Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Offender IT failure 'a shambles'

Prison gate
The project aimed to track offenders through the justice system

A government IT project for tracking offenders in England and Wales through the criminal justice system was a "shambles", MPs have said.

Officials in charge of the scheme - abandoned after costs trebled - lacked even a "minimum level of competence", the Public Accounts Committee found.

It highlighted a "culture of over-optimism" and lack of "rigorous" scrutiny of the scheme.

The Prison Service said it was working to ensure mistakes are not repeated.

Plans for the £234m National Offender Management Information System system, known as C-NOMIS, began in 2004 with the aim of allowing the prison and probation services in England and Wales to follow offenders "end-to-end" through the criminal justice system.

'Grossly underestimated'

But by July 2007 the project was two years behind schedule and its estimated costs had increased to £690m. It was later abandoned.

The committee's report finds that staff "grossly underestimated" the likely cost and neither ministers nor senior management at the Home Office, nor even the project board, were aware of problems until May 2007.

The work done so far has not been lost but is being used as the basis of the revised programme
Prison Service

Even now, the National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons and probation, has no idea what £161m spent before October 2007 was used for, it adds.

The committee's chairman, Conservative MP Edward Leigh, said: "This committee has become inured to the dismal procession of government IT failures which have passed before us, but even we were surprised by the extent of the failure of C-NOMIS, the ambitious project to institute a single database to manage individual offenders through the prison and probation systems.

"There was not even a minimum level of competence in the planning and execution of this project.

"The result has been a three-year delay in the roll-out of the programme, envisaged separate databases for prisons and probation instead of the original one, each with different information about an offender, and a doubling of costs.

"This project has been a shambles."

Its replacement, NOMIS, will instead use three separate databases and is not expected to be working fully until 2011.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "The C-NOMIS project was stopped when it was recognised that it was going to be over-budget and late.

"Steps have been taken to ensure that the mistakes made are not repeated.

"The work done so far has not been lost but is being used as the basis of the revised NOMIS programme.

"This will support our commitment to ensuring that prison and probation service staff have improved access to the information they need to protect the public by managing offenders in custody and in the community.

"The prison element of the programme commenced roll out to public sector prisons on 22 May 2009 and is on schedule to complete in summer 2010."

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