This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole needs money for an electronic filing system after state auditors last month recommended it scrap its paper record-keeping to increase transparency and allow data-gathering.
"It's time for the board to come into the 21st century in the electronic world," board member Chyleen Arbon told the Utah Sentencing Commission on Wednesday. "We just barely got Wi-Fi this last week, which is really sad to say, but it's true."
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he was shocked to find out from legislative auditors that the board of pardons still hauls around carts full of paper files, and he called the lack of technology "astonishing." New employees feel the same way, Arbon said, but are told to get used to it.
She hopes the "shock and horror" people feel when they hear about the lack of technology in the state office will be enough to lead to funding increases.
"Because it's going to likely cost more than our entire budget," said Arbon, who also is a member of the sentencing commission. "This is kind of a long-term thing and an expensive thing that we're hoping people will help us do because we don't have the money ourselves."
The audit noted that the board of pardons yields "significant influence" on public safety because of Utah's indeterminate sentencing system, in which a judge pronounces sentence within a range but the board makes the ultimate call on how long a convicted criminal serves behind bars and on parole. Because of the antiquated paper-based record system its decision making lacks transparency and it cannot do the kind of big data gathering that it needs to make sound decisions, auditors said.
The average time a prisoner spends incarcerated has increased steadily over the past decade, the audit said from 23 months to 30 months but the board has no ability to track whether such a trend is achieving desired results.
Two top agency officials resigned recently in the wake of parolee Cory Lee Henderson escaping from a halfway house and fatally shooting Unified Police Department Officer Doug Barney, a second parolee disappearing from the same facility and ramming a police cruiser with a stolen car and a third parolee being shot in a confrontation with police after a misstep in his release.
Arbon said many audit recommendations have been or are being implemented but compiling electronic records is "the main thing that we cannot do alone." She expects the process will take years, and the board needs support from the sentencing commission and others, possibly in the form of federal grants or state funding.
King, also a member of the sentencing commission, suggested the commission understands the concerns highlighted by the audit and are sensitive to the needs of the board, so it can assist in seeking increased funding from the Legislature.
There's no estimate yet for how much a system will cost, Arbon said, because the board is at the "beginning stages" of determining what the system needs to do.
"We've seen systems that cost $10 million. We've seen systems that cost a few million dollars, so we're hesitant to throw out a number," Arbon said. "We'd like a good system and not, you know, a $2,000 junky car that we retrofit over the years."
The board plans to enlist the help of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Technology Services (DTS) to determine an appropriate cost estimate, after which the board will solicit bidders. Arbon anticipates DTS will be one of the bidders.