An audit of the records system used by Missouri courts shows a lack of safeguards to identify inappropriate activity.   Critical case information can currently be modified, with no way to track or identify who made the changes, when they were made, or under what authority.

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway

When asked if the lack of oversight means inmates could be released from prison years before their terms were up, State Auditor Nicole Galloway said “Theoretically that could occur”.

Currently, court records system users have passwords, which they’re unable to change, even though individuals with administrative privileges can view those passwords. The audit report says this arrangement increases the risk of misuse without detection.

Galloway is also concerned about the audit’s finding that 12 former employees still had active accounts.  “Only people that should have access to the information should have the ability to login and look at it.  And if you are no longer employed, your account should be deactivated.”

The Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA) oversees the records system.  The audit made recommendations to the office on how to improve accountability.  Galloway said “There can be reports that are printed to show when system changes are made to make sure they’re accurate.  Broadly what we’re recommending is oversight and safeguards, not only to prevent errors from occurring, but also to detect them once they have occurred, whether it’s intentional or unintentional.”

The audit said OSCA lacks long-term planning with the court record system, despite spending $218 million in 11 years.

Galloway notes the office plans to replace the current arrangement with a new system, but only has a one-year plan in place.  She said “What we’re asking for is some long range planning of ‘How much is it going to cost, what kind of services are you going to get out of this system, and are the goals in spending millions and millions of dollars’”.