Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Brian Fischer, Commissioner

Contact: Peter K. Cutler
Office of Public Information
(518) 457-8182

For immediate release:

September 15, 2011


First-of-its-Kind Computer-Based Legal Document Access System Receives Center for Digital Government's Best Application Serving and Agency's Business Needs Award

ALBANY - The NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) yesterday was honored by the Center for Digital Government with its 2011 Best of New York Award for the Department's development and implementation of the Secure Offender Network Law Library Automation Project. DOCCS literally changed the face of legal research in its correctional facilities by taking on this large scale, first-of-its-kind project, which provides offenders with computer-based access to legal materials in a digital format. The Department is required by law to provide offenders with direct access to legal resources. During 2010, DOCCS law library resources were used by offenders in 542,899 separate instances.

The Center for Digital Government is a national research and advisory organization that focuses on information technology policies and best practices in state and local government.

"DOCCS faced and overcame a unique set of challenges when it decided to take on a project of this scale and complexity," said Commissioner Brian Fischer. "Our challenge was providing offenders with a source for centrally-based legal materials, while at the same time prohibiting access to the DOCCS employee network or the Internet. We successfully accomplished our goal, which allows offenders to access this constitutionally guaranteed legal information, while also reducing our law library costs and ultimately saving taxpayers money. I commend our Management Information Services staff for successfully accomplishing this innovative effort and also thank nfrastructure of Clifton Park, New York who partnered with DOCCS in developing and implementing the Secure Offender Network Law Library Automation Project in all of our facilities. We are honored to receive this award from the Center for Digital Government and we will continue to explore innovative and cost-effective programs throughout our Department. "

In August 2009, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) launched the pilot Secure Offender Network (SON), which provided offenders with a centralized source of digital law library materials. This initiative, which proved to be extremely successful, eliminated the Department's paper-based Law Library collections in 66 Law Libraries housed in 60 correctional facilities throughout the state and replaced them with state-of-the-art thin client-based digital collections. The last deployment of this system, placing centrally-based legal materials housed on a Storage Area Network, was completed in February of 2011.

"Undertaken as part of Commissioner Fischer's ongoing effort to improve efficiency in the delivery of critical and required services throughout the prison system, this initiative will generate significant savings to New York State taxpayers (approximately $2 million dollars annually) by eliminating the costly paper-based libraries and the efforts required to maintain them," said Thomas J. Herzog, DOCCS Assistant Commissioner of Management Information Services. "A major benefit of the electronic Law Library system is that it provides more equitable access to the much needed legal resources. Prior to being automated, the Law Libraries would have one set of New York Statutory Laws on the shelf. If an offender needed to obtain a copy of the Penal Law � 70.30 for example, there was only the one volume to go around. The offender would have to wait until the volume became available. Now, with the information loaded electronically, several offenders can simultaneously access this same information using the networked thin clients."

A new Secure Offender Network was designed to deliver Premise Research Software (Premise) and PremiseCite, which is a secure, searchable citation research service that helps users determine whether a case, statute, or regulation is good law. Both packages were provided by Thomson Reuters (the publishing company for the Westlaw packages) and are delivered to offenders securely via a centralized Citrix based platform. A new Secure Offender Network Data center was created and secure routers, switches and Ethernet cabling were installed in the New York State Correctional Facilities containing Law Libraries. Thin clients and printers were installed in each Law Library and training was provided to the staff and offender law clerks in each facility.

Usability of the product is greatly improved over the previous method of manually searching multiple cumbersome volumes of paper-based legal documents. Offenders can now search the entire digital collection using a single plain English or natural language query. Security is provided through the implementation of the secure network (SON), which is isolated from both the DOCCS employee network and any external networks including the Internet. Offender activity can be shadowed to identify and prevent unauthorized activity. Citrix servers are refreshed back to their original image each night and thin client images are locked and refreshed upon reboot to insure that no unwanted changes persist in the environment. Product accessibility was enhanced through on-site hands on training of staff and offender law clerks at each facility. The product also has readily accessible electronic user guides. Offender searches are done anonymously and no records are maintained of the particular content searched.

nfrastructure, a Clifton Park based infrastructure solutions company, performed the following tasks for the project: conducted site surveys at each correctional facility, analyzed cabling and wiring needs, installed data cabling, installed HP thin client computers with special secure stands and Xerox printers and configured and installed Nortel secure routers and switches.

DOCCS received the Center for Digital Government's Best Application Serving and Agency's Business Needs Award yesterday during the Government Technology Conference Annual meeting in Albany. The award was accepted on behalf of DOCCS by Thomas Herzog, Thomas Goetz (DOCCS Counsel's Office) and Barbara Ost (DOCCS Library Services).