Software Bug Kept Arizona Inmates in Prison Past Release Dates

When computer algorithms go wrong, human lives that depend on them can be at stake.
Fabienne Lang

A whistleblower report uncovered the fact that hundreds of inmates in Arizona eligible for early release are stuck longer than needed in prison due to a software malfunction.

The software bug blocks the system from correctly calculating correct release dates, as it can't interpret new and current sentencing laws that came into place in 2019.

Locally-based news agency, KJZZ uncovered the glitch, and reported that the Arizona Department of Corrections confirmed the software glitch, which it has known about since 2019. 

What whistleblowers have said

In June 2019, an Arizona state law amendment laid out a new system in which certain inmates convicted of certain drug-related offenses can earn credits towards an early release. The length of their incarceration can be reduced by as much as 70 percent if they follow certain protocols and take part in specific programs. 

A software program, ACIS, is meant to carry out all the credit calculations automatically and inform the Department of Corrections when certain inmates can be subject to early release. However, the ACIS system doesn't operate properly, keeping inmates locked in longer than they need to. 

Internal warnings that the system wouldn't work circulated back in 2019 as the new law was put into place, whistleblowers told KJZZ. And because of this, Arizona Department of Corrections spokesperson Bill Lamoreaux told the news agency that "Data is being calculated manually and then entered into the system."

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Lamoreaux further stated that the department has identified at least 733 inmates who are eligible to take part in the early release program but are not yet enrolled.

Not only is the ACIS program unable to properly calculate when inmates could be up for early release, but it's also plagued with other software issues. These include "modules that track inmate health care, head counts, inmate property, commissary and financial accounts, religious affiliation, security classification, and gang affiliations."

On top of that, if humans wrongly input information into an inmate's file, these employees don't always have the capability of removing or even correcting that mistake.

This is a prime example of when people's lives are at the mercy of computer algorithms, and when things go wrong, or simply aren't properly updated, major issues take place. 

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