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July 2011

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


Growth of Kiosk Program An Aid to Officers

Kiosks in the probation and pretrial services

Kiosks in the probation and pretrial services offices of 27 districts were used last quarter by over 10,000 offenders and defendants to submit routine status reports.

A probation and pretrial services program that uses kiosks to gather routine reports required of clients has quietly become a powerful resource and timesaver. Begun as a pilot in 2008 with kiosks in nine probation and pretrial services offices, the program has spread to 27 districts and grown to 79 kiosks. Last quarter over 10,000 offenders on supervised release and defendants under pretrial supervision used one of the kiosks to submit routine status reports required as a condition of bail or post-conviction supervision.

The kiosks use an electronic reporting system and are located in probation and pretrial services offices. A client goes to the office, verifies his or her identity with a fingerprint scan at the kiosk, and answers a series of questions displayed on the touch screen.

Defendants respond to about nine questions while offenders may respond to 30 or more questions, although some responses simply require confirmation that the data is correct. The reports are sent by email to the officer within seconds, with the client's "yes" responses to questions about drug use, or contact with law enforcement, for example, moved to the top of the report for the officer's immediate attention. The reports are downloaded to the Probation/Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS). Entering the data electronically saves time by eliminating inaccuracies in re-keying. Time not spent generating reports is time that can be spent one-on-one with clients focusing on problems.

Officer reaction to the electronic collection of client reports has been positive. "The kiosk program has been a great time saver for officer and administrative staff," said Chief Probation Officer Michael Fitzpatrick in the Southern District of New York. Over a three month period in Fitzpatrick's district, kiosks at three court locations allowed nearly 1,500 clients to report their status electronically.

Deputy Chief Pretrial Services Officer Carlos Salinas in the Western District of Texas was there when the pilot began and has seen the program grow. Today, seven of the district's nine divisional offices have kiosks.

"Overall it's a good program and our officers like it," said Salinas, "especially in locations where we're short on staff. If the only officer at a divisional office is on a home visit or is called to court, the defendant can still come in and report at the kiosk and the officer will be notified, allowing the officer to contact the defendant at a later time. There's less waiting time. And our El Paso office really likes the Spanish question sets that were added to the program last year."

Although the program has grown out of the pilot stage, there are still adjustments and upgrades in the works. In the next month, functionality will be added to the kiosk reporting system to allow an officer to leave a message for a client after he or she logs in. The next anticipated feature will be kiosks outfitted with scanners so that clients can scan pay stubs or doctor's notes along with their reports.

The program also has evolved to allow supervision reporting by internet. Clients with computer access can go to a secure website, log in using a password, and respond to the same series of questions they would find at a kiosk. An additional application that will allow supervision reporting by telephone will be available sometime in late 2011.