CONCORD, N.H. — The State Police Major Crimes Unit responded to the Department of Corrections Friday to investigate what a prison spokesperson would describe only as a “breach” involving the computer system used to store and manage all correctional facility records.
Mark Jordan, the former president of the union representing prison guards, said he was told by current prison guards and civilian staff that members of the Major Crimes Unit were back at the facility Thursday, along with agents from the Boston office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Jordan said he was told that inmates had gained access to the prison’s Corrections Information System (CORIS) that would, in theory, give them access to addresses and contact information for prison staff members, as well as sentencing and parole dates — and the ability to possibly alter them.
“This is a security issue,” said Jordan. “If they were able to gain access to this information, who knows what else they could have access to?”
“There was an incident, what we would call a breach, involving a computer,” said New Hampshire Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons. “The State Police Major Crimes Unit was called in, and they are handling the investigation. All other questions should be directed to the state police.”
A state police spokesperson, however, said the unit is merely assisting in the ongoing investigation.
“It’s a Department of Corrections investigation, and the Major Crimes Unit is just assisting them with it,” said State Police Public Information Officer Lt. Nicole Armaganian. “This is their investigation.”
Lyons said at the time the Major Crimes Unit was called in, the prison’s North Yards area, where woodworking and autobody shops — and dozens of computers — are located was closed off. Lyons said as of Wednesday, the area was reopened, but inmates were not given access to computers.
Jordan said the computers are in an area of the North Yard where there is minimal supervision.
“There is one guard and one civilian there overseeing the inmates working on the computers,” said Jordan. “The inmates have pass codes to access the system and work on the computers, but there’s little supervision. It speaks to the security issue there. I heard (authorities) took dozens of hard drives out of there.”
A call to a spokesperson in the regional FBI office in Boston seeking comment on the investigation was not returned.
According to a news release issued by Abilis New England (which designed and built CORIS) when the Department of Corrections put in the system in 2008, “CORIS connects relevant stakeholders through a single electronic offender record and centralized database, thereby providing a holistic view of the offender’s status, history and risk profile. Through access to complete, accurate, real-time information, corrections officers can make more informed decisions related to treatment and security, helping to improve tracking and management of offenders as they move through the system.”
“I’m told an inmate, or inmates, were able to hack into the CORIS system,” said Jordan. “Once they are in there, they could have access to parole dates, sentencing information, programming schedules for inmates, staff information. And they could change any of that. They could delete detain information from other states.”
In 2011, a Merrimack County jury ruled the New Hampshire Department of Corrections interfered with Jordan’s right to free expression, awarding him $150,000 in damages. He was suspended without pay from his job as a corrections officer at Concord state prison in March 2010 for allegedly fighting in the parking lot outside the facility after work. Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn called for an external criminal investigation by state police, rather than an internal affairs review, which caused Jordan to lose his benefits through much of the suspension. He was found not guilty of a simple assault charge and returned to work two days later with $29,000 in back pay, but was docked a week’s pay.
Jordan, a former chapter president of New England Police Benevolent Association Local 250, representing more than 300 unionized prison workers across New Hampshire, realizes that some will accuse him of simply having an ax to grind in speaking out about the computer breach, but he said he has heard from staff at the prison who are worried about the incident.
“There are guards and civilians there working that don’t even know what happened on Friday,” said Jordan. “They need to be more open and honest when something like this happens. People there and the public need to know.”
(c)2012 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
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