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State of Oregon Law Library Legal Research Blog

Oregon’s innovative approach to prison law libraries improves access, value, security

by Lynne Palombo on 2019-12-03T11:21:00-08:00 in Legal Resource Access | Comments

Library News –

Most people can hop on the internet and find a wide range of legal information when they need it. But that’s not true, for a lot of good reasons, for people held in correctional facilities.

Thanks to a new partnership between the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) and the State of Oregon Law Library (SOLL) – part of the Oregon Judicial Department (OJD), people in custody now have secure access to legal information from the cloud without the risks of broad internet access. The new program reimagines the traditional prison law library to improve access to legal information for adults and youth in state custody. The Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) and Oregon State Hospital (OSH) will also benefit from this new system.

“We believe we are the first corrections agency in the nation to provide a soundly secure, internal, cloud-based legal resource system to adults in custody,” said Kelly Raths, Adults in Custody (AIC) and Community Advocacy Administrator for the Oregon Department of Corrections. “Put more simply, we’ve implemented a system for secure access to legal information in correctional facilities that could become a national model.”

The law requires that people in state custody have access to legal resources to pursue cases related to their confinement. Those resources can also help people in custody address other legal issues that can increase their chances for stability and success once they are released. 

In the past, DOC met its obligations with a mix of books and subscription services, but specific resources and facilities could vary widely between institutions. In addition, traditional contracting with many legal information and research vendors required multiple individual purchases of the same or similar products by different agencies with significant duplication and great variation in pricing.

“To address those challenges, we had to rethink the traditional idea of a law library in a correctional facility,” explained State Law Librarian Cathryn Bowie. She said the solutions included a lot of listening, some serious negotiation with vendors and consolidation of contracts, and a strong focus on security.

Bowie traveled the state to see the facilities first-hand, listen to staff and people in custody, and work with DOC leadership to identify the best path forward. She said the shared goal for SOLL and DOC was two-fold: to improve access to justice and to implement smart business practices.

With the DOC project, corrections leadership worked with SOLL to define the project requirements, identify potential vendors, research and address security concerns, and consolidate contracts for a more cost-effective solution.

DOC information technology staff spent more than a year proofing the safeguards that ensure that users do not have access to anything other than the legal resources provided by the vendor, Fastcase. “The computers in our education and legal library labs can only connect to one IP address—Fastcase,” explained Raths. “All links stay within the secure Fastcase system. There is no access to the wider internet and no outsider access from the internet into our system.”

With the new system, all facilities now have access to a broad and consistent array of legal resources, including many they didn’t have before, such as daily updates to case law; statutes, and session laws; Oregon Administrative Rules; and information for all 50 states. In the past, they only had access to Oregon and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. 

Raths said the new legal resource system has been well-received. “Fastcase is easy to use and intuitive,” she explained, “and users across the state resoundingly agreed that this cloud-based resource is a welcome change.”

Through the new purchasing and subscription arrangements brokered by SOLL, the new approach will pay for the required IT and equipment upgrades in the first two-year budget cycle and save about $470,000 every two years after that. The project may also pave the way for secure access to a wider range of cloud-based educational resources in the future.

“This is a great example of how two branches of state government – the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch – can work together to serve the public and justice,” said Raths.

--Todd Sprague, Oregon Judicial Department, 503-986-5524


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