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Auditor: Same problems at state parole commission

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An inability to manage data by administrators at the Commission of Pardons and Parole is creating inefficiency and delays in paroling Idaho inmates that have cost more than $7.2 million since 2009, according to a report by legislative auditors.

The report presented Wednesday by the Office of Performance Evaluation shows the commission and its staff continue to have problems managing inmate-tracking data and avoiding inefficiencies that have plagued the agency for more than a decade.

The study is a follow-up to a 2010 report by OPE auditors that criticized the commission's process for paroling inmates. That report determined delays in paroling eligible offenders — and the state paying daily rates to keep inmates longer — had cost the state nearly $7 million between January 2007 and September 2009.

The bipartisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee members requested the follow-up report last year.

This time, OPE auditors found only slight improvement.

Auditors say 57 percent of the offenders examined in the study were released after their tentative parole date, an improvement from the 69 percent released late in the 2010 survey, the report shows.

Yet OPE staff warned against celebrating a 12-point rate of improvement for a state prison system operating at capacity and paying to house inmates in out-of-state lockups.

The parole delays, calculated starting in January 2009 to April 2012, cost an estimated $7.2 million.

Auditors claim the biggest cause for the delays and inefficiency is in the commission's inability to manage, track and handle all the data it keeps on Idaho's inmate population.

A fix like integrating computer software, such as Microsoft Excel, would enable staff to better track and parole more inmates in a timely fashion. Some data is still kept and maintained on handwritten notes by administrators, auditors said.

"Our reports on the parole process continue to underscore the same themes," according to the report. "Automation and modernization of how the commission collects, manages and stores data is the most critical step necessary to realize greater efficiency, better effectiveness and potential savings to the state."

Olivia Craven, director of the commission, said the reasons for parole delays are complex and in some cases beyond her agency's control. Craven said her staff began integrating Excel and other spreadsheet software several months ago and blames a lack of staff, technology support and other resources for the chronic data management problems identified by OEP.

"We just have not had the staff to support this change," said Craven, a veteran of more than 25 years in the state's parole system and appointee of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. "Quite frankly, we have had to do most of this ourselves. We continue to work on this transition ... and expect better results in the future."

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