How to Leverage Technology for Parole and Probation
Criminal Justice Director
Coronavirus is working its way across the U.S. with confirmed cases now at a pandemic level. The disease caused by coronavirus, COVID-19, is especially impactful for our criminal justice system given overcrowded prisons and required in-person appointments and drug testing for those on parole and probation.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2.3 million people were incarcerated in the United States at year end 2016. Approximately 4.5 million (1 in 55) adults were under community supervision (19% parole and 81% probation) over the same time period. Jail diversion programs in the US deliver support services and community-based treatment to:
- stabilize the individual for successful reintegration into the community;
- provide community supervision without increasing the public safety risk; and
- significantly reduce recidivism.
Even before coronavirus, a push towards jail diversion yielded large caseloads of defendants monitored via community supervision. Caseload ratios for parole or probation officers vary from around 20:1 for specialized/high risk caseloads to 200:1 for low risk offenders, based on criteria such as risk of re-offending, offense type and criminogenic needs. Community supervision caseload numbers are growing with supervision now complicated by stay-in-place orders for cities and states. In some counties, parole and probation officers with overly large caseloads can do little more than monitor the offenders and return the non-compliant ones to court. Certain counties have been considering moving eligible inmates from prisons and jails to parole or probation with supervision given close proximity fears of incarceration and the potential detrimental effects of a Covid outbreak on both inmates and guards.
Monitoring with effective intervention is a proven way to prevent recurrence among offenders and keep communities safe. Probation, parole and pre-trial officers develop plans to reduce the likelihood that released inmates or those in the pretrial system will commit new crimes. Officers review criminogenic factors and assess what services and support systems offenders may need upon release. Often, the officers create supervision plans that include education, community service, and job training to enhance offenders’ employability.
The COVID-19 crisis has the potential to create long-lasting change to our criminal justice system. Many digital tools may have only been piloted and not yet scaled within our justice system. The urgency of the COVID-19 outbreak means that protocols for selected sites of care, both virtual and physical, need to be developed and enabled for specific needs, along with the education of providers, consumers, and defendants. Just as the 1918 flu epidemic innovated public health a century ago, the coronavirus is revolutionizing the process for jail diversion and community supervision. Intelligent technology is available to leverage community supervision efforts, reduce disease transmission, cut down unnecessary travel for defendants, and improve responsiveness of parole and probation officers.
Specialty courts in urban Texas areas are combating COVID-19 with the following:
- Telecommunication, such as Zoom, for court dockets;
- Online AA and other support meetings, such as Club 12 in San Antonio;
- Mobile monitoring for real time data gathering for court compliance plans; and
- Sweat patches for alcohol monitoring versus in person drug testing.
Many defendants are finding the digital solutions more effective than past processes. One recent defendant stated that online support meetings were more effective and caused him to feel freer to speak up and ask questions. In addition, the online meetings save so much more time given lack of travel time and are cost effective as they don’t have to pay for parking or transportation expenses.
In January of 2020, CleanTrac, in conjunction with Bexar County Adult Drug Court and the Therapeutic Justice Foundation, completed a successful 10-month study of 104 defendants in the specialty court system to determine the impact of a mobile monitoring support technology on the criminal justice specialty court system. Use of the CleanTrac mobile monitoring system had a significant impact on defendant compliance. Consistent Users (those using CleanTrac over 50% of the time for 6 or more months) took 85 days per phase while Inconsistent Users took 116 days per phase – a difference of 36% or over a month (31 days) per phase and over four months (124 days) total over all four of the possible phase transitions. The study was very timely given the current pandemic crisis as the technology allows for a much needed remote monitoring support tool.
Court systems are quickly implementing capabilities that might have otherwise been slower to scale in a traditional setting. The results are likely to be long-lasting. The demands of COVID-19 are likely to accelerate this trend and impact our models of community supervision and health care for years to come.
The CleanTrac app and enterprise system was used for this study. The CleanTrac system allows case managers to seamlessly manage defendants through a variety of recovery and compliance programs. CleanTrac leverages the experience and protocols of the courts while allowing case manager workload prioritization for participants most at-risk. Employing CleanTrac provides:
- A mobile technology to gather real-time intel (key behavioral, compliance, and diagnostic information)
- The ability to provide a customized compliance plan and text reminders for defendants on an easy to use mobile app
- Connection of the providers, patients, and supporters in a HIPAA secure environment
- Analytics data which leads to proactive care coordination interventions and relapse prevention
- Real time compliance plan data to allow proactive intervention
- Gamification with points allocated for positive behaviors
- Access to a rich, extensive collection of data for analysis for use in determining treatment effectiveness and cost reduction.
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