages and outdated computer systems that force analysts to do the complex work by hand.

    Uuuup theirs. I’ll put together a computer system and write the software that will do it with pinpoint accuracy for a few thousand dollars.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.