According to whistleblowers within the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), hundreds of incarcerated people are being imprisoned past their release dates due to issues with prison management software. Anonymous whistleblowers told Phoenix’s KJZZ that prison officials have been aware for years of a bug within the software that keeps it from properly accounting for newly shortened prison sentences. “We knew from day one this wasn’t going to work,” one of the whistleblowers said. The whistleblowers are remaining anonymous out of fear of retaliation.
In November 2019, the ADC launched a software called the Arizona Correctional Information System (ACIS), which is used to manage the inmate population in state prisons. The ADC reportedly spent more than $24 million implementing the ACIS software system, which whistleblowers claim has experienced more than 14,000 bugs since it was implemented. Whistleblowers also allege that staff involved in the software rollout begged Deputy Director Joe Profiri not to go live with software because of the litany of issues but were told to keep quiet about their concerns. “We were told ‘We’re too deep into it — too much money had been spent — we can’t go back now,’” one whistleblower told KJZZ.
According to the whistleblowers, the ACIS software is currently unable to account for an amendment to state law that allows certain inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses to earn additional release credits by completing programming in state prisons. The amendment, Senate Bill 1310, was signed into law in June 2019. According to the whistleblowers, the ACIS software is both unable to identify which inmates qualify for the programming and unable to calculate new release dates based on the credits earned. Whistleblowers claim that it was clear from the day SB 1310 was passed that the software was incapable of handling the new calculations.
In October 2020, ADC employees sent an extensive report to department leadership detailing the ACIS software’s inability to account handle the calculations needed to apply SB 1310 properly. This report followed repeated internal warnings about the issue. However, instead of fixing the bug, department officials are currently attempting to manually identify inmates who qualify for the programming. Whistleblowers claim that while hundreds of inmates have been manually identified, the department has yet to scratch the surface of the entire number of eligible inmates. Furthermore, the whistleblowers claim that even when eligible inmates are able to be identified and then complete the programming, the software cannot account for the credits they earned and take time off their sentences. These calculations are therefore also being completed manually.
“We can’t find people to get them into the programs, and after they complete the programs, we still can’t get them out the door,” one whistleblower said. “These people are literally trapped.”
“It makes me sick,” added another whistleblower. “What the hell are we doing here? People’s lives are at stake.”
“I’m embarrassed to be associated with people that don’t care enough to make these things a priority,” echoed a whistleblower. “It’s absolutely inhumane to keep people in prison longer than they are supposed to be.”
According to KJZZ, whistleblowers claim that within the ACIS software, “several other programs have failed to perform correctly, including modules that track inmate health care, head counts, inmate property, commissary and financial accounts, religious affiliation, security classification, and gang affiliations.” Furthermore, the whistleblowers claim it is difficult to address errors made by the software even when they are identified. “In one instance there was a disciplinary action erroneously entered on an inmate’s record,” a whistleblower explained. “But there’s no way to back it out. So that guy was punished and he wasn’t able to make a phone call for 30 days. Those are the kinds of things that eat at you every day.”
An ADC spokesperson confirmed with KJZZ that the ACIS software “”does not currently calculate release dates in accordance with the parameters established by Senate Bill (S.B.) 1310.” However, the spokesperson claims that no inmates have been imprisoned past their release date. It is clear that whistleblowers have consistently raised concerns with the $24 million software and that the issues they raise have not been properly addressed. According to one whistleblower “[t]here are choices being made like business decisions when they need to be thinking about what’s in the best interest of the staff, and ultimately, what’s in the best interest of the inmates.”