California Unleashes a Horde of Violent Prisoners on Its Unsuspecting Citizens
The Tiny Mistake:
Prisons can only hold so many human beings before they're so tightly packed as to be too cruel even for murderers. As common sense would suggest, prisons have a system for releasing low-risk, nonviolent criminals first and making sure the truly dangerous ones -- the violent felons and rapists -- are pushed so far to the back of the line that they'll never board the freedom coaster. Like everything else these days, the prison system runs off of a database, so it's just a matter of asking it to spit out a list of the guys with the least scary arrest and disciplinary records. Then a human skims over it and says, "Looks good!"
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The dispatcher clicks "Like" and then moves on.
But in 2011, investigators for the California prison system discovered that the computer determining release priority apparently didn't feel the need to look all that closely. In some cases it couldn't access the full arrest records; in others, the prisoners never had the appropriate conviction information entered into the system at all. And whenever the computer hit a big ol' blank space while reading a prisoner's conviction history, it gave that record a big red "PAROLE PARTY!" stamp and moved right on to the next.
More than 450 high-risk, violent criminals were plopped out onto the unsuspecting streets, as well as an additional thousand or so deemed likely to traffic in drugs or wreck people's property. So ... time for the cops to get to work rounding these guys back up, right?
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"Can't you just get a posse together? It's taco night."
Nope! That's the best part: Even though the glitch was eventually identified, the California legal system couldn't do a damn thing about those who had already been released. See, this computer system was nothing if not thorough in its glitchiness -- in addition to releasing the unreleasable offenders, it had also placed them on the "non-revocable parole" list, meaning that they never had to check in with a parole officer and could only be reimprisoned if they were caught, say, murdering someone. You know, in addition to however many someones they had already murdered to get thrown into prison in the first place.