Prisoners released on wrong dates due to “computer glitch”

A State audit of Michigan’s Department of Corrections shows that since October 2003 there were 23 prisoners who were released on the wrong date. Well, the audit only found 8, but they caught more when they actually started checking after the audit.

The State audit report shows errors in the release dates of 23 prisoners between October 2003 and March 2005. Some were let out early, while others were let out late. Either way, the computer flaw that led to the problem leaves 1 lawmaker concerned.

Prisoners let out early is a problem, since they don’t serve their time. If you lock someone in jail for a long time, you want them to stay there, not to get out early. That’s understandable. And while no murderers were released, there were still some non-trivial crimes there.

prisoners who were doing time for everything from embezzlement and drugs to bad check writing

But what really surprises me is those that were released too late. These people must have lawyers. And I doubt any of them missed the fact that they’re locked in jail. So when their release date, as set by the original sentence, would have passed without them being released, they should have raised hell.

How could they missed that? Would anyone, would a sentenced criminal, stay in jail for more than they had to? Just because the date on the computer is different from what they, and their lawyer, know it should be? Would that really wait until a state audit was performed before it was found out? Not bloody likely, even though apparently that’s exactly what happened.

The article was also a bit sparse with technical details about the glitch. That they don’t say anything beyond repeating several time that there was some computer glitch or flaw. Generally it probably doesn’t interest most of the potential readers, not nearly as much as the fact that some criminals were released too early, but as a computer programmer I’d still like to know.

The audit reports shows all the details of what happened. A flaw in computer programming caused State jails to release 8 prisoners anywhere from 39-161 days early

At the top of my head I can’t think of any bug that would cause a computer program to make a mistake in that range of days. Though of course that doesn’t mean much, since the article only lists a part of the range of delays, not detailing what happened with the other 15 prisoners beyond the fact that they were released either too late or too early. Not to mention that it’s a rather small sample size of mistake.

With those vague descriptions I won’t be at all surprised if the glitch wasn’t in the… data entry system. And yes, by data entry system I’m talking about the person typing in the dates. That could account for all the mistakes very easily. It’s easy to press the wrong button occasionally. But that would mean someone would have to pay, while if it’s just a computer glitch:

They say they’ve already taken steps to correct the computer glitch and will continue to work until the problem is taken care of.

I was also unable to find a follow-up article, from a few days later, about the subject. Surely a simple date handling routine in a program could be found and fixed in a few days, so there should have been a proud statement about how they fixed it. But no, all’s quiet. No further details on anything. Excellent news reporting.

I also wonder what compensations will people who stayed over-long due to the glitch will receive. Are there any lawsuits about it already? And would the people who were released too early be dragged back to jail, to serve the reminder of their sentence? Treatment should be the same for both sides, no? Either accepting the mistake as is, or trying to come as close as possible to fixing it.

Impressed with their performance?

That audit shows the State Department of Corrections is only moderately effective when it comes to accurate prisoner release dates.

Not the way I would define moderately effective myself. Maybe they work by a different dictionary over there in Michigan’s Department of Corrections…

[Edited 22/11/2005: minor fix of lacking HTML tag, no content was changed]

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