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The York Dispatch – Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Prison may patent, sell new program

Computer can be used to consolidate information on inmates

By Wendi Himmelright

For the Dispatch / Sunday News

County prison officials say they’ve developed an innovative computer program that consolidates a broad range of prisoner information  - and now they plan to copyright and market it to other prisons.

The program compiles all available information on each prisoner an one computer file, including visiting records, progress notes on behavior, an inmate count and location, property sheets, signs of gang activity and prisoner grievance hearings.

“It was always just so spread out it was difficult to get a big picture of everything that was happening,” said Mary Sabol, operations administrator of the York County Prison.

The information was previously scattered in different computer or paper files, Sabol said. Because that’s probably the case at other prisons, she said, it is likely York could market the software program.

“There’s a need for the program. And we could possibly recoup some of our costs,” Sabol said. This is one of the premier programs in the state.”

Benefits: Features and benefits of the computerized record consolidation include:

  • Visiting records: Inmates are allowed three half-hour visits per week from a list of up to eight visitors. The program tracks the visitors listed on the visiting list and the number of visits per week. Also, the prison will be able to provide law-enforcement agencies with a list of an inmate’s visitors.
  • Inmate count: The prison will now be able to get an instant accounting of every housing location.
  • Inmate disciplinary write-ups: Behavior records will be easier to compile to determine earned time for early release.
  • Property sheets: A major source of litigation for prisons, alleged lost property has long been a source of frustration, Sabol said. The information will be stored on the computer and a standard property sheet will be printed upon admissions and release.
  • Gang activity: Information will be tracked on gang trends for clothing, drawings and tattoos and will be used to identify prisoners who might be affiliated with gangs. Digital photos of every inmate will be placed in the computer so gang members can be recognized and kept apart.
  • Grievance proceedings: Officials will be able to track and summarize all grievances filed by prisoners.
  •  Bed location: The program records all locations where a prisoner has been housed including all cell mates. This allows the county to better track prisoners that should be kept apart and gives the district attorney’ office verification that inmates had contact, in the event a jail house confession is reported.

Marketing options: St Andrew Development, Inc. of York helped to write the code for the program. Francis McKee, President & CEO of the company, said clients retain ownership of a computer program when custom software is developed. So York County would be free to market its product, McKee said.

It took the prison staff, with the help of St. Andrew, about nine months to write the program. It would cost $500,000 to purchase a similar software package, Prison Board Chairman and County Commissioner James Donohue said.

By doing the bulk of the work with in-house staff, the prison spent about one-tenth of that amount, Sabol said.

Prison Warded Thomas Hogan recently presented the program during a state wardens’ conference, but he hasn’t heard if any other facilities are interested in the program, Donohue said. The county has not decided how much to charge for copies, he said.

County officials must first copyright or patent the program, a lengthily and expensive process, said County Solicitor David Craun.

“If it looks on the surface as though it is something we can do, and its not always clear, we would have a patent attorney do it,” Craun said. “It is a very, very specialized area of law.”

©2002 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and York Newspaper Company

Reprinted with permission




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