When Software on the Blink Sends You to the Clink

A new software system aimed at managing criminal court cases has led to some people being wrongly arrested or jailed. Fandijki/Getty

In one of those ideal worlds we hear about so often, people are in jail because they deserve to be there. They're convicted of a crime they did, they get the sentence they deserve and they do their time.

Unfortunately, the real world includes things like corruption, greed — and software glitches. In the real world, injustice can be decidedly unglamorous. And that's what some court systems are finding when adopting Odyssey Case Manager, a software system by Tyler Technologies that's designed to coordinate, organize and manage the cases of people involved in the criminal justice system across county systems in the United States.

In California's Alameda County, for example, the software is being blamed for numerous mistakes, including wrongly arresting and jailing folks or forcing them to register unnecessarily as sex offenders, according to Cyrus Farivar, writing for Ars Technica. Before the switch to Odyssey, Farivar notes that Alameda County was relying on a decades-old system called CORPUS.

The complicating factor is that while there are dozens of cases of people being arrested unfairly due to things like a dismissed warrant still reading as active in the system, no one is exactly sure why there are so many errors with the new system. Some have complained about the user interface that relies on precise formatting to be accurate. There has also been frustration about the backlog that occurred when clerks had to convert all the old files to the new system — a November filing says 12,000 files have yet to be uploaded, with hundreds more being added to that number daily. And while the numbers are small (Alameda County, which uses the software, documented 26 cases of errors), it's been enough to be a huge headache — and disruption of civil rights — for citizens. 

The problem has inspired some counties to start investigating legal action against Tyler Technologies, the software maker.

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