Montana posts felons' records

Montana's Department of Corrections

Public records of convicted felons in Montana are now available through the state government's Web site.

The Correctional Offender Network (app.discoveringmontana.com/conweb), holding more than 33,000 records on felony convictions only, debuted April 19 for citizens and businesses to search.

Users can search via a Department of Corrections ID number, name, birth date, race or offender type, meaning whether a person is an inmate, on parole, escaped or in a supervision program.

Displayed records could include a photo; physical description; characteristics such as locations of scars, marks and tattoos; aliases; criminal status and other information.

A day after the network's debut, the corrections site received 61,000 hits compared to the 1,000 hits it normally gets on a Saturday, said Ellen Bush, communications director with the state Department of Corrections.

Businesses can use the site for employment background checks, she said. For victims, it's another avenue to check on the status and whereabouts of offenders in correctional facilities or on parole.

The service debuted at the beginning of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, which runs through April 27.

"We're trying to help protect victims and trying to empower them by getting them information they need to keep them safe," Bush said.

But she said that victims shouldn't rely solely on the new site because it's updated only weekly. Another service — Victim Information and Notification Everyday, or VINE — provides current information about inmates via a toll-free number. Users can register for VINE, which is updated sometimes twice daily, and be notified of an offender's custody status, she said. The service is also used nationally, she said, adding that she would like to try to make VINE available online as well.

Prior to the new service, she said her department responded to some telephone inquiries, but didn't have the staffing to do it on a continuing basis. Businesses also requested access to such databases, but because they included private information, the department could not provide access.

The idea for a Web-based application that would display only relevant public data was hatched at the end of January, Bush said. Montana officials looked at similar sites in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Arkansas, she said.

The site was developed cooperatively among the Department of Corrections, the state's Information Technology Services Division and Montana Interactive Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Overland Park, Kansas-based NIC, which built the state portal.

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