Waste? 14.6 Million Dollars On Computer Software For Prisons

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They are 101 questions, and over the past two years the State of California has paid $14.6 million for them. The system is called COMPAS; it's a computerized survey designed to help our prisons understand our prisoners.

Here's an example: "A hungry person has a right to steal. Yes or no."

"What we're interested in here, when we do their annual review, is substance abuse, educational problems, employment problems," said Jeannine Nevis, a counselor at Folsom Prison.

In 2006, state lawmakers mandated the prison administrators find some way to rehabilitate inmates. COMPAS was their answer.

It connects inmates with programs that help keep them from re-offending when they get out.

The problem is, Jeannine Nevis at Folsom Prison may be only one of a too-small percentage using COMPAS to do that job.  In a recent report blasting how the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has deployed the system, the State Auditor found that, in 8 of 12 reception centers statewide, COMPAS doesn't play a significant role in decisions.

$14.6 million for a system we aren’t even using?

"Well... that's not necessarily true. Inmates can refuse to take to assessment and that has contributed to the low numbers that we have," said Dana Toyama, spokeswoman for CDCR.

But at Folsom, that doesn't seems to be the problem.

"I've had 100% compliance. They can refuse if they wish, but I have not had anybody refuse," said Nevis.

Instead, the State Auditor points out another problem here at Folsom and across the entire prison system: COMPAS can recommend five different rehabilitation programs. But the State only has two of those programs available.

"This comes to a fiscal issue," said Toyama.

After five years and a pretty unfavorable auditor's report, is she worried about COMPAS going away?

"No, I am not. I think that CDCR has a positive mission, and mandates to assess criminogenic needs. This is our way of doing that," Toyama said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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