Originally created 07/08/06

New database might make for lighter load



AIKEN - Serena McDaniel recently had dwindled down the stack of new juvenile court cases on her desk to a small, manageable pile.

On Friday, it was back to being several inches high.

Her office is only part of South Carolina's overburdened family court system.

Asking Aiken County's family court assistant solicitor what the case load is like results in a sigh and a shake of the head.

Her office prosecutes children for such minor offenses as trespassing up to major crimes such as criminal sexual conduct.

And that's why she can end up with nearly a hundred new cases on her desk each month.

So it's understandable why Ms. McDaniel is excited about a new software program she thinks will make her job smoother, if not a bit easier.

One new database costing less than $5,000 has thrilled her with its possibilities, she said, while putting a stop to fears that her office's old case management system would self-destruct if she added so much as one new entry.

"We were afraid it would crash if we put any new records in there," she said. "We didn't think Approach (the old software) could take it."

That would have been devastating.

Since 1997, when the office went from index cards to a computerized system built by a staffer, 10,044 cases have been added to the database.

That database, however, is not only antiquated and limited in its abilities, but also is no longer supported by the court's IT department.

It had to go, Ms. McDaniel said, but initial efforts to find a different database program hit a snag over costs and feasibility.

Using the same database for general sessions court was out of the question, she said, because cases involving juveniles have to be kept separate from those involving adults.

They found an answer in another circuit court's "computer guru" staffer, she said.

He built an "amazing" database, one that eliminates the old system's limitations and adds new features.

The new system has been in place for a few days. So far, it has one case in its database.

Although the new system is far superior to the old one, there's one snag - the old files can't be transferred to the new system.

"That's the hard part," Ms. McDaniel said. "We either have to do it by hand or keep the old database up. What I was strongly considering was having a volunteer put all those 10,000 records in."

But she wonders if that's the right strategy.

"Is it worth the effort?" she asked.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.