Senior staff: Antiquated systems cut down on courthouse efficiency

Lycoming County Courthouse staff walk down the front steps of the building Wednesday, June 19. ANNE REINER/On the PULSE

WILLIAMSPORT – Data duplication, informational silos and outdated systems cut down on efficient workflow and communication between departments at the Lycoming County Courthouse, senior staff say.  

As the central hub for Lycoming County’s justice system and the base of operations for other administrative offices, courthouse systems have a lot of room for improvement, according to the Adrianne Stahl, court administrator, and Jennifer McConnell, director of court services.

“Every system, at least within the courts and criminal justice system, tends to be isolated in their own case management type system and none of them speak to each other,” McConnell said.

Some senior staff, including Stahl and McConnell, believe a technology assessment is the first step to improving the outdated systems.

President Judge Nancy Butts agreed that the county’s outdated and solitary systems cut down on efficient data gathering in the county.

“That’s one of the things we’ve always been known for, is silos,” Butts said.

These “data silos” result in an inability to share information and a high quantity of data duplication, McConnell said. She added that it’s unclear what technical limitation the courthouse has, because a clear distinction of the court system’s technical failings has not been made.

Most of the county’s court-related offices are controlled by elected officials, such as judges, prothonotary, district attorney or register and recorder. This means that the Court Administration Office has no authority over what type of systems they use.

A view of the outside of the Lycoming County Courthouse on Wednesday, June 19. ANNE REINER/On the PULSE

An individual who has been processed through the District Attorney’s Office, Adult Probation Office, prison and Public Defender’s Office may have a separate file in each system with no easy way for that information to be shared.

Departments like the county Prothonotary/Clerk of Courts still have a paper filing system with no electronic system that can easily be accessed by court staff, attornies or members of the public. Attorneys must come in person to file and receive their paperwork and members of the public must come to the office to look up court filings.

“It’s gonna take a while for that office to get caught up with electronic filing,” McConnell said.

The issue is not limited to Lycoming County, Stahl said, as counties across the state work to modernize their systems.

“There’s never been an actual comprehensive assessment,” McConnell said. “We’ve never had a plan to execute. That’s the very first step.”

The Court Administration Office has been seeking funding from the county for an assessment since 2016, Stahl said. Butts also advocated for the assessment in the hope that it may show a need for a technical position to be created for the courthouse, which currently does not have dedicated technical staff in the building.

Commissioner Tony Mussare said he is open to providing services the courthouse needs, but added that since its elected officials who have most of the control each department should work together to find a solution.

“I try, for the most part, to let them present what they really need and if I think there are going to be true efficiencies within that, then I’m OK with that,” Mussare said. “But there are sometimes when you just have to shut off the spigot and say, ‘We need to get our spending under control.'”

Mussare added that he doesn’t anticipate any big spending happening for the next few years.

The courthouse staff are looking to advancements made by York County as an example for desired improvements, namely with wireless internet for the courthouse.

Butts praised York’s system, advocating for wireless internet in her home county as well.

“There’s got to be a way,” Butts said, acknowledging concern about security breaches with a wireless system. She said if other countries have been able to minimize risks then Lycoming County should be able to as well.

But improvements have been made, McConnell added. Some systems do communicate with each other, such as orphans court, scheduling and the sheriff’s office.

In addition, the county register and recorder has transitioned to an entirely online system.

As soon as Kathy Rinehart, the current register and recorder, was elected, she went entirely electronic, Butts said.

“That was an office that didn’t have anything computerized,” Butts said, commending its advancement.

Other improvements also have been made, such as providing iPads to adult probation officers and work on the Stepping Up initiative to provide data sharing among departments dealing with the mental health population in the court and prison system.

But for Stahl and McConnell there still is a lot of work to do. Uniting data systems, and upgrading software is just the first step to creating a more efficient workflow, they say.

“We’re trying to change things going forward and implement systems that can speak with each other,” McConnell said.

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