Jail needs $35,000 worth of computers to monitor inmates, commissioners hear

November 07, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Warden Mason Waters told the County Commissioners yesterday that he needs $35,000 worth of computer equipment to monitor inmates at the county Detention Center.

"We are one of the few detention centers in the state without an automated system of inmate tracking," he said. "We can't wait until 1999 to go through the planning commission. We need the money put in this year's budget."

Such departmental spending proposals that require the sale of county bonds are reviewed by the seven-member planning commission each fall before their inclusion in the next capital budget or in Carroll's five-year capital funding plan.

After a two-month review, the commission forwards its recommendations to the County Commissioners for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The commissioners are not bound by the recommendations but in past years have not strayed far from them.

Waters is concerned because the planning commission voted earlier this week to delete every computer request from the budget proposal it plans to send the commissioners on Nov. 19.

The deletions were designed to send a "pay attention message" to department heads, planning commission members said Monday. Members think the county will save money if all computer requests are channeled through an expert who would ensure that new hardware and software are needed and is compatible with the current equipment.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the planning commission is overstepping its mission and ought to restrict its review to whether a proposed project conforms to the county's master plan. "They are not budget people. This is not their job," he said.

Waters said he has been pushing for computerization of the Detention Center since he became warden in 1994.

"We are at the point now where we are being inundated with paperwork," he said. "If we don't go to [computers] soon, we'll be spending all our time on paperwork rather than supervision" of inmates. The center admits an average of 25 inmates a week, and several documents must be processed for each, he said.

A computer system tailored for the jail would save time and money and would not require additional people to run it, Waters said.

Waters said one saving would come from the fact that most of the inmates -- 55 percent to 62 percent -- are returnees for whom information has been processed previously. "All you have to do is hit a quick key and ask if anything has changed," Waters said.

If necessary, the computer installation could be spread over two years, Waters said.

The management system -- keeping track of the commissary, work release, cell assignments, court records, medical histories and weekend incarcerations -- is most important, he said. The security part -- photo imaging, which would virtually guarantee that people entering the center are who they say they are -- could come the next year, he said.

Waters and Sheriff John Brown also briefed the commissioners yesterday on their request for a $6 million, 100-bed expansion of the Detention Center.

Brown said the cost had doubled in the past five years partly because of changes required by the state. If funding were approved next year, ground could be broken in August, he said.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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