Audit faults data system used by DAs
Prosecutors say they’ve been clamoring for state funding to fix it
IN AN AUDIT of the Cape and Islands district attorney’s office this week, state Auditor Suzanne Bump flagged the case management system used by all 11 Massachusetts district attorneys as outdated, citing in particular its information on juvenile defendants. If it is not replaced, Bump wrote, the system “may soon be unable to meet its operational needs,” and the offices will not be able to comply with legal mandates to provide certain information related to juvenile justice.
“The well-being of young people involved in the criminal justice system is far too important to be stymied by outdated and ineffective technology,” Bump said in a statement.
The response by users: Is that news?
“Where have you been? We’ve been working on this for years,” said Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe in reaction to the audit.
District attorneys’ offices have been complaining for years about the clunky case management system referred to as DAMION. The inadequacy of data management at the district attorneys’ offices is one part of a larger, statewide problem with the inability to collect large swaths of criminal justice information because of inadequate data collection systems.
In fiscal 2014-2015, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, which oversaw implementation of DAMION, received $500,000 in funding from the Legislature to hire a consulting firm, BerryDunn, to evaluate each district attorney’s office’s needs in preparation for buying a new case management system. That report estimated that it would cost $6.74 million to purchase a new system. But the association never got the funding from the Legislature to buy it.
A report issued by the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board in June 2019 said that a lack of available data “often impedes our ability to make data-informed decisions about policy and practice.” While the board looked at a range of criminal justice agencies, it specifically flagged the DAMION system.
The report said that it could not fully analyze, for example, how often district attorneys use diversion programs or whether there are racial or ethnic disparities in their use because only some offices track that information. The report said that the DAMION system is incapable of tracking all the information the Legislature requires it to collect, and some DAs track additional information using Excel spreadsheets. “Although technically feasible, this system is inefficient, costly with regards to staff time, and can lead to data quality/reliability challenges,” the report said.
Similarly, the report says data on the use of plea deals is kept in paper files, and DAMION is not set up to collect and aggregate that information.
O’Keefe said the DAMION system was put in place in 2000.
Those who have used the software say it is so hopelessly outdated that, for example, it does not have an autofill function, so staff have to input the same data multiple times.
The audit released this week said that the company that provides technical support for the system may stop doing so soon. O’Keefe said that makes replacing the system more urgent. “If something goes wrong, you’re kind of out of luck,” he said.
The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association is currently planning to rehire BerryDunn to do an update of district attorneys’ needs as the first step in putting out a request for proposals to buy a new case management system. The district attorneys have agreed to pay $96,000 between them, O’Keefe said. According to the association, the BerryDunn process is expected to be completed in this fiscal year, which ends in June.
That request for proposals will then have to be approved and funded through the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security, likely through a bond bill. That agency evaluates project requests from government offices through an IT Investment Advisory Board, comprised of security, IT, and business operations executives from across state governmentThe eventual goal would likely be to implement a new system that could also be connected with other segments of the criminal justice system through a statewide case tracking system, which was mandated by the 2018 criminal justice reform law but has yet to be developed.
O’Keefe said he is hopeful that the Legislature and administration’s interest in obtaining more data means the funding will be released to finally modernize the system. A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security declined to comment on the record. But O’Keefe said based on conversations with state technology officials, if the district attorneys present a “shovel-ready” project, “we’re pretty assured that we’re going to get it.”