A truly integrated criminal justice system is a concept that has volleyed around state legislatures for many years, but concerns about who would manage the system, how it would work and agencies' protectiveness of their information always kept projects from being implemented.

Colorado successfully addressed every concern and, in March, went statewide with full implementation of its Colorado Integrated Criminal Justice Information System (CICJIS), which made it the first state to make an integrated criminal justice system a reality.

According to Dave Usery, Colorado's chief information officer, CICJIS started to become a reality in 1994, even though the idea for an integrated criminal justice system came up in the Colorado Legislature many years before. At the time, there was a commission in the Legislature looking at criminal justice issues. In its final session, the commission queried the information systems director from each state criminal justice agency about their various systems and the lack of communication between them. Shortly thereafter, the legislative committee leader launched an audit of the state's criminal justice systems, which resulted in two bills that eventually led to CICJIS' development and implementation.

Intergrating Systems Across Agencies

One of CICJIS' key features is that it is not a statewide data warehouse managed by one particular agency, which is the model other states are attempting. Usery said that, if the system had been done that way, Colorado might have run into problems with each agency wanting autonomy and with agencies not using the system or just throwing up data for data's sake -- not for the sake of integration.

CICJIS accesses the data from five separate systems: the Department of Public Safety's Colorado Crime Information Center, which provides criminal histories, arrests and warrants to sheriffs and police; the judicial branch system, which includes probation information; the statewide district attorney system, which tracks filing; and the adult and youth corrections systems -- all without a centralized data warehouse. Sybase's Enterprise Connect middleware tools connect each system to a central machine that sees every database as if they were local. Users can access the system from any legacy system's front-end.

According to Usery, the system is like a client/server setup in that each system can be a client or a server to another system, and it can be used simultaneously. When each agency completes an item of business that affects another agency, it is automatically updated and transferred on the other agencies' system. "Matching arrest data with court disposition data and so on is a real problem nationally," explained Usery. "But with our system, when there's an arrest by law enforcement, that information goes into the arrest and DA's databases, where the information and case numbers are cross linked." So, if a user in the district attorney's system enters the case number, that user can track a subject from arrest to the court and on to any incarceration. This can also be done with prisoner identification numbers and arrest numbers. In addition, the system stores RAP (Record of Arrests and Prosecution) sheets, so users can determine a subject's past history as well.

Crossing Agency Barriers

Breaking down the barriers between the agencies involved in the project was CICJIS' biggest challenge. Law-enforcement agencies in particular are notoriously reluctant to share their databases, and Colorado's agencies were no exception. "Politically, there were very strong barriers to this project. We were fighting autonomy issues and agencies' unwillingness to open up their systems and allow access to their back-end databases," Usery said. "A system like this even goes across the bureaucracy of funding; in government, things just aren't funded this way. We had to go against all the processes that have been set up for years."

One of the keys to overcoming agency reluctance was to continue allowing each agency to manipulate the data as per usual.