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Judicial system set to explore data-sharing

Friday, September 19, 2014
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Marc Karlinsky

With so many moving parts and elected offices involved, it’s not always easy to get every key player in the Cook County criminal justice system to agree.

But when it comes to adding tools to share data between their different offices, everyone is, quite literally, on the same page.

Chief Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans, Circuit Clerk Dorothy A. Brown, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, State’s Attorney Anita M. Alvarez, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and Public Defender Abishi C. Cunningham have all signed a memorandum of agreement that took effect this month.

The Cook County Integrated Criminal Justice Information Systems Committee was formed by the county board in April 2002 and tasked with finding a way to share data among the various agencies and replace paper-based, often handwritten record-sharing procedures with digital ones.

The six offices signed a memorandum of agreement that they hope will make transferring data between law enforcement, court staff, judges and attorneys more accurate and efficient.

The eight-page document does not provide specific details about what data will be transferred but serves as a broader outline for individual agencies to make sharing arrangements with each other.

The signing of the document allows the county to release a request for proposals later this month to procure the necessary technology.

“It’s about the whole automation of the criminal justice system,” said Simona Rollinson, chief information officer in Preckwinkle’s office. “We needed this to govern the technical requirements for the data exchange between the systems.”

Rollinson said she hopes the committee will have several proposals to present to the county board in early 2015. In the meantime, the committee is working to identify 32 agency-to-agency data sharing agreements that will all run through one central hub, she said.

The system will be expandable to police and state agencies in the future but is focusing on the six countywide offices first, Rollinson said.

Even while a broader system is under development, some agencies are already beginning to replace old systems with newer ones.

The antiquated paper system used in local criminal justice offices is no secret, said Cara LeFevour Smith, executive director of the Cook County Jail.

But the sheriff’s and court clerk’s offices have now launched a new system for preparing and sharing mittimus documents — the court orders detailing whether or not an individual remains in custody.

“The clerk’s office worked for about nine months getting their office positioned to transmit to us electronically,” Smith said. “We’re vetting that data and hope to have it live with our system within the next month.”

The county’s new jail management system will incorporate the data.

Currently, the jail’s records department handles about 30,000 pieces of paper each week and transports about 1,500 people to and from court each day.

“When those individuals come back from court, they all come back with papers telling us what to do with them,” Smith said.

Lots of the papers now are confusing, illegible or contain conflicting orders for jail staff. Smith said the new system should reduce the frequency of those problems.

“All the worlds are colliding in the right way,” Smith said. “It’s been a long, long time coming.”

Circuit clerk spokeswoman Jalyne R. Strong-Shaw said the electronic mittimus system and other ongoing projects will improve outcomes in each office.

“It’s about maintaining public safety by being able to integrate these systems,” Strong-Shaw said.

Assistant Public Defender Deborah A. White said her office has agreements with agencies outside of this new one. She said the public defender’s office is excited to see the system begin to take shape.

“We’re in the planning stages of trying to get some information digitally from some agencies, but this will really help to get as much information as possible, as early as possible,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

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