The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Prosecutor Management Information System (PROMIS computer system for public prosecution agencies)

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by Susan Hastings

PROMIS (Prosecutor's Management Information Sys-
tem) is a computer-based system for public prosecution
agencies. Developed by the Institute for Law and Social
Research under a grant from the U.S. Department of
Justice Law Enforcement Assistance Administration
(LEAA), PROMIS has been in operation in Washington,
D.C. since January 1971.


While there can be no substitute for skilled, experienced
prosecutors, PROMIS permits a prosecutor's office to
accumulate a wealth of information on each of its
burgeoning cases and maximize what manpower is available
by assuring that office operations are conducted in the
context of modern managerial and administrative methods.
As a prosecutor finds he can devote more time to priority
areas, he can more efficiently exert positive and productive
control over his workload.

One of the most important functions of PROMIS is its
ability to screen the massive influx of information with
which prosecutor's offices are faced. Facts are the raw
material for the prosecutor. The decisions he makes about a
case are based on the soundness of the facts that are
available. PROMIS's computerized data base enables
prosecutors to acquire and process facts in a consistently
comprehensive and uniform matter.

PROMIS gives prosecutors a method by which they can
evaluate and rate cases in terms of the gravity of the crime
and the accused criminal's background. Cases can be rated
evenly through computer-generated numerical scores, thus
giving the chief prosecutor the managerial leverage he needs
to apportion his office's time and manpower according to
the relative importance of pending cases. He can then assign
the priority for more intensive pre-trial preparation to the
cases which involve violent crime and habitual criminals.

Because of the massive caseload faced by prosecutor's
offices, many serious offenders often avoid proper
punishment because the responsibility for their cases has
been fragmented and/or delayed to the point where the
court-wise repeat defendant is able to maneuver his case
through the cracks in the system. PROMIS however, can
help to alleviate this problem by generating, five days ahead
of time, a calendar that ranks in descending order of
importance the cases a court will try on a particular day.
The prosecutor's office can than allocate its manpower to
prepare itself sufficiently for the most serious cases.

The judicial process cannot function without the active
cooperation of citizen jurors and witnesses, but witnesses
are often disillusioned by court scheduling conflicts.
PROMIS enables a Witness Notification Unit to locate and
subpoena witnesses in order to schedule their appearance in
court. It also tries to provide a coordination of scheduling
that is convenient to everyone in order to avoid the delays
that often prove inconvenient, confusing and unnecessarily

The implementation of PROMIS in Washington, D.C. has
heightened awareness about the utility of legal paraprofessionals.
These non-lawyer college graduates perform
time-consuming duties that do not require the specialized
training of an attorney. PROMIS made it obvious that full
documentation of reasons for prosecutorial actions was not
being made, and the visibility of this problem led to the
creation of the paralegal positions. As the procedures of the
prosecutor's office became better structured and more
systematized through PROMIS, there is indication that
more and more tasks will fall within the capabilities of
paralegals, and skilled attorneys will be able to direct their
abilities more fully toward case preparation and prosecution.
Additionally, errors and omissions which might occur
when an overtaxed attorney is charged with the duties of
citizen interviews and case documentation, might be
lessened as paraprofessionals take over this ministerial task.

Just as PROMIS has demonstrated the need for
paralegals, it can also be used to pinpoint the areas in which
they should be trained. PROMIS-produced data which can
gauge the effectiveness of a given training program can also
indicate areas in which prosecutors themselves need further


The reach of the prosecutor extends from one end of the
criminal iustice system to the other, starting with the police
and ending with corrections. With the advent of PROMIS,
prosecutors possess a potent tool that will help them take
full advantage of their position within the system. A 1970
statement by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger expresses the
need that people in this country feel for such an aid;
"In the supermarket age, we are trying to operate the
courts with cracker-barrel corner grocer methods and
equipment - vintage 1900 . . . the judicial processes for
resolving cases and controversies have remained essentially
static for 200 years. That is not necessarily bad, but when
courts are not able to keep up with their work it suggests
the need for a hard new look at our procedures." A method
like PROMIS that enables prosecutor's offices to collect
data on a routine and systematic basis, may well prove the
answer to increasing the effectiveness of our criminal court

[For more information, write C. Madison Brewer, Institute for
Law and Social Research, 1125 15th St. NW, Suite 625.
Washington, D.C. 20005.]

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