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A Potential Fix for Cook County's Antiquated Justice System

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
WBEZ Public Radio
by Patrick Smith

Chief Information Officer Simona Rollinson says right now, Cook County’s public safety agencies have more than 20 different ways to track those in the criminal justice system, and most of them are paper-based.

That antiquated, disjointed system has created problems and stymied reform for years.

Rollinson has been with the county for about a year-and-a-half, but the push for something called “Integrated Justice” started way back in 2002. The goal is to create a uniform, digital platform to store and share information.

On Wednesday, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a $2.3 million contract to finally get started. Rollinson called the vote “monumental for Cook County.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle lauded the vote in a statement.

“The benefits of having a way to seamlessly translate and transfer data between all of Cook County’s justice agencies are enormous,” Preckwinkle said.

“This is for me a big accomplishment,” Rollinson said. “Going to the board to get a procurement to implement this software platform to exchange information is monumental for Cook County.”

The two-year contract is with Applications Software Technology Corporation in Naperville, Ill. The company will be charged with implementing software and hardware, as well as managing data exchanges among Cook County criminal justice agencies.

If it succeeds, Integrated Justice would be a huge shift for a criminal justice system that has long been behind the times.

Clerk of the Court Dorothy Brown drew cheers in 2012 when she promised to come up with a policy to permit “electronic documents to be seen online, on the internet,” something that in the waning days of 2015 is still not possible.

The Cook County sheriff has been repeatedly sued for not letting inmates out in a timely manner after a judge orders their release. Jail officials have said the process is slow because they have to go through paper records to make sure the inmate in question isn’t wanted on a separate case.

Preckwinkle said the new software platform will help “prevent situations where detainees are released too soon or too late due to miscommunication.”

Rollinson said with this and a few other major projects, she is working to “modernize Cook County” for the next 10 to 15 years.

The biggest obstacle up until now, has been getting all of the different agency heads on board. Preckwinkle said the program will rely on continued buy-in from agency leaders.

“Improving communication between software systems is a key step in improving the justice system in Cook County, but once the system is implemented it will be up to the justice agencies to take advantage of the opportunity,” Preckwinkle said.

Last year, Brown, Preckwinkle, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Sheriff Tom Dart and then-Public Defender Abishi Cunningham all signed a memorandum of agreement to share data between their offices.

Rollinson said she believes they will stick to it.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to have this timely data, there are a lot of optics [for] each of their offices,” she said.

The first phase will begin on January 1, and focus on prisoner information shared between the clerk and the sheriff, and charging information shared between the clerk and the state’s attorney.

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