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Navigating the tech landscape in community corrections: A Q&A with Joe Russo

“I’m most excited about applications designed to support those on supervision and improve outcomes.”

Communication network concept. Smart city.

The benefits of integrating technology into community corrections are substantial — increased efficiency, better outcomes for those individuals on supervision and enhanced public safety.

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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

Advancements like predictive analytics and new monitoring technology hold great potential for community corrections. However, securing funding, training staff, fostering collaboration and overcoming resistance to change are significant hurdles. Experts advise seeking diverse funding sources, investing in staff education, and promoting collaboration and transparency. Despite the challenges, the benefits of integrating technology into community corrections are substantial — increased efficiency, better outcomes for those individuals on supervision and enhanced public safety.

In this Q&A, Corrections1 spoke with Joe Russo, a researcher with the University of Denver where he has supported a variety of programs funded by the National Institute of Justice, about strategies for successful technology implementation in this field.

Corrections1: From your perspective, what are the most promising technological advancements in the field of community corrections?

Joe Russo: Traditionally technology in community corrections has been used to monitor or surveil individuals. I’m most excited about applications designed to support those on supervision and improve outcomes.

Virtual reality has tremendous potential in several areas from training staff to better deliver evidence-based interventions to scenarios that allow individuals on supervision to practice their job interview skills or relapse prevention skills.

Smartphone applications that improve connection between the officer and the supervisee have been a very promising development as well.

Artificial intelligence has great potential in terms of helping agencies make better use of the large data sets they maintain.

Corrections1: Can you elaborate on some of the main challenges organizations face in implementing new technologies in community corrections?

Joe Russo: Funding is always an issue, but, often, that’s not the only challenge. Many supervision agencies lack the vision to explore new technologies to evaluate if and how they may improve mission performance. They may not have the time, due to competing interests, or the technical skills to perform these analyses.

Further, agencies tend to be risk-averse and may not take advantage of new technologies out of fear of making the wrong choice or fear of failure. Staff, to include leadership, can be resistant to change, so organizational readiness can be a significant barrier.

Corrections1: How have funding issues hindered technological advancement in community corrections and what creative solutions are there to overcome this hurdle?

Joe Russo: Many agencies struggle with expanding mandates and budgets that don’t keep pace; insufficient funding is a perpetual challenge. In this climate, most agencies must simply maintain the status quo and tread water; it’s difficult to make significant investments in new technology.

Grants can provide seed money so agencies can get started, but they must find funding to sustain new initiatives. The chances of obtaining funding can improve when agencies can cite cost-benefit analyses that quantify the impact or return on investment.

Ideally, larger agencies and/or early adopters can share these data with the field to help accelerate the adoption of new technologies. It should be noted that passing on costs of new technology to supervisees through user fees may address some of the funding challenges but can be counter-productive in the long-run as they can be a barrier to success on supervision.

Corrections1: Can you discuss the importance and challenges of staff training in the successful implementation of new technologies in community corrections?

Joe Russo: Clearly, training is critically important to any technology deployment; however, successful implementation relies on more than just teaching technical skills. Staff really need to understand why the technology is being deployed, how it will support the agency’s mission, and, more importantly, how it will make the individual staff member more effective and efficient. Taking the time to educate staff on the whys can help mitigate resistance to change and achieve the buy-in necessary for successful implementation.

Agencies also must recognize that not all staff, particularly those that are not digital natives, will be comfortable using new technology. Training should consider different levels of tech savviness and account for different learning styles.

Corrections1: How critical is the role of collaboration between different stakeholders for successful technology implementation in community corrections?

Joe Russo: Depending on the technology, collaboration can be vitally important. For example, the success of initiatives that track domestic violence perpetrators and notify victims of proximity relies heavily on the ability of authorities to respond when restraining order violations occur. Collaboration between community corrections and local law enforcement can support timely response, especially when the supervision agency does not operate 24/7. Victims’ advocacy groups should be engaged in the implementation process so that they fully understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology and expectations are managed. Similarly, with respect to individuals on supervision who are on GPS monitoring, collaboration between community corrections agencies, law enforcement, and the courts may be required to make full use of crime scene correlation initiatives.

Corrections1: Can you share some examples of successful collaborations between community corrections agencies and tech companies? What was the key to their success?

Joe Russo: The most successful implementations are based on true partnerships (as opposed to a seller-buyer transaction) between agencies and technology providers. These partnerships are characterized by a mindset that seeks to truly understand the agency’s goals and objectives; analyzes the problem the agency wants to solve; works together to develop the best solutions; and supports the agency through the implementation process. This is a two-way street. For example, the agency needs to be very clear about their needs and expectations as well as limitations (e.g., staffing, infrastructure) in their ability to fully implement the technology in the way it is intended.

Corrections1: What strategies have proven effective in your experience for overcoming the challenges associated with technology adoption in community corrections?

Joe Russo: One key strategy is to engage staff at all levels. Obviously, leadership support is critical; however, it is also important to include line staff in the process. These are the individuals who will actually use the technology, therefore their input must be heard and valued. Line supervisors are often the gatekeepers in an agency. They have significant influence on how things are done in the field and if they are not fully on board, implementation can suffer.

Other strategies can help an agency overcome hesitancy to adopt new technology. For example, whenever possible, agencies should work with technology providers to conduct a no-cost pilot before entering into a contract. These trials can help mitigate agency risk.

Agencies should network with their peers across the country to share information about technology deployments, what has worked, what hasn’t and lessons learned along the way.

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Joe Russo

About Joe Russo

Joe Russo is a researcher with the University of Denver (DU), where he has supported a variety of programs funded by the National Institute of Justice. His work has focused on the identification of high priority technology needs of corrections professionals and managing projects to provide these professionals with better information and tools to perform their important mission. Prior to joining DU, Joe served both the New York City Department of Probation and New York City Department of Correction.

Joe is active in several national associations and is a member of the American Probation and Parole Association’s Technology Committee, the American Correctional Association’s Probation and Parole Committee, and the IJIS Institute’s Corrections Advisory Committee.

Joe holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Marist College and a Master of Arts Degree in Criminal Justice from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.