Wisconsin uses Web for prison schedules

In their attempts to cut costs, state and local government officials are finding that the smaller things often can bring the larger gains, something Wisconsin officials discovered when they looked to the Web to reorganize its inmate transfer scheduling process.

Arranging transfers of inmates between the courts, jails and other correctional facilities used to be done mainly by phone and fax, and duplications were common. Several buses might turn up at the same site to pick up and drop off inmates.

A new system recently installed statewide could help cut a third from the costs of the transportations, which can number up to 40,000 in a year.

"There could be hundreds of these transfers happening at any one time, there was no central coordinating authority and it was taking time away from our jail staff and police officers to do their regular duties," said Sheriff Tom Dalbec of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department. "It got to the point where we were pulling our hair out, and we just knew there had to be another way."

Wisconsin's Web-based Prisoner Exchange and Transport Scheduling (PETS) system puts agencies' monthly transfer schedules online for officials at all government agencies to see. Then, they can request a coordinated transfer through the system. The system automatically e-mails the request to agencies that already have transfers scheduled. Those are flagged "request pending" and require someone to approve or deny the request. Once it is approved, the system sends confirmation e-mail messages to all agencies involved.

Agencies can order coordinated transfers for any leg of the journey, which can take several days. Automated cancellation notices can also be sent through the system.

The PETS system can produce reports on a trip-by-trip or quarterly basis, showing county boards what costs they are saving through these coordinated transfers, said Philip Brandsey, president and chief executive of Emerald Systems Inc., which developed PETS.

The system can also be used for interstate transfer of prisoners, tracking sexual offenders, linking with various states' sexual offender databases and moving relevant documents between agencies.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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