It was considered a "management revolution" in the old Court of General Sessions in 1969 when the U.S. attorney's office starting filing criminal cases in manila folders instead of wrapping them in white paper, Charles R. Work remembered yesterday.
Each case was numbered, "but nobody knew why we did it," said Work, who then was deputy chief of the General Sessions division of the prosecutor's office. The files were "all over the place," spilled on the floor, stacked in boxes, stuffed in drawers or lost, Work said.
Meanwhile, the general sessions court, which handed minor criminal cases, was about to become the D.C. Superior Court, with new jurisdiction over serious criminal cases.
"We had to do something or we would fall on our face. We had to get organizes," Work said.
Work, then 28, shopped around for grant money and people to help him bring the mass of information under control. He teamed up with William A. Hamilton, then a management consultant who learned data processing at the National Security Agency.
They developed a computer-based information system called "PROMIS" and over the years nurtured its development into a sophisticated management tool now used by courts and prosecutors throughout the country.
For their efforts to improve the criminal justice system, Work and Hamilton have been named two of seven winners of the prestigious Rockefeller Public Service Awards for 1978. Work and Hamilton will share a $10,000 tax-free award. Another winner from the Washington area was Stanley Sporkin, 46, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission's division of enforcement for his efforts in enforcement of federal securities laws.
The program is sponsored by the late John D. Rockefeller III and administered by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
PROMIS - Prosecutor's Management Information System - is a computerized storehouse of thousands of pieces of information about the criminal cases that pass through the Superior court and the federal court here, from the names, ages and backgrounds of each defendant to the case-load of the judges and prosecutors .
Through computer terminals, the prosecutor's office gets an instant overview of the court system, retrieving figures on the number of pending cases, the rate of convictions and acquittals.
It is PROMIS technology that now helps the prosecutor's office pinpoint repeat offenders whose records often were lost in the large volume of criminal cases that burden the city court. It was a nationwide PROMIS research project in 1976 that disclosed that seven percent of all offenders make up 24 percent of the prosecutor's workload.
PROMIS data led to the development of Career Criminal Units throughout the country and in Washington. The units concentrate their efforts on prosecution of repeat offenders.
PROMIS was started in Washington with $200,000 from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, Work said. Work left the prosecutor's office in 1973 to become a deputy administrator of the LEAA and Hamilton eventually formed the Washington based Institute for Law and Social Research, which now gives other cities the technical assistance they need to implement a PROMIS system and conducts nationwide research projects based on Promis data.