Little did they know it, but for about seven hours last September, Johnson County offenders under house arrest could have gone anywhere they wanted without their tracking devices giving them away.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
The failure of a computer system provided by 3M caused a seven-hour blackout Sept. 29, said Betsy Gillespie, director of the county corrections department. During the computer crash, the county could not access information that comes into the system from electronic monitors the department uses to keep track of people who are under court supervision.
“When you’re constantly monitoring the whereabouts of offenders, that’s quite a bit of time,” she told the Johnson County Commission in its weekly meeting. There were no incidents resulting from the outage, but it had the potential to be dangerous, she said. Sometimes the monitors are used to enforce restraining orders, for example.
The computer failure was revealed as Gillespie asked for approval to change vendors for the electronic monitoring system. The County Commission unanimously voted to allow corrections to replace 3M with Rocky Mountain Offender Management Systems to provide the necessary electronics and support. The contract is for $620,000, which is not a new expense, because the 3M contract was up for renewal, she said.
House arrest is used for a both adults and juveniles in a variety of situations, Gillespie said. It may be used for people awaiting a court date, or for convicted probation offenders, for example. The average daily population on house arrest is 117 adults and 41 minors. County officials like house arrest because it is more flexible and less costly than jail.
People on house arrest are also assessed fees for the service. They range from $13 to $16 per day for adults and $4 to $9 per day for the families of juveniles.
The county contracts with companies for the monitoring equipment, but it is not a wholly private operation. County corrections officials keep track of what information is coming in through the bracelets. And case officers also counsel the offenders and help them find employment.
The county originally contracted with Elmotech for the equipment, but in 2010 the company was bought out by 3M. After 3M moved the operation from Illinois to Florida, equipment and service issues began flaring up with increasing regularity, Gillespie said. The computer problems caused some delays, but the September incident was the only blackout on offenders’ information, she said.
Gillespie also said the company’s backup server was at the same location as the main server, and not 500 miles away as specified by the contract. After numerous talks with 3M officials, corrections staff decided to look elsewhere for the service.
“In the past, we’ve never had any issues,” she said. “Past vendors have always done fine. So I’m not sure whether 3M was just not quite experienced enough in the business.”
Gillespie said she is satisfied the new vendor has the capabilities the county needs.
The contract also will allow corrections officials to take advantage of new technology in bracelet monitors. Gillespie told the County Commission that new bracelets will be able to detect alcohol consumption with a skin sensor that picks up ethanol present in the wearer’s sweat.