The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) recently implemented a new system to help manage extremely complicated daily sentence calculations -- calculations that, if done incorrectly, could result in setting a felon free prior to the completion of his sentence.
MDOC comprises 22 correctional facilities with a statewide prison population of more than 40,000 inmates. For each felon housed within the MDOC, there are several factors that determine the length of time he or she will spend behind bars.
“An inmate’s sentence can be reduced by credit for time served, good behavior, participation in prison work, or education programs, etc.,” said David K. Enslin of the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget's (DTMB) Corrections Division. “Conversely a sentence can be extended due to bad behavior, refusing drug or alcohol testing, etc.”
With so many factors affecting the prison sentence of thousands of convicted felons, management of the daily sentence calculation, also known as “timecomp,” is extremely rule-intensive and complicated. In all, there are between 200 and 250 rules with more than 5,000 combinations of the logic that govern MDOC timecomp. In addition to calculating the sentence for inmates, the Michigan DOC must have timecomp calculations for the 60,000 individuals who are on parole.
Using the existing MDOC mainframe, a team of programmers were tasked with manually writing and calculating the timecomp rules and logic in spreadsheets and documents. Adding to the complication, the timecomp rules had to be modified at least once each year to align with evolving policies and legislation. The fact that a large team had to manually confirm and compute timecomp left the MDOC vulnerable to miscalculations and errors.
For several years, MDOC sought to migrate away from their aging mainframe system. However, the organization’s extensive requirements for timecomp hindered the modernization initiative. In order to move forward, MDOC needed a way to automate the complex timecomp processes.
In 2012, the state conducted an extensive study of technologies and met with a number of IT vendors to determine the best course of action for replacing their existing mainframe. They ultimately selected the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform using .NET plugins and Microsoft SQL Server as the backend.
In 2013, MDOC began upgrading its inmate management systems. The first phase of the corrections modernization included timecomp.
“As we began upgrading our inmate management systems, we were concerned that developing and deploying the business rule management system for timecomp would be the most complicated and highest risk part of the project,” said Kirt Berwald, general manager at the Michigan DTMB.
To manage timecomp, MDOC turned to InRule, software that enables management of the logic and rules that dictate the time left in a felon’s sentence. Using InRule, a team of three created all of the rules in the timecomp system. The entire process, from software delivery to deployment to completion of rule authoring, took 14 months.
“All of this was done in the essence of speed,” said Enslin. “Essentially it allowed us to greatly reduce the amount of development that had to be done.”
Enslin said the new system greatly simplifies MDOC timecomp processes.
“Legislatures continually add new laws, but oftentimes they don't retract the old laws,” he said. “The Department of Corrections has to deal with that quite a bit. The advantage to using InRule is that it allows us to quickly code up rules based off of all the different laws. Then when we remove laws or if a law gets changed or modified, we can more quickly adapt to that new law and provide the Legislature or upper management an idea of the effects of a new or changed rule.”
For example, Michigan has an automatic two-year penalty for gun possession. If the Legislature decides to raise that to a three-year penalty, or reduce it to a six-month penalty, MDOC can quickly run all the rules against their current population to find out what kind of an impact the change will have.
“Does that mean that we're going to be letting out 300 prisoners? Does that mean we're going to let out 1,000 prisoners? Does it mean that nobody's really impacted by this law?" Enslin said. "Based on that data, policymakers can make better business decisions."
Moving from the old mainframe to modern technology also saves MDOC about a $1 million per year in both hard and soft costs.
“The newer server environments, the total architecture cost, is much less than what we were paying previously with the mainframe,” said Enslin. “We're also now able to more quickly adapt. Previously we had things coded in the mainframe and we knew they were wrong. Staff had to manually calculate things based off of the wrong answer to get to the right answer. Because it took so much time to modify the system, laws were changing quicker than we could modify things on our end.”
Overall, InRule tracks everything about an inmate and helps the Michigan DOC process 12,000 transactions each day. Both the offender and the victim also have access to timecomp information.
“In the end, [timecomp] became one of the most successful and the least risky things that we did," Berwald said, "and that was due to the technology we selected."