Digital Technologies Create Savings

Other benefits and efficiencies aimed for criminal justice system

Digital technologies are transforming all aspects of life today, yet sectors such as the criminal justice system continue to be slow to adapt and are failing to take advantage of a wealth of innovations available at the moment.

With today’s criminal justice system confronted by a myriad of challenges though, including increasing budget and resource constraints as well as complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the “this is how we’ve always done things here” way of thinking will no longer cut it.

One area within the criminal justice system where digital technologies can be quickly and easily implemented to deliver immediate impact is community supervision programs. However, before we discuss how to do this, we must first get a sense of today’s landscape and the challenges being created by traditional supervision applications.

MARKET OUTLOOK

With traditional monitoring methods continuing to perform well for community supervision programs, local and state governments as well as other institutions have not seen a strong need to explore new innovative solutions previously.

The popular method for tracking defendants has been and remains electronic ankle monitoring, a solution that was introduced to the industry nearly four decades ago. When introduced, ankle monitoring devices were an innovative solution to in-person supervisory checkins. Today though, the challenges they create heavily outweigh their benefits.

Not only do ankle monitors carry a stigma for defendants, they also can create financial strain for individuals with fees averaging out to $300 per month. These costs, in addition to associated court fees and other expenses, can add up quickly and become detrimental to offenders that are barely getting by on minimum wage. Local community supervision programs also often struggle with technical difficulties related to ankle monitoring devices, such as signal loss, chronically short battery life, and inaccurate alerts and notifications, all of which create further operational inefficiencies.

Additionally, many community supervision programs still conduct scheduled and random in-person check-ins. While these meetings are an equally inefficient use of time for both supervisors and defendants in any circumstance, the pandemic has now made them potentially unsafe to do for both parties as well. Face-to-face meetings for rural offenders are especially challenging too, as these individuals are expected to forfeit viable working hours to fulfill their legal and financial obligations to the court or require their supervisors to travel countless hours back and forth for a single check-in.

There are better monitoring tools out there. These tools are cheaper for offenders and streamline the process for supervisors. Unfortunately, lengthy procurement processes for new technologies and the overshadowing legacy processes and technologies in place are holding back this much-needed digital shift.

NEW INNOVATIONS CHANGING THE LANDSCAPE

Today, there are digital innovations that are improving operational efficiencies and changing the community supervision landscape for the better, such as cloudbased remote monitoring software. With a system like this in place, community supervision programs can be more efficient, cost-effective, and accommodating for both supervisors and defendants.

For instance, with cloud-based monitoring software much of the community supervision process can be done remotely through an easy-to-use online platform or mobile app. In the case of a remote monitoring app, the system, once installed on a mobile phone, allows civil servants to monitor and track individuals using GPS, photographic verification and electronic signatures. This process can allow low-risk adult offenders to easily let their bail bondsmen know they have not left town or inform their probation officer that they are complying with their curfew schedules or committed any other violations, without the costly and inefficient in-person check-in process.

Remote check-ins using mobile apps help civil servants that are already stretched thin. The technology removes the need for in-person meetings and can liberate approximately 70% of a supervisor’s time, thus allowing them to focus on higher risk individuals. In addition, remote tracking software reduces the amount of time defendants spend checking in each month. At an average of two check-ins per month, offenders currently sacrifice 5 working hours every month to satisfy their court-mandated check-ins, resulting in an average of 220 working hours lost over the course of their probation period.1 However, with a cloud-based mobile app, check-ins can take just minutes.

Beyond just the time cost, remote monitoring software can reduce the financial burden of community supervision programs on defendants by nearly 94%, as the technology is significantly more cost-effective than ankle monitors.

“Remote monitoring software has been an invaluable tool for us, and it provides cost-saving benefits for our employees. If it weren’t for this tracking technology, I would have had to hire more personnel,” said Darcy Hasty, Director of Indigent Defense and Pre-Trial Services for Medina County, Texas, which has been using a cloud-based technology to streamline the check-in process for the county’s Pre-Trial services and cut costs for both the county and the defendants.

The benefits of these technologies are not just limited to savings though, and by not using them the criminal justice system is also missing out on a wealth of knowledge that advanced systems can provide. For example, cloud-based monitoring software can provide information about check-in reports, stored GPS locations, and custom report schedules, which supervisors and judges can use to not just determine if an offender is meeting his or her court-mandated requirements but also to determine broader behavior patterns and trends.

“These solutions allow us to use the tool as a curfew check, which is huge with some of our judges who want to make sure our defendants are home by certain hours. The software has also been particularly beneficial during the pandemic, which allowed me to rotate my staff safely and keep our office functioning, all while honoring court orders,” added Hasty.

THE TIME FOR CHANGE IS NOW

As mentioned before, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “this is how we’ve always done things here” way of thinking will no longer cut it and that it is time for the criminal justice system to begin adopting new technologies more aggressively.

The good news is that even though these solutions might seem dramatic, they are not. As has been demonstrated by example of remote monitoring, even a small implementation such as this technology is already having a huge impact in many areas of the country.

This article originally appeared in the January / February 2021 issue of Security Today.

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