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December 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Kiosks In Pilot Program Take Over Routine Reports

Defendants must routinely submit reports on their status to the probation and pretrial services office as a condition of bail or post-conviction supervision. Starting in December, a three-month pilot program will test whether there is a better way—an electronic way—to receive and use those reports.

The program will place kiosks using the Electronic Reporting System in probation and pretrial services offices. When a client visits, he or she will go directly to the kiosk and touch its screen to begin. A biometric fingerprint scan verifies identity, and the kiosk screen displays the client’s photo. Current address and employment history are displayed next and any changes can be typed in using the kiosk’s keyboard.

Then the client is prompted to move through a series of questions in English or Spanish. Do you possess a firearm? Have you used or possessed any illegal substances? When is your next scheduled court date? Have you had any contact with law enforcement not previously reported? Does your employer know of your pending federal charges? Have you traveled outside of the district or outside of your restricted travel zone since your last response? For each question, a yes or no answer can be given or the client can choose to enter “discuss with officer.” After the last question, the screen can direct the client to take a seat; an officer will be with them shortly. The ERS kiosk sends an e-mail to the probation or pretrial service officer’s computer/Blackberry, alerting him or her that the client is waiting.

Nine probation and pretrial services offices will participate in the pilot program, with four offices starting this month. The initial pilot courts are the combined Probation and Pretrial Services Office in the Western District of New York, the Probation Office in the Western District of Texas, the Pretrial Services Office in the Western District of Texas, and the Pretrial Services Office in the Central District of California. The remaining court units will begin the pilot in January. [See box.]

The Western District of Texas was an early user of a prototype kiosk system and now will participate in the national program. According to Nick DiSabatino, chief of the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services Technology Division at the Administrative Office, the AO worked with the Western District of Texas to streamline the software behind the Electronic Reporting System to make it usable by all districts and to make the kiosks user-friendly.

Phil Reyna is chief pretrial services officer for the Western District of Texas, geographically one of the largest districts in the country. “When an offender comes in to fill out a report, in the past they would fill out a piece of paper,” said Reyna. “Basically it’s the same questions every time they visit. Now when an offender comes in, he or she can use the Electronic Reporting System to quickly answer those questions. When they see the officer, they can focus on supervision issues.”

The Electronic Reporting System not only gathers the information electronically, it downloads it to the Probation/Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System and automatically highlights for the officer any changes from the previous month’s report.

“It streamlines the reporting process when a client uses the kiosk to report,” said Supervising Pretrial Services Officer Carlos Salinas, who has worked to implement the Western District of Texas program.

“Because the program automatically enters a client’s chrono, the officer can spend more quality time with the offender addressing issues they may face, or compliance concerns, rather than on typing in the standard information on name, address, employment, and things of that nature.”

“This Electronic Reporting System technology goes hand in hand with our continuity of operations plan,” adds Reyna. “For example, if there’s a hurricane or other natural disaster, officers may look at a file or report, and see what’s going on with a case from anywhere in the district or country.” Particularly for the sprawling Western District of Texas, the ability to use kiosks in remote locations is a plus. “It may take an officer one day to make a visit in our district, or because of distance, the offender doesn’t have the ability to make weekly visits to an office,” said Reyna. “We don’t want the kiosk to take the place of that visit, but many times it will be easier for our low-risk offenders, with no prior record or history of violence, to go to a local sheriff’s office or local police department to submit the report.” Of course, the kiosk confirms that it’s the offender with the fingerprint biometric scan.

Corey Nguyen, chief of the Technology Operations Branch, Technology Division, within the AO’s Office of Probation and Pretrial Services (OPPS), agrees that kiosks shouldn’t replace officers. “ERS and the kiosks are not a substitute for supervision. They’re data collection devices that free up officers to spend more time with each offender.” He points to a per district reduction of 500-800 paper reports submitted in a month by the Western District of Texas and the Central District of California when they used the kiosks.

Kiosk Pilot Courts Nine probation and pretrial services offices will participate in the pilot program.

Starting in December
- Office of Pretrial Services, Central District of California
- The Combined Probation and Pretrial Services Office, Western District of New York
- Office of Probation, Western District of Texas
- Office of Pretrial Services, Western District of Texas

Starting in January
- Office of Probation, District of Arizona
- Office of Probation, Northern District of Illinois
- Office of Probation, Eastern District of Michigan
- Office of Probation, Western District of Missouri
- Office of Probation, Western District of North Carolina


There is additional functionality for the kiosks. According to Matt Rowland, OPPS deputy assistant director, the gathered information can be used as part of the probation and pretrial services system’s process and outcome measurement efforts. “With data from the kiosks and other electronic sources,” said Rowland, “we will be able to research the relationship between changes in status reported by a defendant, the officer’s activities, and the ultimate outcome in the case. That is the type of information we need to develop the effective policies and procedures of the future. The program will create a veritable gold mine of information for us to use and study.”

As part of the pilot program, kiosks with slightly different configurations will be tested to see which works best. Charles Mason, deputy chief pretrial services officer in the Western District of Texas, already has another wrinkle in mind. “We’ve talked about the idea of adding videoconferencing equipment in remote locations,” he said. “So a client could report in Alpine, Texas, and be seen several hundred miles away by videoconference by an officer in San Antonio. The technology would enable the officer to have face-to-face contact with the defendant, but without hours of driving time.”

“It will be an advantage for districts to use this type of technology,” said Reyna. “As far as funding is concerned, increasingly we’re required to perform more functions with fewer people. We need to work as efficiently as possible and concentrate our efforts on supervision.”