Maryland state officials failed during the final months of 1999 to send $1.1 million in court-ordered restitution payments by criminals to their victims, a lapse that is unacceptable, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) said yesterday.
From late October through the first week of January, about 4,300 crime victims did not receive restitution payments they were entitled to, officials said. The state Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for getting the funds to crime victims, did not notify them of the delay, officials said.
Officials attributed the problem, first reported by the Washington Times, to computer glitches unrelated to Y2K. They said those problems had been addressed and checks should start going out to victims tomorrow.
"The systems are now working," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the Public Safety Department.
The problem began Oct. 23 when state computer programmers, working to update the Public Safety Department's computer system, switched to new hardware, officials said.
The new computer hardware worked for the most part, but public safety's computer system did not properly communicate with the computer system of the Office of the Comptroller, which cuts the checks to crime victims, officials said.
Computer programmers first realized there was a problem in November and tried to fix it, said Mike Morrill, a Glendening spokesman. That didn't work, Morrill said. The programmers tried again in December and that didn't work either, Morrill said.
Compounding the problem, the computer experts working on the public safety computer system were detailed to other tasks on two occasions, officials said. In the meantime, the Public Safety Department failed to alert either the victims or any other government office about the problem with the restitution checks, Morrill said.
"At some point in November, when this wasn't working, somebody should have raised the issue up the (state) chain of command," Morrill said. "We could have devoted resources to fix the problem or sent out notices to crime victims."
"The real problem here isn't the computer failure, it's a management failure," Morrill said, adding that Public Safety and Corrections Services Secretary Stuart Simms is conducting an inquiry into the matter.
Sipes said: "We are greatly embarrassed by what happened. We have pledged ourselves to not revictimize victims of crime."