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February 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Prisoner Transfers Speeded by eDesignate System

Delays in transferring custody of criminal defendants to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) once they are sentenced to prison has been a longtime problem for many federal courts, especially courts along the nation’s Southwest border.

The delays in "designating" a prisoner into BOP custody resulted in chronic jail-space crises for courts. But a relatively new technology—the eDesignate system—is helping speed up prisoner transfers.

The eDesignate is a secure, electronic, web-based system that allows a probation office and the U.S. Marshals Service to electronically transmit documents to the BOP after a defendant is sentenced to custody. That is proving to be a welcome alternative to collecting and mailing paper documents to the BOP, a process that is more labor-intensive and expensive.

Developed by the Information Technology Division of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, eDesignate enables agencies to quickly exchange data, which allows for more effective scheduling of prisoners’ ground and air transportation.

"The system has dramatically reduced the time between sentencing and prison designation, which has saved millions of dollars and allowed for the more efficient utilization of detention space," reports Deputy Probation Chief David Jones in the District of Arizona, where a pilot project using a predecessor to eDesignate began in January 2005.

From January 2005 to January 2006, the sentence-to-designation processing time in Arizona was cut from 42 to 22 days, resulting in a savings of more than $6.2 million in the federal detention account.

Dan King, systems manager for the probation office in the Eastern District of Washington, said the April 2006 start-up of the eDesignate system by his office’s support staff was eased by the shared experiences of the first two districts to pilot test eDesignate in late 2005, the Southern District of Texas and the District of Maryland.

"The net results have been that we have fewer issues reconciling document transfers (to the Office of Federal Detention Trustee), and we probably are working more closely with the Marshals Service," King said.

In all, 42 district courts were using eDesignate as of mid-January 2007, and that number was expected to climb to 52 by February. The Office of the Federal Detention Trustee hopes to have met with representatives of all 94 district courts by the end of fiscal year 2007.

More than 14,000 designations have been made using the eDesignate system.

In Maryland, sending information via eDesignate has resulted in a 32 percent reduction in processing time. The district’s sentence-to-designation time has been reduced by an average of eight days, down from 25 days.

Chief Probation Officer Bill Henry said eDesignate "allows the Marshals Service and the BOP to instantaneously return files directly to the probation office when documentation is missing and/or is incorrect. We are then able to correct the file contents and expedite the information directly to the BOP," he said.

More about eDesignate can be learned at the Office of Federal Detention Trustee’s web site, www.usdoj.gov/ofdt/technology.htm.