MCSO creating team to investigate early release issues

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The Marion County Sheriff’s Office will convene a study group next week aimed at improving court processing methods regarding inmates. The move follows investigations into at least eight possible mistaken releases among inmates in 2014.

On Friday, Sheriff John Layton announced the hiring of Dr. Jon Padfield, a professor at Purdue University’s College of Technology, to lead the group. He’ll be charged with “improving the processing of criminal justice information by using Six Sigma principles of analysis,” according to an MCSO news release.

Speaking by phone from Atlanta, Padfield said he had seen I-Team 8’s recent reports on mistaken releases, and contacted the Sheriff to offer to help.

“It started when I read the article about the wrongful releases that had occurred. I reached out to them about what I had read, wanted to get a little detail around it. And, they were very open to the idea,” Padfield said.

The hiring follows an information technology summit convened by MCSO in late July, designed to solve problems that arose from the transition to a new computerized court case management system known as “Odyssey.” The new system replaced an outdated system known as “JUSTIS,” that had been in operation in Marion County for 26 years.

The transition marked the largest computer software conversion in the county’s history.

But, it also brought about confusion in communications between Marion County courts and MCSO. Sheriff Layton was unavailable to speak about the issues Friday, but a department spokesperson called them extremely complicated.

“There are some glitches in transferring information from one system to another,” MCSO Colonel Louis Dezlan admitted. “But, if you saw what our people in inmate records have to do to make a decision on whether someone has to be released or not, you’d understand [why]. It deals with multiple documents on each inmate who’s being analyzed. And, what we’re hoping Dr. Padfield can do is make recommendations both to us and the courts on how the system should be changed to make it more of a red light/green light situation on whether a person should be released.”

“We’re going to have a large group, a cross functional group with people from the Sheriff’s Department, people from the courts, people from IT,” Padfield said. “And, we’re going to start process mapping, looking at exactly what information, in what format, is flowing between individuals.”

Part of that analysis will be based on a common practice in the aviation industry, Padfield said.

“When a pilot’s coming in to land, he will radio ‘this is Delta, flight such and such.’ When the tower responds, they always respond ‘Delta flight such and such.’ That way, other people listening know exactly who’s being spoken to, and there’s no miscommunication. It’s the same issue here. We need to get everyone together, look at what information is going between who? Is it going at the right format at the right time? That will help eliminate opportunities for problems.”

The Sheriff’s Office says it hopes those new redundancies will fix the problem.

Layton’s November opponent doesn’t buy it.

“You can’t just blame it on the technology,” responded Emmitt Carney, who is running for Sheriff on the Republican ticket. “The technology is there. It’s human, operator error in my opinion. I think it is training. You get a new car, you don’t know all the bells and whistles until you go in and actually sit down and work with and get familiar with it. That should have been done before they went into operation with it.”

Carney also claims the bulk of improper MCSO releases he’s tracked in 2014 came before Odyssey was implemented.

“You’ve got 22 people who have been released, and 16 of those were before the computer system,” he said. “But, [Layton] wants to blame them on the computer system and on deputies. It’s about time that he stepped up and acknowledged there’s a problem, and something needs to be done to correct it.”

The Sheriff’s Department has only admitted to mistakenly releasing six other inmates this year.

The most recent of the early release cases arose last Friday, as two inmates were placed back into custody in court just three days after being released from the Arrestee Processing Center. MCSO confirmed an internal affairs investigation is underway into what it called a “possible transportation error” involving the inmates. That investigation remains ongoing, Dezlan said Friday.

Some judges have also recently criticized MCSO for keeping inmates in the jail even after their release orders have been signed.

“I think every court during this transition has had some issues, and I think they’ve been fairly well known,” said Marion Superior Judge Mark Stoner, who said he discovered two weeks ago that an inmate had been held for nearly two days after he had signed his release order. “It’s disconcerting because you’re talking about people’s constitutional rights. You’re talking about the efficiency and professionalism of the system. They’re both equally unsatisfactory results. You don’t want people released who aren’t supposed to be released, and you don’t want people held longer than the courts have ordered them.”

Padfield’s contract to reverse that trend runs through the end of the year. He will be paid $6,000 for his work.

Dezlan called the contract a bargain.

“If you can solve a problem like this for $6,000, I think you’ve spent your money well,” he said.

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