There is near unanimous consent that recidivism from correctional facilities is a problem that needs to be addressed. Ensuring that individuals get the support they need while incarcerated and on probation or parole can help end the cycle of prison to release to prison again.
A parole or probation officer has a vital but challenging role in helping to ensure that individuals under their supervision don’t rotate into (or back into) incarceration after release. But it’s not an easy job. An officer needs to juggle duties as varied as:
- Conducting an initial assessment to determine the person’s risks, needs and suitability for probation or parole.
- Setting goals with the individual and establishing conditions for probation or parole.
- Connecting individuals with resources and support like housing, job placement and counseling.
- Monitoring whether that individual is complying with all requirements and meeting all their obligations, including court appearances, counseling sessions, drug tests, personal development classes and showing up for probation or parole meetings.
- Documenting, reporting and possibly even testifying to a parole board on that individual’s progress toward reentry and reintegration into the community.
To manage the supervision process effectively requires a move from paper processes to modern tools that make the processes to accomplish each of these duties more efficient. A solution like Tyler Technologies’ Enterprise Supervision not only makes every step in the process more efficient, it also makes it easier to gather more data and connect that data to surface insights so departments know what is working and, importantly, what is not, so fewer individuals fall through the cracks.
LARGER CASELOADS REQUIRE GREATER EFFICIENCY
The number of cases handled by individual probation and parole officers has grown significantly in the past decades and is expected to continue to accelerate. Justice reform laws that seek to reduce the number of people incarcerated while awaiting trial have increased the number of people being placed under supervision. That, combined with staffing shortages and other factors, has increased the workload for officers involved in supervision programs.
“Using a paper-based or legacy system not designed to manage such massive caseloads would be nearly impossible,” said Bona Nasution, sales director for Tyler Technologies.
Case in point is Bibb County Probation Office (BCP) in Georgia. BCP started using its legacy mainframe system in the 1980s. Although the system had a plethora of information, it didn’t have case-tracking capabilities, and finding information to compile a quarterly report for the state was laborious – taking an officer a week’s worth of time to manually sort through the data to provide what was needed.
When the city and county consolidated in 2015, two new courts, four probation officers and 1,000 new cases were added to BCP’s caseload. For several years, BCP struggled to provide clean data for reports and receive favorable audit outcomes from the state agency that oversees probation offices.
BCP needed a more modern system that could handle the complexity of multiple courts, distinguish cases by type and offer more robust reporting tools that would help them compile the necessary report and audit data.
After implementing Enterprise Supervision, BCP was able to reduce the amount of time needed to compile audit data from two days to 20 minutes.
DO MORE, DO IT BETTER, IN LESS TIME
Probation and parole officers are often on the move instead of sitting at their desks, making it even more challenging to keep up with the volume of information they must keep track of for each client. With one web-based probation case management system, officers can access all the tools they need to track client movements, monitor cases and generate case documents, track financials and complete assessments, whether from their desktop computer or their mobile device.
With Enterprise Supervision, tools are also accessible to the individual offender on their computer or smartphone, empowering them to take responsibility for their success. With sophisticated biometric technologies that verify the individual’s identity, check-ins with supervision staff can be done over the phone. The system also sends appointment reminders via phone or text, helping ensure offenders don’t miss check-ins and are more likely to appear at court hearings and other appointments.
The system also lets officers schedule and track drug testing, including assigning random tests, and track community service hours and other conditions of probation or parole.
FIND WHAT WORKS – AND WHAT DOESN’T
Supervision offices invest time, money, effort and heart into programs that help keep offenders on the straight and narrow and out of the justice system. Gathering information and inputting data into a case management system is already part of the job, and doing that more efficiently is a significant boon to supervision officers.
But being able to mine that data for insights is valuable for supervisory agencies to know what practices and programs are working – and what aren’t – so resources are directed toward things that lead not only to better data, but also better outcomes.
The ability to quickly produce reports that show an offender repeatedly failed to show at court appearances or skipped out on community service hours can inform decisions about whether a probationer or parolee is ready for reentry, or whether punitive measures should be taken. Or, having a record that an offender has made repeated statements about self-harm can help the officer provide that individual with the additional support and services they need before a tragedy happens.
When data is readily accessible for analysis, it can be used to build better programs and engage partners who can provide additional services and support. “Programs should be focused more on outcomes and aligning programs to outcomes,” says Nasution.
SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE
One way to end recidivism is to prevent individuals from becoming involved in the criminal justice system in the first place. In Nevada, a community partnership overseen by the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice (CCDJJ) is striving to do just that. The Harbor – a juvenile assessment and guidance center – assesses and refers at-risk youth and their parents to various wraparound services in the community.
The Harbor doesn’t wait until juveniles are arrested or detained – it allows referrals from anyone, including parents or community members, who recognize warning signs like truancy, low grades or family conflicts. Using robust survey and assessment tools included in Tyler Technologies’ Enterprise Supervision, Harbor staff conduct interviews with juveniles and their families to identify services needed and make referrals to programs that can help.
Because Enterprise Supervision is integrated with the county’s parole and probation systems, The Harbor is able to track each individual to see if the juvenile successfully avoids involvement with the juvenile justice system. So far, 90% of the over 20,000 young people referred for services have.
Also, because Enterprise Supervision integrates with Tyler Technologies’ public safety software and courts and justice software, critical case information from initial arrest to pretrial incarceration to the court system and probation and parole can be accessed in one place. Risk assessment at the outset of their case identifies the individual’s needs and helps them navigate successfully from arrest to release.
This integration of supervision systems with other components of the justice system gives a holistic view of what is happening with an individual throughout their relationship with the justice system.
“I had no idea what happened in probation before a kid got to me until supervision systems were integrated with other systems,” Jack Martin, director of CCDJJ, said in a white paper published by the Center for Digital Government. “When you take it as a package and have GPS integration, court integration, school integration, you can get a real and total picture of what’s happening with our probationers.”
MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS
Having the depth of insight a suite of case management tools like Enterprise Supervision provides helps probation and parole department leaders see trends and make informed decisions based on fact, not assumptions.
To achieve the goal of reducing recidivism requires that individuals caught up in the justice system have real opportunities to rehabilitate. Being able to share case data and insights from an individual’s first brush with the law to pretrial to release leads to better outcomes for individuals, departments and society at large.
This article originally appeared in Advancing Community Corrections: Using technology to improve case management.