A jail in Washington, D.C.’s suburban Prince William County, Va., allowed an accused killer to walk out but kept another inmate confined too long because of a mixup over his name. The problems suggest a fragmented method of tracking inmates in many jurisdictions, reports the Washington Post. It can create a situation in which a deleted hyphen or a “Smith” spelled “Smyth” can mean an inmate’s jail records won’t match court records. The growing immigrant population is particularly susceptible because of the less obvious spellings and the tendency for some to use two last names.
Officials say they recognize the need to make their court and jail data compatible within each jurisdiction. But most use safeguards that are inconsistent from one area to the next. “The easiest thing would be if the systems could talk, if we could have systems that just work together,” said Susie Doyel of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office. “I think September 11 brought that home. We had so many systems that didn’t talk to each other.” In such cities as Miami, San Antonio and Los Angeles, which have large, diverse populations, officials learned long ago not to depend on names to track inmates. Inmates are fingerprinted and assigned an identifying number that stays with them for life. Their numbers are used to access information in a centralized database that is shared by the courts and jails.