This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
In our worst fears, the government knows way too much about us. It has secret courts approving massive wiretaps. It has cameras everywhere. It knows how to crack our iPhones.
Politicians as far apart as Mike Lee and Bernie Sanders worry out loud about the overreach of the Patriot Act, the NSA and all the ways our wired world can be turned against us.
Thus it is a big surprise to learn that a government agency that most of us would expect to be fully plugged-in, cross-referenced and data-based turns out to be struggling along with the same technology available to medieval scriveners and monks.
With serious, even deadly, results.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole was recently dinged by state auditors for relying on boxes and boxes of paper files to try to keep track of the thousands of people who are seeking, or are on, parole.
Nobody, least of all the board and its staff, defends the current system. But nobody has yet stepped up with the money maybe $10 million that would be necessary to fix it.
Not only does such an ancient system make it impossible to keep up with the changing status of all those individuals, it also prevents even the thought of any kind of big data analysis that would help the board and its staff figure out how best to do their jobs.
In recent months, one parolee killed a police officer, another rammed a police cruiser with a stolen car and a third was shot by police. That sequence of events led to the resignation of two of the agency's top officials. But it hasn't, yet, led to a decision to bring the board's practices into the 21st century.
No algorithm or analysis can ever fully replace human judgment. But keeping proper tabs on all of those imprisoned, and released, by the state could give the board a great deal of useful information on what policies and practices are the most successful in rehabilitating individuals, lowering prison population and keeping the community safe.
The Legislature was so proud, and justly so, of the criminal justice reform package it approved in 2015. Then it occurred to someone that its provisions had to be paid for.
So the Legislature gritted its teeth and approved a severely limited form of Medicaid expansion, designed largely to provide mental health and substance abuse care to those on parole.
Next, it will need to cough up the money needed to computerize the parole board and its functions.
It is likely that the board has lumbered along the way it has for so long because elected officials, especially in a conservative state, are loathe to put money into anything that could be seen as helping bad guys.
But, as lawmakers apparently grasped when they approved the reforms of 2015, helping bad guys in the right way also makes life safer and, over time, less expensive for everyone else.
Certainly, lawmakers who can always find money for such cockamamie pursuits as suing the federal government over public lands and nonexistent roads can scratch up the money necessary to create a proper system of public safety.