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Bridging the gap: Enhancing communication between jails and probation departments through technology

Effective communication is critical in any setting, but it becomes even more significant within the context of the criminal justice system, where people’s lives and futures are at stake

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Case management software holds significant potential for improving communication and streamlining workflow between jails and probation departments.

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Editor’s note: This feature is part of Corrections1’s digital edition, “Advancing community corrections: Using technology to improve case management.” Click here to download.

By Corrections1 Staff

The criminal justice system is a complex web of interdependent agencies, each tasked with its unique role in maintaining the rule of law. Among these, jails and probation departments play a pivotal role in the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals into society.

However, a significant challenge in this process is the lack of seamless communication between these two entities. In many instances, probation officers are left uninformed about the behavior and mental health status of defendants while they are in custody. As we seek to increase transparency and improve communication, technology, and more specifically, case management software, emerges as a viable solution.

The challenge

Effective communication is critical in any setting, but it becomes even more significant within the context of the criminal justice system, where people’s lives and futures are at stake. Probation officers, tasked with monitoring and supporting individuals under their supervision, often face difficulties due to a lack of information about these individuals during their time in custody. This information gap can lead to challenges in formulating effective rehabilitation strategies and ensuring the safety of both defendants and officers.

“Communication is way more important than we realize,” explains Jason Mereness, an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, Sociology, and Human Services at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota. “Not knowing that somebody has committed a new offense or been in custody somewhere poses a safety risk and can lead to other potential supervision issues as well.”

Susan Rice, a retired chief probation officer for Miami County, Indiana, and current president of the American Probation and Parole Association, highlights the staffing challenges that exacerbate communication issues, stating, “Lack of staff is often an obstacle, resulting in officers having too many people that they are responsible for supervising.”

This lack of personnel further strains the already fragile communication channels between jails and probation departments.

Moreover, disparate data systems in use across different departments can further complicate the communication process.

“What we run into is everyone’s on a different data portal or software system, so there’s not a universal place for information to be shared,” Mereness said. “One exception would be court record systems, which tend to be universally used between corrections, law enforcement, and courts.”

These challenges underscore the urgent need for a unified system that can bridge the communication gap between jails and probation departments, ensuring a seamless flow of critical information that is essential for effective supervision and rehabilitation.

Case management software: A game changer

Technology has been a revolutionary force in many sectors, and the criminal justice system stands to gain substantially from its application. Case management software holds significant potential for improving communication and streamlining workflow between jails and probation departments.

Software solutions designed for case management can centralize and organize data related to defendants, making vital information more accessible and manageable for probation officers, judges and treatment providers. This includes data on a defendant’s behavior while in custody, their mental health status, and other relevant factors.

“Case management software can compartmentalize information and make it easier to read or digest,” Mereness said.

By providing real-time updates, case management software can also ensure that probation officers are kept informed about any changes in a defendant’s status. This can help officers to better understand the needs of those under their supervision, thus enabling them to provide more effective support.

“Agents tend to spend a lot of their time hunting down information like whether somebody’s completed a certain type of assessment. But imagine if I could simply click a button to enter a system and see that my client completed their chemical health assessment last Monday and these are the recommendations. Then when that person shows up to my office for their next visit, I already have that information in hand,” Mereness said.

Case management software can also improve transparency by making it easier for all stakeholders to monitor the progress of a case. By providing a clear record of actions taken and decisions made, it can help to ensure that all parties are held accountable for their roles in the process.

Additionally, such software can automate many routine tasks, thereby reducing the risk of human error and freeing up more time for case workers to spend on direct interaction with defendants.

“Digital tools and software systems allow us to move away from a bricks and mortar model and focus our efforts on helping people,” Mereness said. “My time is better spent helping and supporting people and connecting them with resources rather than spending that time on data entry, chasing down documents, or playing phone tag with various entities and professionals.”

Looking ahead

As we look toward the future of the criminal justice system, it’s clear that technology will play a central role. Case management software, with its potential to revolutionize communication and workflow between jails and probation departments, is just one example of how this can be achieved. By investing in such solutions, we can enhance the safety and well-being of defendants and officers alike, while improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the system.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be a part of this by providing support to individuals, especially during off-hours, which could be particularly beneficial given the staffing challenges.

“How great would it be for someone who is having a difficult time to be able to talk to someone through AI,” Rice said. “If a client makes contact and reports they are struggling and thinking about getting get drunk with friends, they could be redirected to resources in real-time to avoid risky situations.”

Moreover, the importance of real-time information sharing, especially with mental health providers, can lead to timely intervention and improved client management.

The utilization of technology, specifically case management software, has immense potential to bridge the communication gap between jails and probation departments. It is an investment worth considering for the betterment of the criminal justice system. The increased transparency and improved communication will not only benefit defendants and officers but ultimately contribute to a more just and efficient criminal justice system.

Download our free guide to find out how to use technology to improve case management