Antiquated technology to blame for recent Cook Co. jail escapes? - FOX 32 News Chicago

Antiquated technology to blame for recent Cook Co. jail escapes?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

When's the last time you used a piece of carbon paper? For some in the Cook County court system, it's still being used every day, which is why county leaders are calling for a major overhaul of the court's IT system, which seems to be stuck in the last century.

The mountains of paper may have even played a role in some recent jail escapes.

In the 1940s, it was cutting edge technology. Yet today, carbon paper is still being used in many Cook County courtrooms--symbolic of the county's failure to keep up with the high-tech times.

"As I've always told people, I have to believe that Cook County is the largest purchaser of carbon paper, if not the only one left these days. I mean it's really something," Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey says.

Fritchey chaired a hearing Thursday on the court system's antiquated technology, which may have led to the inadvertent release of three inmates from the Cook County Jail over the past year.

In the most recent case last month, so-called "habitual offender" Jeremiah Harris, already serving a 12-year prison term, was released because of a paperwork error after being acquitted in a separate case.

Harris was recaptured and sent back to Statesville.

The sheriff's office says there's no way in this digital age it should still be handling more than 10,000 pieces of paper a day.

"The reality of this is this is an archaic system, that I think most people would say we were doing a history tour of what this was like in the 1800s in the jail," Sheriff Tom Dart says.

Just take a look at this court order with instructions overwritten by hand.

"They look like they were written by 20 doctors in the dark," Fritchey explains. "You can't tell what's going on."

But, that's not the only problem.

Each of the three county agencies involved in the court system--the sheriffs, the judges and the clerk of courts--use different computer systems that have trouble talking to each other and don't always interconnect.

"This is a complicated system with lots of moving parts and lots of separately elected officials and I think we're beginning to make some progress," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says.

But Cook County Clerk of Court Dorothy Brown says she can't be blamed for the problems.

"I'm at the table. I've been at the table," Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown said Thursday. "As you can see I'm the only one at the table today and that's how it's been for the last 13 years."

The county's new budget proposal contains money for a first step: a million and a half dollars to build an IT framework to share information between agencies, but it'll cost tens of millions more to completely upgrade the systems and say goodbye to the carbon paper.

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