In an effort to bring operations into the 21st century, Oklahoma Department of Corrections staff and inmates are working to digitize hundreds of thousands discharged inmate files amid budget cuts and a daunting mountain of paper.
“These shelves are 12 feet high and approximately 5 feet wide. I have 13 of them,” DOC Closed Records Manager Janice Thompson said standing between two over-packed shelving units of inmate records. The files are packed so tightly together she can barely pull a single file from the shelf.
The files are housed in what was once the gym at Kate Barnard Corrections Facility in Oklahoma City. Thompson estimates the total number is above 400,000 paper files all waiting to be put into the agency's digital system.
The files are on average 300 pages long and contain every transfer, disciplinary action and medical record an inmate collects during their time in prison. Other inmates are tasked with removing staples, sorting and “purging” documents or removing duplicates or unneeded material. The process from file to scanner takes roughly 15 minutes per file and another 20 to scan.
Thompson said the information is vital for day to day prison operations and life for an inmate once they leave the prison system or if they return.
“I got a call today from a hospital for a john doe who they did not know who his next of kin was. It's that kind of vital,” she said.
The sorting and scanning takes time and money the department doesn't have. Thompson said the scanners alone would cost $5,000 each. She estimated the total amount to digitize the entire library would reach roughly $450,000.
The DOC saw its budget slashed this year and is not getting any extra money next year, according to a department spokesperson. The inmate population is expected to continue to balloon in the coming months and is already well above 120 percent capacity.
“With the resources I have available I haven’t touched the surface. I haven't. And I've been working on it for three years now,” Thompson said. “Our funding has been mostly designated to everyday care of the population so the infrastructure got neglected.”
Thompson said her records division receives 1200 files each month but only converts 400 files to a digital format in that same period. When asked when the department could have the entire catalogue of files digitized, Thompson replied “never” adding it may happen without adequate funding.
“I understand the agency's position but in order for us to do what we need to do we've got to have the resources. We've got to have them,” she said.