IT projects can save millions of dollars, improve public safety
By Dana Simas
OPEC Public Information Officer
Managing the IT needs of a department the size of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is no small task, even at the institution level, but it’s the job of Senior Information Systems Analyst Juan E. Ramos at Centinela State Prison (CEN).
When it comes to IT, there’ s much more involved than meets the eye.
We’ve all encountered the Remedy Ticket system here at CDCR when we need IT assistance, but that is only a part of the support and responsibilities the IT professionals like Juan offer the department.
“We get day-to-day work orders through Remedy,” Ramos said. “But that only accounts for approximately 40-50 percent of our jobs.”
At the moment, the IT unit at CEN manages more than 1,200 devices at the institution and is in the process of replacing approximately 50 of them.
What this means for Ramos’ team is the removal of 50 computer units, installation of the new units, and training staff on how to relocate all of their information from a secure location.
Ramos and his IT team also recently installed 60 computers and printers for use by inmates in vocational education computer programs operated through the Office of Correctional Education.
This will give inmates an opportunity to learn computer skills, which has become essential to the successful rehabilitation of inmates as many employers require Internet-based employment applications.
CDCR’s use of IT is constantly growing and improving and many of the projects have potential to help CDCR save taxpayer dollars, and even improve public safety.
During the recent inmate hunger strike, the CEN warden wanted a more efficient data input system to track who was on hunger strike, their conditions, and other identifying information.
“We were able to get what the Warden had requested by extracting specific data from SOMS,” Ramos said. “We were able to extract the data and populate the requested fields in four hours instead of what could have been a three-day process.”
CEN’s data extraction method was so efficient they shared their system with other institutions.
“At the request of the warden, (IT) was engaged from the beginning and we were able to come up with an easier data extraction method for the institution,” Ramos said.
When CDCR extended the Visitor Processing Appointment Scheduling System (VPASS) to all of California’s prisons earlier this year, institution IT professionals like Ramos were busy making sure the implementation went as smoothly as possible.
They had to ensure other CDCR staff were trained to use the new system, the institution had the right materials to properly use the system, and the overall implementation at the local institutional level.
The cooperation between CDCR IT and custody staff in implementation of the VPASS system has made it a big success for the department, and appreciated by inmates’ friends and family who now don’t have to wait hours hoping for a time slot to visit their loved one. VPASS is the most visited site on CDCR’s Internet, averaging about 2.6 million page views a month.
(Editor’s note: EIS employee Sirisha Gullapalli was named the CDCR’s Administrator of Year for leading the development of VPASS.)
Sometimes fighting technology with technology can be CDCR’s biggest defense in the fight for public safety. There is a growing national problem of inmate use of cell phones while in prison; many criminal incidents on the streets have been linked to organized crime from behind prison walls.
CDCR is the first state to respond to the problem with new Managed Access Systems (MAS) technology. The technology deploys a secure cellular umbrella around a designated area, such as the institution’s secure perimeter, and prevents unauthorized cell phone communications from being transmitted or received.
While the implementation of MAS is a statewide effort, Ramos is helping oversee the installation at CEN. Ramos essentially acts as a liaison between CDCR Enterprise Information Systems (EIS) at headquarters in Sacramento and the institution.
Ramos emphasized that the Warden and other CDCR staff are customers for EIS and the main goal for CDCR’s IT professionals is to serve the IT needs of the department and improve efficiency.
“We try to have can-do attitudes when the department has IT needs,” Ramos said. “We really try to make (CDCR staff) lives easier through IT solutions.”
Working in IT for a department as large as CDCR can be a demanding position, as we’ve all come to expect ease, efficiency, and problem-free solutions.
It’s an ever-changing responsibility as new technology is introduced, but this constant evolution can bring even more efficiency to the department – saving taxpayer dollars and improving public safety through technology.